Back in November there were no tents outside in the alleyway that my window in the shelter looks out on. There was graffiti of a blue ghost in a Santa Hat, a few tags claiming undying love for a man named Miguel, and occasionally a tent or two housing a quiet gay couple who existed in peaceful domesticity, or at least as peaceful as anyone can manage in a tent on the sidewalk.
A few more tents crept onto the sidewalks and the nice couple left. Things were still quiet out there. The cops came and swept out the street, leaving it silent and empty. The few people who were living there pushed out to other streets, their stuff lost, scooped up into a waiting truck ready to be driven to the landfill.
Sometime a month or so back, the tents popped up again. The entire opposite side of the street lined with them, shoulder to shoulder. Poop and needles, night fights and stray dogs, leaving the shelter became a dangerous proposition. I begun to wish that the city, if it was going to ignore these people’s plight, would at least install a few portapotties. Then a potty on a street nearby was set fire to, and I nixed that idea.
There is no need to drop sharps on streets. There is no need to drop bags of human excrement onto sidewalks, or to throw it under the wheels of passing cars, to burst messily. I wonder how many hep infections have been caused by exploding poop bags, and tie on my mask a little tighter.
The weeks wore on, and now both sides of the street were full of tents, the dogs started fighting and fucking in an animalistic frenzy. A guy was bitten, the women were screaming. Someone stole a tuba and was hitting alternate squeaks and low rumbling notes of promised doom. I missed the two young men who played Billy Holliday songs on a boom box they wired up to a parking meter. Those were the days!
The creep is complete. I cannot open my window as a tent is too close to safely do so. Someone out there is coughing all night long. I hear a man laugh at her heaving shaking creaking desperate gasping coughs. I tape the window shut with thick masking tape and turn on the fan the shelter gave me, taping a filter over the intake, in a macgyvered purification device. I’m so close I can hear the air bubble in her chest uselessly.
I wish someone would call an ambulance and get her out of here, but heck there is no way she has insurance, they probably would refuse to take her and she would refuse to go anyhow. I put on TB sheets, and stutter along with Van Morrison: we are all just ‘foreign bodies’ in these days where the sunshine doesn’t penetrate the fear and the ancient loathing on these Californian streets. Van is begging to open up the window and let him breathe, but I am not that kinda fool, the street below don’t offer no clean air, no absolution, no resolution. Instead just suffocating viral particles that sneak past my defenses and make me nervous.
The air in here smells of oranges and tea leaves. I have some roasted rice infused tea that is scented with malt and sencha accents. Grabbing the lysol I spray round the windows, the claustrophobia has got me. I survived this long, I am not going to be taken down by Tent City outside the window!
Something has to be done, I think. The leap between living in a tent in a forest, and living on a sidewalk in the city is night and day. There is nothing wholesome to be found in the city streets, it is impossible to keep clean and safe. I would rather deal with bear and cougar than the predators that stalk streets with knives and guns and wild dogs.
I wonder if the city could give up some of it’s green spaces to those housed in tents, mark out camping spots, install toilets and showers, clean water faucets and used sharps containers, have social workers on site. Anti social behavior rewarded with time outs in psych treatment, but that is all too much pie in the sky.
Outside the dance goes on, played out in crack pipes and spikes, fentanyl overdoses and fights, and I can smell the decay and corruption. This isn’t love, this isn’t decriminalization, this is just leaving people to die senseless dirty deaths in conditions that don’t say much at all for our supposed western civilization. I’d turn on the radio, but they don’t even play good music anymore. How are any of us left meant to even think?