Magazine article Tikkun

Community Reparations to Transform Community Desolation

Magazine article Tikkun

Community Reparations to Transform Community Desolation

Article excerpt

Throughout my childhood, when Mama and I were sleeping in our car, we were regularly arrested, cited, and eventually incarcerated for doing so. It is illegal to be houseless in this country, and it is, in fact, a punishable offense. So is sitting, lying, or sleeping on a public street and/or convening on a corner or on a public sidewalk if you are a young person of color, im/migrant, indigenous person in diaspora seeking day labor, or someone who "looks homeless." All of these are what I call "crimes of poverty": overtly raced and classed "crimes" pinned on poor people and people of color, resulting in our ongoing police harassment, profiling, removal, incarceration, and, often, state-sponsored murder.

Sometimes I and my disabled mama of color (she was African-Taino-Roma-although I look like my white father, the descendent of colonizers) would save up enough money from the tireless hours of extremely hard work we were always doing in our street-based micro-business to rent a motel room or a tiny apartment. Because of my mother's disability and my young age (between eleven and twenty-one during this time), we were surviving on only what we made by selling handmade art on the street without a license. But there were times, albeit rare, when we would get "inside." During these times, we had many "landlords," and at least four of them were observant Jews. They treated us no differently than other landlords did. They went to synagogue, observed Shabbat, and celebrated sacred Jewish holidays. I know this much about them because those holidays were the few times they wouldn't be calling us, sending us notices, or pounding on our shabby doors in the single room occupancy hotels or the overpriced and uninhabitable apartments they owned that we barely resided in, asking for their rent money. Every single one of these landlords evicted my mama and me for unpaid or late rent.

Each time we were evicted, my young heart would jump out of my chest, filled with terror about returning to the street or the back seat of our current broke-down "hooptie" (car), which was constantly being towed for the "sleeping in vehicle" citations we were always receiving; or even worse, the cardboard motels (as my mama called them) in doorways or alleys or parks. Our houselessness was, in fact, directly caused by the amount of money we were able to make and then by the evictions we would inevitably receive for not having enough of said money. (Note, I don't use the term "homeless," which is associated with an Other-ing social service industry that profits from our struggle without caring about our survival and capacity to thrive. I see the term "homeless" as one that fetishizes those who are houseless in order to fuel this network of social service nonprofits and for-profits, which could be better understood as "the poverty industry")

Justice in the City?

As someone well-acquainted with the violence of urban poverty, I was fascinated and moved by Aryeh Cohen's discussion of "Justice in the City." These sacred passages in the Jewish tradition describing a deep and real responsibility for others, a responsibility to "walk" someone most of the way on their journey home, and the naming of "community in desolation" sound so similar to a concept I have developed, in collaboration with my fellow "poverty skolaz" at POOR Magazine, called "community reparations." Our vision of community reparations names the direct responsibility of people with race, class, and/or education privilege to support and care for community members, neighbors, and others in struggle. This vision launched POOR's Solidarity Family: a group of supporters with race and class privilege who work in partnership with the landless, indigenous youth, adults, and elders at POOR. With the Solidarity Family, POOR was able to buy a piece of land in Oakland to launch a project called HOMEFULNESS: a sweat-equity cohousing, art, and community garden project for houseless, landless, indigenous families and elders. …

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