Wednesday, January 27, 2016

First Person

By Kheven LaGrone

I remember when I came to the realization that Oakland’s gentrification meant displacing its African-Americans. I was the new project engineer on construction of the Port of Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.  I was the only African-American on the team.  The Port had proudly announced that it was working with the neighboring West Oakland’s African-American community in the creation of the park; however, I never saw anyone from West Oakland at the meetings. 

At one meeting, an artist presented conceptual drawings of the park.  The drawings excited the team.  The park was beautiful and full of white people.  Everyone was proud of the park—except me. “Can African-Americans come to the park I asked?” The artist nervously re-did the drawing and painted a couple of the people brown.  “It’s nice that Latinos and dark East Indians can use the park, but can African-Americans with nappy hair like mine use it?” I asked.

That moment angered me.  West Oakland, our neighbors and partners, was proudly African-American.  How could everyone not notice the omission of African Americans?

As we completed the park, the team wanted to show it off. They wanted to make it a “regional park.”  They talked excitedly about advertising the park to Danville, Blackhawk and other white suburbs. Even though the Port is a department of the City of Oakland, the team said nothing about advertising to West Oakland or other African-American communities.  I learned that successful gentrification meant showing off the project to their white peers outside Oakland. To them, we African-Americans were invisible and unworthy of a nice, new park.

Homeless people were expressly not welcomed at the park. For example, a team member suggested at an outside meeting that we use concrete benches “so homeless people won’t sleep at the park.”  As the biting cold wind coming off the water hit my face, I thought about the homeless people in Oakland that I saw every day. Most of them were African-American.  I knew many of their names and stories.  “If someone is so bad off that he has to sleep out here,” I said angrily, “then we should not make things worse for him.”

Yet, my co-worker had dehumanized the homeless person like vermin. He did not ask why the person had to sleep on a park bench in the freezing cold.  By rendering the homeless person nameless and faceless, my co-worker felt he had an excuse to unwelcome and even remove the homeless person without guilt. He could still brag about the beautiful park.

Years later, Oakland officials would use the decline in the city’s African-American population to market Oakland to outsiders. Oakland had been “stigmatized” as a “Black city,” so they promoted its “changing demographics” and “new diversity.”  Condo developers and restaurants never used African-Americans in their advertisements.  City leaders announced the “New Oakland” as if to say it was no longer a “Black city.” As Oakland became more attractive to outsiders, housing costs rose and more African Americans were displaced.

Oakland was voted one of the country’s “coolest cities,” but today, Oakland’s homeless have been displaced into visible encampments located throughout the gentrified areas. They are mainly African-Americans displaced by the gentrification.  The illegal encampments resemble third world refuge camps.  People sleep among trash in tents and on sleeping bags on the cold dirt or concrete sidewalk. Other people dump their trash in the encampments.   There are rodents.  They’re often under noisy, dusty freeways.  Police chase them away.

In this “new” Oakland, the people in the encampments are dehumanized, while pets are humanized and treated like spoiled children.  Near one encampment, there is a doggy play and daycare and spa. It offers super suite boarding, pedicure and manicure, and “overnight cuddle time.” Near another encampment is a pet “country club” with “doggy daycare, pet hotel and spa.” The brochure states that dogs can play in an “engaging environment” all day. When the dogs want to sleep, they can sleep in the hotel and “reminisce about their friends.”  Cats can enjoy a “private immaculate condo.”

Do the pet owners ignore the encampments when they drop off their animals?

Near another encampment, a brochure for a cat shelter seems to mock, dehumanize and trivialize Oakland’s homeless, at-risk youth.  It claims to be “helping Oakland’s vulnerable cats.”  It advertises that “through foster care and adoption,” it “finds homes for at-risk cats who are struggling in the animal shelter environment [. . .] Help us save some of Oakland’s most distressed cats and kittens.”  This is either clueless or insensitive.  On the front door, its kitty cat café claims to be the first in the U. S.  Does this mean that Oakland is the first city to be so dehumanizing in the U. S.? 

*  *  *
Right before Christmas 2015, I learned that the Oakland City Council would be addressing the issue of the displaced African-Americans by gentrification.  They planned to vote on an ordinance declaring a shelter crisis in Oakland. The meeting would be on January 5, 2016.

I read the meeting report and the proposed ordinance. I had written such reports for the Port and City and understood them.  A crisis requires immediate and action. The declaration didn’t seem to have any meaningful direction from the City.  The ordinance seemed to be “just talk.” 

At the same time, Wanda Sabir e-mailed me that she and her family had been buying blankets, food, etc. and giving them to people in the encampments.  She and her friend R. J. Reed planned to go back for Christmas.

I told Wanda about the City’s proposed shelter crisis ordinance.  People from the shelters and homeless community needed to attend the city council meeting when the Council voted and make the declaration and ordinance meaningful.

I visited several shelters. The managers had not heard about the proposed ordinance.  I also visited some encampments with Wanda and found out the people there had not heard about the proposed ordinance either. But would the ordinance address the issue of the homeless community?  One of the people told Wanda, their biggest problem is being dehumanized and vilified.  How would simply declaring a “shelter crisis” humanize them?  How was the Council making any decisions about this community without contacting them directly?  Was the declaration “just talk”?

We wanted them to come and be seen and heard at the meeting. I prepared flyers to inform the community about the meeting.  I e-mailed them to the media and the shelters. I also went with Wanda to distribute them to some encampments. I also took flyers to a few shelters.

I also e-mailed members of the City Council and the City Administrator. Only Councilmember Desley Brooks replied to my e-mail.

The vote was one of the first items of the meeting.

Councilmember Brooks, the only member to say she had visited an encampment, pushed for the council to make concrete actions. That seemed obvious for addressing a “crisis.”  However, she faced a bureaucratic roadblock—especially from the City Attorney. Councilmember Kaplan reminded us that the homeless form social connections and relocating the homeless should not break up those connections.  Councilmember Gullien also mentioned working with Laney College to build tiny houses.

Then it was time for the public to speak on this issue.  R. J. Reed had been going to the encampments with Wanda and had made friends there.  He angrily told the Council to “stop the foolishness” and do something.

Wanda told her own story with being homeless and she told the personal stories of people she had met in the encampments.  Councilmember McElhaney was visibly moved.

Another woman reminded the Councilmembers that many of the homeless were veterans.

Unfortunately, no homeless persons spoke for themselves at that meeting.

One good thing came out of the meeting.  The meeting room was packed with people who had come for several other city issues. As they waited for the Council to address their issues, they heard the personal statements. Thus, the issue of homelessness was more personal and reached beyond the homeless community. At times, the whole room applauded Councilmember Brooks’ support of the homeless community—showing that they supported the community as well.

Finally, Brooks made a motion to direct the City Administrator to open the Garden Center at Lake Merritt or another City-owned property as a temporary homeless shelter within 15 days. The Council agreed to that, plus the City Administrator was to provide a report on a tiny house community for the next City Council meeting on January 19, 2016.  The homeless shelter issue would also become a regular item for following council meetings.

When Wanda and I went to an encampment a few days after the meeting, we heard about some changes from the city.  Her friends living in the encampment told us that the City clean up crew had been there.  This time, they asked the homeless people to gather their possessions before they cleaned the rest of the area. That way, the clean up crew would not throw away their possessions. In the past, the city simply cleared everything—including the last of their personal possessions.

Sadly, we also found out that Waleena Mitchell, a resident of the encampment, had died. Her husband, Lionel, was grieving and would not come out of his tent to talk to Wanda.

*  *  *
The City Council met again on January 19, 2016. This time, the shelter crisis was one of the last items to be discussed. This meant most of the people in the meeting would leave before hearing about the shelter crisis.

We sat through an item where a woman who lived in in Oakland hills complained because AT&T was placing a tower near her home. She was distressed that the ugliness of the tower would lower her property value.  She worried that the tower would disturb her peace and quiet.  She brought a lawyer.

The woman and the City questioned whether or not the trees in the area were Cedar or Oak and whether or not the City had trimmed them. If so, when did the City trim them?

But hers was not a “shelter crisis.” A week before the meeting, a rainstorm belted Oakland.  The winds blew away the tents and tiny houses of people living in a homeless encampment.  People were exposed to cold rain, standing water and mud. That was a “shelter crisis.”

Hours later, the City Council finally got to the real shelter crisis. Like at the last meeting, homelessness seemed to be an abstract issue to debate.  The Council had been given another report (which mentioned another report almost a year earlier).  It listed options for addressing the shelter crisis.  The biggest issue for the City was money.  Neither the Garden Center nor other City property, would be opened as a temporary shelter.  However, a few more beds would be provided at an existing shelter—though Brooks pointed out that this was not a significant number of beds for this crisis.

Councilmember Kaplan pointed out that the money spent to remove the homeless from the encampments could be better spent.  She suggested that the city identify legally allowable encampments. 

Gullien was meeting with Laney to discuss tiny houses, but they needed land.  In the past, shelters had been centrally and conveniently located downtown.  Oakland supported the gentrification that displaced people, Oakland owes it to them to help them stay.  It’s not fair to relocate shelters just because a neighborhood gentrifies. They should be part of the diversity and new community.  They are Oakland.  If newcomers have a problem living near a shelter, they shouldn’t move near it.

Despite Councilmember Brooks’ pushing for a bigger commitment, the Council only voted to spend $180,000 for immediate winter relief efforts.  According to the City report, Oakland has over two thousand homeless people.  So the City Council did not make a major commitment to addressing Oakland’s shelter crisis.  However, the Council would discuss the shelter crisis as a regular item for the meetings.

The Council assumed the discussion was settled for the night and started to move on without public input.  People in the room protested.  They had come to speak on the issue.  “We didn’t wait all this time for nothing,” the homeless man behind me yelled.

Twenty-four people surprised the council by signing up to speak on the shelter crisis.  R. J. Reed delivered the news of the death in the encampment since the last meeting.  Wanda told the council that if she can use her own money to buy food and supplies for the encampments, surely the City could spend money.  Rachel, who works for a homeless agency, told the council that her clients often died on the streets. She could barely speak through her tears. She went to sit in a dark corner by herself to cry.

The rest of the speakers were homeless people who told their own stories. Many of them came together from nearby Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center.  In contrast to the white woman who lived in the Oakland hills and worried about the trees, all these homeless speakers were African-American.  One was a 67-year old woman on SSI.  Another woman who said she had been sexually assaulted and saw fights in the shelters. Another woman identified herself as an educated single mother “who matters.”

The meeting turned personal and emotional.  They silenced the Council. McElhaney listened teary-eyed.  People put faces, names and stories on their homelessness. Would the Council have voted differently if they had these stories before they voted?

If this item had been discussed earlier in the meeting, more Oakland residents would have been moved by the stories.

* * *

On January 19, 2016, the homeless community made itself seen and heard at the Oakland City Council meeting. They put human faces on homelessness. They placed themselves in the “New Oakland.”  They included themselves in Oakland’s “new diversity.” Hopefully, they’ll do more.  Hopefully, it’s not too late.

A homeless African-American man, born and raised in Oakland, told the Council that “Oakland puts more emphasis on gentrification than the people who live here.  They’re trying to give Oakland some new identity.”  He’s right.  Removing people like him is part of the gentrification process. However, by exercising his right to vote, he can bring the Council’s emphasis back to him.

First Person

Reflections on Homelessness
By Wanda Sabir

When I think about homelessness, I don’t know, it has happened to me so many times from childhood to the present, I am not immune, but I certainly have a higher tolerance and compassion than those who work with such populations without a clue as to what it means to have all of your possessions in storage and only what you can fit into a suitcase or a bag(s) with you at any time. I know what it means to lose huge chunks of life in one sweep—after a while the past gets heavy and you start leaving pieces of yourself behind in garages, garbage bins . . . on pavements. You never forget what is past, there is regret that you can’t carry it forward. There is no space, the new home is smaller, you don’t have enough money for a storage space or the storage space was inadequate and your belongings were ruined: water damage, rodents, mold. Sometimes you get bullied into letting the sentiments go. You are called a hoarder. Ten years with five storage spaces is a lot of money, but when your personal space, “home,” is in limbo, there is something steadying about having a spot, even if it is a glorified garage. I remember when my brother slept in his storage space when he couldn’t afford rent and pay for my father’s 24 hour in-home support care. He decided I would keep my apartment because I had two kids, and he would not have anywhere to live for a year while my father died.

What choices we make, right? My dad’s final months were sweet and full of love because of my brother’s sacrifice.

While a child, my father’s income was unstable so we would end up in motels in San Francisco a lot. I don’t remember how old I was when it happened the first time. I just remember being somewhere by the Cow Palace and not feeling terribly traumatized.  I don’t remember meals, but I don’t remember being hungry. I don’t know where our dogs were either. I went to school each day and before I knew it, we were in a house again.

I think we were evicted.

We were evicted quite a few times. My mother always had a job, and so we had income to pay for the motels. I don’t know why, if we could pay for a motel, why were couldn’t pay rent. Perhaps it had something to do with my dad’s heroin addiction or alcoholism.

When I got married, and moved to Oakland, I assumed temporary housing or housing instability would be a thing of the past, but the evictions continued one after another. I recall sitting up all night in a really nasty hotel on MacArthur Blvd. in January 1979.

Just after my older daughter was born at Alta Bates, we were evicted from our Alcatraz Avenue apartment. We’d paid our rent to an attorney and he didn’t give it to the property managers, so we were out on the streets.

The sheets at the motel were dingy and the pillow inside the thin pillow cases were black. I couldn’t lay my newborn baby on that nasty bed. I hadn’t even heard of bedbugs. My brother-in-law Rahim rescued us the next day and we went to live in his apartment on 14th Avenue by Highland Hospital for a month or two. He stayed with friends until there were no more sofas to crash on and then we had to go.  We had a VW Camper and moved into a better motel this time for a couple of months, while we waited for the apartment on 65th Avenue and MacArthur to become available. After two years there, once again we had to move.

The owner wanted to occupy it, so we had to leave.

That move took us to High Street where we stayed in Colonial Apartments or maybe we moved to Shafter or to Richmond or to Pleasant Hill or to Fremont or Harmon Avenue, back in Oakland. We moved so much we rented our furniture. I think every year or more than that, we were moving. We had a camper and would go to the regional parks to relax away from the motels.  Eviction followed eviction or if we weren’t evicted, we moved just before we had to.

There was always an urgency. I hate moving fast. You forget things and lose things you can never get back.

I remember thinking after I was divorced that I would not move again for a long time and I didn’t until, guess what? I was evicted, not for none payment of rent. I was evicted because I made too much money and the manager didn’t like me. She didn’t like anyone with more education than she and she evicted everyone with a bachelor’s degree or higher. I was in government subsidized housing. I knew the drill, more money rental increases, not eviction, but no one would take my case or help me from ACORN to Berkeley Community Law to City Council person Natalie Bayton.  My daughter and I were homeless for almost year after that. I went to work daily at Contra Costa College and Laney College and Chabot College. My younger daughter went to school, her first year at the California College of Arts and Crafts. It was hard, but perhaps the fact she is an artist gave her an outlet for her worries.

We were so happy to find the 14th Avenue Apartment, I slept on the floor for a year, took the bus to work. (My car stopped running). We didn’t have any furniture. Well, my daughter had a bed. She bought me a bed for my birthday present. It was a sofa bed. We moved from there into a house we purchased for too much money. We lost about $200,000 in a quick sale after being burglarized three years ago this year. People were buying houses for half the price of ours.

If there are any lessons here, one is that when I needed help the first time, all the agencies I knew told me they could not help me, that I made too much money.  The Oakland City council persons I contacted whom I had worked with in developing housing stock in West Oakland could not find any property for me to rent or purchase. There were no lawyers who could help me, though they had helped others I’d referred to them over the years. Something was fishy, but I left, turned in the keys so I had nowhere to return to.

I even put my dilemma in writing and published it, still no help.

So I lost my community. I loved Oak Center Apartments and the Oak Center neighborhood. Unlike other HUD properties, like the one where my brother lives in San Francisco, it was not converted into a co-op where we could own our units (although we talked about it).  I had to move to East Oakland where I knew no one, and then when I bought the house, I still knew no one. Well I met a few people, drug dealers who were soon killed around the corner in shootouts on Seminary. Other people on my block had so many bars around their doors I could not see them, let alone have a relationship with them.

I am happy where I am now. I live alone for the first time in my life. My younger daughter got married and when we sold the house, we parted ways – yes, I was disappointed, but I am learning to live with the solitude. It isn’t too bad (smile).

The Oakland I once knew has changed a lot. West Oakland 26 years ago was a lot blacker. There were black people who owned their homes and when I rode my bike or walked around, I’d see others who looked like me on the streets too. I didn’t see a lot of police and that was okay.

The internally displaced persons living under freeways and in ditches and behind stores like Target in Emeryville is a new phenomenon. I remember the first time I saw all the tents lined up on San Pablo and West Grand Avenue last year on my way to an African Diaspora Bazaar. I was floored. Since when is being internally displaced normalized to the point that there is living room furniture set up for entertaining guests?

When I got out the car to talk to the people Monday, January 4, I just couldn’t. What could I say? How could I bring a bit of sunshine to these chilly streets, wet with a brisk wind-chill factor?

At another spot where I knew a few of the residents, I got out and walked around, checking-in to see how people were. It had been a week and I like to go by once a week to see how people are.  People are getting housing, others are making the situation work.  Two women were hospitalized. One woman I’d met, died. It would be easier if there was a bit more assistance like garbage disposal for illegal dumping. Access to toilet facilities and places to shower and wash clothes. If St. Vincent de Paul is the nearest place to wash up and do laundry for free, and they are closed on Monday, it might take all day to do this.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at the Oakland City Council a Shelter Crisis Ordinance was adopted by Council. This means that City Property like the Lake Merritt Garden Center can be turned into temporary shelter for those in need of such. Council person Desley Brooks recommended that the Garden Center be ready to go in 15 days. 200 beds will not serve the entire displaced community, but it would be a start. We could see the bureaucratic wheels turning slowly as the City Attorney spoke about agenda items and procedures, while people are freezing on the streets of Oakland. With the pending storms only getting worse, what does the City have in mind for those without permanent shelter?

January 19 at the Council Meeting after waiting for three hours for the housing item to be addressed, the Garden Center idea was on hold—no funds. The day after Martin Luther King Day, his legacy is at a stalemate, this despite the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award to Alex McElree, executive director and founder, Operation Dignity.  Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf awarded Mr. McElree the award just two days prior, Jan. 17, at the “In the Name of Love: 14th Annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” If people know their history, then Martin King’s Poor People’s March on Washington completed after his death has not resulted in an American society where all citizens matter, especially black men, the majority of men seen on Oakland streets. Poor men are released from jail or hospitals without a place to go. Recidivism is often economic.

As Council members congratulated themselves on expanded contract agreements with shelters, by the time the body remembered to check the speakers list, 24 signed up, our time reduced to 1 minute each. I was so angry I could barely speak.  Such disrespect! Their prior conversation and banter did not indicate any urgency, despite the illusive or deceptive “Oakland Shelter Crisis."

Dr. King stated “the time is always right to do right,” and “[t]here comes a time when silence is betrayal.” What is legal is not always just. Everything Hitler did was within the law. Closer home, black people are still recovering from legislative lynchings.

King said, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?”  Doing the right thing takes courage.  Council person Desley Brooks on Jan. 4 proposed immediate response to the crisis and her proposal was sent to committee. On Jan. 19, she again asked for an immediate action albeit temporary and voted for $500,000 to address the Housing Crisis, rather than the $160,000 (or so) proposed and once again was silenced.

“On some positions,” King continues, “cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?  . . . There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but [she] must do it because conscience tells [her] it is right.”

My mind went to Èṣú-Elégbá and how this deity was thrown onto the trash heap and there became the friend of the hobo or homeless person. Èṣú-Elégbá is the keeper of ashay or the life force. When Obátálá took clay to make the human being, it was Èṣú-Elégbá who made the form animate. His totem is the rat, the scavenger who knows how to survive in the most harsh circumstances. In the Chinese Zodiac the rat is clever, sturdy, perhaps not the most pleasant all the time to hang out with, but then, if you have seen what it has seen or been where it has been, foolishness and hesitation where direct action is necessary, is not something it has time for.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Housing Crisis Report

Attend City Council Meeting this evening, Jan. 19, 2016, 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza (free parking at garage on Clay at 14th Street) and comment on the proposed Housing Crisis, Agenda Item: 13. The Housing Crisis Report is 38 pages long. I suggest reading it in advance to prepare comments.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Breakfast on Martin King’s Holiday
By Wanda Sabir

Denise, Wanda, Delene, Jovelyn
           Rain, rain, and more rain seemed to be the forecast as we watched the clouds cover San Francisco Bay Area skies up to the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day,  The Auset Movement Breakfast planned to serve breakfast at a homeless encampment in Oakland. It was the same encampment we served last year.  After weekly visits with leadership and the camaraderie which has developed with the people there, we have decided to let it be our home base.
         Just a week before Waleena Mitchell died from a stroke, while another resident, who had been hospitalized for about three weeks was released back into the streets. Mr. Lee told us that the ill woman’s family invited her home to recuperate. Her partner, Mr. Robert, in the meantime is still on the street (this year making three years without adequate housing). We are certain the excessive cold weather December-now, added to the circumstances which caused Waleena's death.
           After I loaded the car with grilled wieners, Danish pastries and cinnamon and blueberry cake, insulated gloves, Styrofoam containers, forks, serving utensils, non-latex gloves for servers, toiletry packs, wool socks, rain ponchos, sweatshirts and knit hats, a sympathy card for the deceased husband – Mr. Lionel hadn’t been able to say goodbye. The hospital refused to let him see his partner, and then she died—I got on the road. 

Delene (with coffee), Denise, Jovelyn (serving)
A little music to brighten the morning
           Still mourning, Mr. Lionel didn’t come out of the tent he shared with his wife. I passed breakfast, juice and the card into a hand outstretched through the front flap.  The recent rain and loss of life seemed to have taken a toll on the inhabitants. Everyone seemed to be sleeping-in this morning.  We don’t just pop by, so we were expected. I had a great conversation with a man who remembered meeting me a week ago when RJ and I went by and learned of Ms. Waleena’s stroke. Mitchell had just been released from the hospital a day before. He had a prosthesis and could not walk easily. As he sat on a shopping cart—his injured leg stretched out in front of him, I told him to hold tight and I’d get a meal for him. I pulled up a chair so he could have a place to put his food. We talked while he tried to eat and talk (smile).          
          His late mother was an attorney and he’d spent a lot of time thinking about and studying human behavior. I learned that he was born in a small Louisiana town, Donaldsonville, but raised in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. This is where my friend, Dr. Robert Hillary King, prison abolitionist, was raised as a child.
          Mitchell said before we study a person’s mental capacity, we needed to understand how he fits within the dominant system which of course affects the thinking of its members.  I told him I’d just completed two years in Depth Psychology, which is the study of the unconscious. This shifted the conversation again as we spoke about energy and archetypes and inherited patterns of behavior. He asked me if in my studies I looked at grief or mourning. I told him this and trauma was of special interest to me.  This is one of the reasons why The Auset Movement includes performance art with the meal; there is healing energy in dance, singing, music. Jovelyn, playwright, novelist, who was serving the meal said the music was an invitation “home,” home to self, home to spirit.
Kwalin & Delene
I was surprised when Mitchell told me he was going to be going to work later that morning.
          I kept interrupting our conversation to run over to greet new people as they approached the table where food was being served.  I would inquire as to what they might need and then go to my trunk and get a few items. My trunk served as my store.               
           The meal consisted of our normal fare: Jovelyn cooked up a pot of her potatoes again. This time she added cumin and curry giving the potato dish an orange streak against a buttery background. Ms. Dolores sat in front of her tent slowly eating her breakfast. The previous week when I dropped by I asked the residents what they needed and what they wanted. She wanted earrings, so I brought her several pair. She thanked me for remembering. She looked pleased with my selection.
          While people came to pick up a meal or a piece of fruit, Brother Tacuma, Brother Val, Brother Tabaji and several others made a circle and began playing music. Again, it was like a call home. A little girl began to dance, her mother joined her and then Jovelyn between serving potatoes made a few moves (smile). The sun was shining brightly, a reflection of the mood among those present. When Lisa and her son arrived, they set up tables which is where Claudia and her husband served coffee, along with the juice and water. We also put gloves and knitted beanies there too. We didn't have many clothes items this time, especially men's pants and shoes, which everyone seems to need. 
Tacuma King (back to us) and Friends
           A few of us, Delene, Denise and I took a handful of prepared plates, coffee carafe, juice and fruit (in our pockets) and walked up the street offering a meal to men we passed. Many said yes. After we ran out we walked back, got more food and then walked further down the block towards an encampment which was underwater or showed signs of flooding, yet people were still there because no one bothered them.
          As I stood speaking to Zora a car which had stopped nearby sped up and tried to run the two of us over. This happened a few more times with other cars and trucks passing by.
         I’d noticed this before when I’d visited the first week with RJ.
          At night it’s really dark there and with the rain cold and damp the site is pretty uninviting. We passed out rain ponchos and socks, a coat and shoes until we ran out. As I edit this reflection a day later, it is raining again and I can’t help but think about this community. I would love to drive by with more coffee of a careen of hot chicken noodle soup to warm them up inside. I noticed that they all knew each other and said kind words to each other. They also all had dogs for protection. Three people had work, while others were displaced because they lost their jobs. One woman said that her unemployment ran out and she could not renew it. She said she could apply for general assistance this month.
          Another woman lost her children (two daughters to the foster care system). She lost custody of her two daughters when she didn’t have housing one summer. She said they slept outside for three days and then they were gone. Her mother reported her and got custody of one child. The other child went to strangers. It took a year for the two children to be reunited. Leajay had been on her own since 17 (when same mother kicked her out). She is 33 now. She was an alcoholic, went into a program and cleaned up while pregnant with her first daughter. She was sober for ten years employed teaching parenting skills to women. She went into prisons to help woman; she also counseled them on how to keep their kids. The irony was losing her own, when the job ended.    
          She lost everything all at once, job, housing, belongings in storage, children, then freedom when the Berkeley police arrested her and put her in jail. This happened many times. Homelessness is a crime in Berkeley (she said) and the remedy, incarceration. I assumed that she was camping at UC Berkeley and other public or private spaces which did not want her present, so those people called and had her arrested, instead of helping the young mother find stable housing and get her kids back. So now she stays at this encampment which lately has been flooding, but despite the flooding, she said, at least no government officials or police -- agencies with the authority to make them evacuate, seem to care that she and the seven or so other persons are there.
         Geraldo, an older Latino man, has arthritis so he suffers in the cold weather. Kaileen, who looked like a teenager, was soaking wet, from her shoes and socks up to her size 4-5 denim pants. All the people RJ and I met just a week earlier with the portable houses on wheels were gone, and who could blame them. They could move to higher ground, so they rolled away.
         There was a gentleness with which everyone spoke to each other, even when one of the men, was bit edgy and went off a couple of times, once with his puppy who pooped all over the inside of his tent.  Even when we were almost intentionally run over, all Zora, a younger resident, commented when we stepped back, that some motorists are unkind.
         Outdoor survival camping is a skill set these adults have; however, it is not the kind of housing environment one should have to exist under. I saw lots of abandoned spaces—tarps and other paraphernalia indicating prior occupation. It was all that was left from the set up a week earlier when there were people living there.         
        We also saw a couple of government folks testing the soil nearby. I don’t know why they were testing the soil. I noticed that the space had been cleaned up a bit since the previous week. RJ had left large plastic bags residents had requested to keep the trash and garbage cleaned up, to deter vermin. RJ and I noticed a difference at the first encampment. The city had picked up piles of furniture and other items illegally dumped at the encampment. Further down the street at the second encampment, we didn't notice much difference.
         Though Waste Management had picked up the larger items, like couches, broken furniture and discarded clothes, what I couldn’t understand was why they didn’t pick up everything and then sweep up what was left. They also did not leave brooms and dust pans for residents to keep the space cleaned up in either location.
          I think today makes Day 14 since council person Brooks made the recommendation to convert the Garden Center into a shelter in 15 days. I presume this site will be opening this week, perhaps tomorrow, day 15?
           Attend City Council Meeting this evening, Jan. 19, 2016, 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza (free parking at garage on Clay at 14th Street) and comment on the proposed Housing Crisis, Agenda Item: 13. The report is 38 pages long. I suggest reading it in advance to prepare comments.