Protesting is the bedrock of our democracy. It is a right, it is a duty. It is the most immediately accessible way to raise attention for causes that are life and death. I stood there in quiet awe as America said ‘enough is enough’ and took to the streets to protest that yes, ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER. I’ve been to Pride and held a banner, saying ‘love is love’. I’ve protested environmental issues. I cry over whales and orangutans being massacred at the altar of capitalism and human lack of care for things they like to put in their mouths, or to fuel their cars. Kill the old men of the forest to plant soy for agrofuel and animal feed, so we then can put the animals in our bellies. Yum. Doesn’t our human vainglorious assistance that our non essential desires and likes matter MORE, taste so good! Isn’t privilege just scrumptious!
I just sat in a meeting on homelessness and was overawed by the caring, the kindness and the sheer effort that is being put into raising those on the bottom of the pile, forgotten and pushed out of society, sleeping in their vehicles, sleeping on sidewalks, into some semblance of first world basic level of public health and survivability. These are the freedom fighters. These are the good people. This is the good fight that any decent person should be looking to immerse themselves in.
It was when it became clear that San Francisco residents associations were protesting safe parking sites, the provision of black waste dumps, and clean water for those housed in vehicles and campers, and that this protesting has descended into violent attacks on peoples homes on wheels, scaring the vulnerable and barely surviving, and destroying their property, it was when I sat and listened to how people’s vehicles are at risk of being towed, and acrue crazy amounts of parking fines that the occupants can never pay, and that some compromises might have to be made in the provisions that are needed and wanted, so the entire safe parking program is not lost, that I had to mute my microphone and turn off my video, because I was crying.
People, housed people, rich people, people who have never have to try and survive a day out on the streets are using their right to protest and push back, to push back against those who are on the very edges of society, who are desperate and suffering and struggling to survive, is beyond crass. It is stinking privilege which smells worse than any RV poop and piss tank can ever stink. The push back was due to the fact that the residents felt it would be a magnet and ‘encourage’ people to the area. Newsflash. San Francisco has mild weather. That is why I ended up out there. It is survivable in bad weather outside along this west coastal corridor. Providing dump sites for human waste will not encourage people to come to the area that the rich so love to gatekeep. Providing clean water should not be a campaign that has to be held in 2021 USA, in a rich city.
People poop. If people have nowhere to dump their poop, they just dump it on the street. I’ll be honest here, various providers asking anything from $5 at a national campground, to $15 at a private one, in order to empty the black tank, that needs emptying at least twice a week with more than one person in there, is a barrier to homeless people with no money being able to utilize those facilities. The dumps provided for tourists are too far out of town. Gas prices are too high go out that far to dump and then return to your usual spots. Not being able to find a place to dump made me furious. My attitude sometimes reached ‘well fuck it then, I’ll dump it on your lawn, motherfuckers’ proportions of shittiness. When society is simply against you surviving, then the push back to the push back is real.
Unless San Francisco wants rivers of shit running down streets, in a public health disaster, then I guess the sneering chattering classes had better get real here.
The homeless are not going to just disappear. The population housed in vehicles is here to stay. It should not be up for discussion that their vehicles should not be impounded, they should not be given parking tickets, and that they are humans who shit just like those people in houses, and need somewhere to safely dispose of it! As for access to clean water! Does it need to be said! Not providing basic provisions of sewer, water and allowing people to shelter safely is unfathomable. If any one of these ‘protestors’ pushing back against humanity had to live that life for one week, they would be demanding provisions as an emergency!
Life unhoused is a constant round of survival. Get water: we stored ours in gallon water containers. It was a twice-daily job to fill them safely, disinfect them or rinse when sterilizing was not possible, and carry them back to camp. My son grew up having to think about water. I consider that his privilege. He never leaves a tap dripping. He never takes it for granted. When we first got inside I found him in the bathroom turning the faucet on and off. “Ma. It goes hot too!” He stood in the shower for hours, a boy scared that it might be a while to his next wash. I held him close and we cried: hot water. Clean drinking water. A door that locks. People not knocking on our door, or walking through our camp, feeling safe at nighttime. Privacy! Of all of these things, clean water is still the thing that he talks about, even after ten months inside.
The fact that any child in this country sees clean water as a wonder, that turns on the shower and still cries in gratitude that it runs clean and hot, that still fills bottle in case it runs out, is not just a shame on society: it hurts! My Boy is not worth more or less than any other. There are children out there, with adoring parents, parents with no other options, whose children also lack access to clean water.
People gotta poop. People gotta piss. San Francisco has a choice: streets running with excrement creating a public health hazard, or else safely installed open-access public dumps where those that need to can empty their black water tanks. People create trash, and this needs solutions. People need to drink from safe water faucets. It is immensely hard to find safe clean potable water when you are homeless. To carry water around is heavy and not practical. Leaving water standing around in jugs is not even clean! To protest the provision of clean water to those that need it, and have no other access is one of the most uber privileged, grotesquely uncaring, utterly shortsighted and elitist moves I have ever been confronted by! This is not who this city is! This is not who we are! I honestly don’t believe those who are opposing this have thought any of it through.
So, let me spell it out. If you are in opposition to these provisions please read this: If no safe sewer dump for campers is provided, people will dump it in the streets. Shit will run down your street stinking it up and spreading disease. Not providing services will not mean that the homeless people – (including children) – that you see as problems, will disappear. People come here to the coast because it is liveable. Because the weather is mild, because the hippy revolution means that San Francisco and the west coast is seen as friendly in general. Liveable. Surviveable. Try staying in the midwest outside in winter. I did it one year into October. I thought we were going to die. It is too cold. Make San Francisco as cold as Minnesota and people will flee. If you can’t change the weather, then this is how it is. You share the city with homeless people. Either you provide basic public health provisions or you will suffer the consequences in the spread of disease. Not a threat, just a scientific reality. Like covid? You will love cholera!
Clean water is a basic human right. Don’t be assholes.
People make trash. People are NOT trash. Nor are we disposable. We are people who love and live and suffer and survive and care just like you are. we need to dispose of their trash. This is better for the city and for your house prices. Provide dumpsters. I might be inside, but in my head I will always be homeless. I consider it my privilege that I have had a good education in survival and humility.
Provide safe parking or free housing. People need to sleep somewhere. Making life uncomfortable or unsafe will not make people flee. It is survival, baby! When I was homeless I sat staring at a map with my homeless friend I was traveling with. We drew lines around places based on weather. The only places that are survivable year-round in a vehicle and a tent are along the coast. Since we started along this side of the country, and gas is expensive and our vehicles were not reliable, this was where we stayed. Seattle even is pretty rough in winter.
Only a tiny bit of the banana coast of Oregon is doable, and nowhere inland. The most comfortable places are in California. San Francisco is very temperate. I am not the only person who has noticed this. This is why a lot of people are here! Even churches turned us down from their empty parking lots. Our best options were Walmarts, Best Buy, Grocery Outlets, but even they crack down and clear out regularly. The only option is to move around and that is tiring and expensive. It is very upsetting to get rolled out of somewhere. I am not ashamed to say one particular parking lot was our home for months, and we were grateful for it. Clean water in the bathroom, toilet paper, hand towel. Bathrooms. The essentials of living. It was our home.
We got towed twice. Both times were not in the State of California and we were able to get our vehicle back. It was immensely distressing, so much so that I can’t really talk about it. People who are living in their vehicles have busted batteries, malfunctioning solenoids, they lack gas. Their radiators leak. It is not ok to remove what is left of their shelter. It is not even human. I am no lawyer. I can’t see how it is even constitutional. Still the state continues to do this to people. To families. to vulnerable people who cannot advocate for themselves. How is this acceptable? Ask yourself, you who are only a few paychecks from living in your car, how would it feel to even lose that. Have some empathy!
All I can say is, if you want to help people, don’t stand in the way of organizations that are trying to effect real and lasting positive change that will help people climb the ladder back to a life that is satisfying and safe. For me to make it into the apartment from the point of being outside was a long road. It didn’t happen overnight.
I have an extreme distrust towards organizations. I felt that they had to prove they understood my challenges and were not going to take action which would split up my family, and put me in danger. A few times when I did trust, those official organizations put me – and the Boy – in extreme danger, and could have led to my death at the hands of my violent ex-husband. To win my trust took a lot of time and effort on the part of people who cared enough to try. Thank you, Ruth. Thank you, Helena. Everyone who has been so beaten down and let down, that they are outside, or in their cars, is going to have similar stories to mine. Trust is hard won. It is bad enough, no one wants it to be escapated to the point of final destruction, and that is not mental illness, that is a serious and valid concern. People who have never been outside, mostly just do not get it. People know best how to help themselves, they just need a little time and a few resoucres in order to make things better. In the meantime the very least San Francisco can do is adequate sanitation and clean water! and not removing their shelters!
I know, however many times I say it, in fact, however I say it, no matter what I do, there will be opposition to helping those of us that need it from those in this city who are too stubborn and too cruel to accept there are basic needs that need to be filled, and essential rights that should be respected. Property rights are ridden over by the sweeps which remove all people’s survival gear and belongings, mostly for these things never to be seen again, or even sold by the city. Rights to shelter. Sanitation. Clean water! Come on! You all know it makes sense! It will never be as simple as making the problems and suffering disappear by being inhospitalable and cruel. Still, as long as the dump isn’t in your neighborhood, the faucets are not on your way to work, the safe injection sites are nowhere near where you shop and the shelters of the unhoused are not messing up the iew for the tourists that are here visiting for the weekend, I guess that it is all ok.
To those of us that know, that care, that have lived it, or else have empathy and kindness and empathy, thank you. Congratulations. You are human. Help your community by being active and vocal, show those that oppose decency and humanity that their cruelty will not win.
Have we lost our souls! Can I help us find them?
If you want to help, donate to the SF Coalition on Homelessness