Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Season of the Hunt

There’s a certain beauty and comfort to the swing of the seasons, the certainty of traditions, the trusted cycles. Used to be in this region of long summers and long rains that the first drops signaled the slide to the holidays, the days of harvest, of snugging up the homestead. Back in the days when I cleaned motel rooms between poems, the rise of the rivers brought the travelers intent on snagging a steelhead or salmon in the swollen rivers of winter. Trade at the motels rose as the rivers rose. The summerfolk had gone, the adventurers and the rains were here.

Now in our region there is a new tradition, a new sport with the twist of the season. The start of the rains, the drop in temperatures to below freezing—these signal the good times of rousting the campers and raiding the homes of those without addresses.

Perhaps a signal goes off in the offices of deputies as soon as it is wet enough and cold enough. Severe weather alert: hit the camps.

Again this year teams of sheriffs went to the hills and bushes and beside the river. Said theSheriff, chatting carefully on local radio, the deputies went in and “we were actually here last week starting notification, letting them know it’s gonna happen, giving them some alternatives, giving them some ideas…where they might go & some other county programs”.

This sounds like the most beneficent of social welfare programs. Go to that elderly veteran trying to recover from his wounded heart and body and reach out a firm, loving hand. “hey man, you don’t have to sleep on the muddy ground!” Say to the young mom and her daughter, “hey, no worries”.

But that’s not what happens. The veteran, the mother, the dozens of others receive a note telling them to clear out or else.

What programs are they offered? Where are they told to go, as they leave what possessions they cannot carry, or as they return to their camp to find all they had has been taken and thrown away?

Here’s the Sheriff again: “Well, obviously, one of the biggest problems we have…is services. There’s not a lot of services here…we’re trying to encourage people to go to where the help is available.”

And where might that be? Los Angeles, with its thousands, not dozens, of people sleeping on the streets? Eureka, where the few shelter beds are not enough even for the people of that city? The helpful TAP (transportation assistance program) can help those who have families to return to.

That won’t help the young woman whose family is the furthest thing from safety. That won’t console the widower fearing everything he has left, everything he has left to love, will be taken from him if he is found again trying to sleep, just as his wife, his home, and all his previous life were wrenched from him. He doesn’t sleep too well at night, waiting for the sound in the brush, waiting to be found once again.

We force our neighbors to live as if they were hunted. Because they are hunted, in this traditional season of the hunt. And even if the TAP program fits some temporarily displaced soul, the program requires some waiting. When your gear has been taken, when it is raining, and your clothes are wet, and the temperatures are dropping into the 20’s, and you have no place to go…how are you going to wait for the paperwork?

Says our Sheriff “uh, I feel that it is time for this area for us to step up and help. There’s a lot of people in this area who have expressed their concerns so I’m trying to help deal with that”.

Right. The confiscated gear, according to the papers received by our most at risk, will be stored 30 days. In fact, it is taken to the dump by the helpful SWAP team (a new twist in the games, using prisoners—well, at least they get some fresh air and time outdoors).

“They broke my home” said the wild eyed, shocked man. He’d lived there for many years, in the curve of a hillside, with his things. “They came and they broke everything down”. Where will you go, I asked. “I don’t know” he said “I’m homeless now”.

It is the time of the long rains. Of the return of the salmon, and the greening of the moss. It is the time in which nights bring frost and memories. People draw their children close and sit by the fire and dream.

And outside our neighbors shudder. It is the time of bronchitis and pneumonia. Of death by exposure. Our neighbors, without their bags, blankets, or a place to rest, hope to find a moments sleep. Maybe even a dream or two.

“Are you okay?” I asked the man who is dying of cancer. “I mean, with the raids and all”. He says “I’m fine. I carry all I have with me, and I get up before light”. He smiles and asks how I am doing.

I don’t quite know what to tell him.

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Blogger coyote said...

I've noted that with many of the different Occupy camps here in Canada, the police are moving in now, too.

Maybe they were hoping the weather would do their work for them. Then, finding the campers more tenacious then they thought, they've begun citing "health and safety concerns", such as a young woman in Vancouver who may (or may not) have died of an overdose, alone in her tent...

One could posit that she may or may not have had nowhere else to go.

Certainly, authorities seem to be using the idea that homeless people have started joining the camps as a further reason for moving in on the whole lot with batons.

As with your sheriff, officials that have been cropping up in increasing numbers in the media to justify the evictions are doing (to my eye and ear) much (barely) coded shrugging and jiving.

Because the homeless, you know...

4:20 AM, November 09, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Yes, you're right, coyote..we have friends at Occupy Oakland and elsewhere (there is even an Occupy Eureka, shut down right after the raids here for...you guessed it, "health and safety" issues). And there is an intersection of people and issues at the occupy sites that...I can hope...might create new ways of seeing.
Though right now..well, same old stories.

9:02 AM, November 09, 2011  
Blogger Lucy said...

Desperate, desperate times.

3:07 PM, November 09, 2011  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

I remember waking up and learning that an acquaintence/friend had died from exposure. He was homeless and lived in Pittsburgh against one of the many bridges. When I'd walk home after my classes we'd always chat with him for a few, several of us did. Despite his living conditions, and being a double amputee, he was one of the most fun, animated people I'd ever met. His death made the news. I remember crying when I woke up to that news report. I didn't understand how someone could be ignored and walked by daily, left to live in brutal conditions in all sorts of weather... and then have the news announce it like all of a sudden he mattered to them. He was a news story - something to make them feel better about the mere fact of DISCUSSING what to do with the increasing homeless population, kind of like your sheriff. But they didn't talk with him several times a week. They didn't sit with him, unafraid to let others be seen in company of 'his sort'. We traded stories, laughs, cigarettes and some smiles. I had a very hard time with that. It's almost 23 years later and it would appear that I still do.

8:20 PM, November 12, 2011  
Blogger Sharon said...

The city of San Francisco is pushing the Occupy SF group out like every where else. SF has been pushing the homeless out for a long time. We even changed out fiscal policies under a previous mayor to "Care Not Cash". That meant we cut the monthy grant amounts to adults on aid (so they could afford nothing instead of little), and we said we would increase services. What we did was cut aid, and made services harder to access by creating a singular entry point (one door for a million people... just imagine). The city suits will tell you that our homeless population has declined since this policy change began, and they claim the decline is because of the policy. Who's to say? You compare the 2006 number of people accessing services vs living on the streets to the 2011, and you can use the comparisons to say anything you want. It doesn't change the reality that the number of people I see on the streets every day in SF is on the rise. People with untreated and under treated mental health issues here is on the rise. They remain exposed to the elements of weather and humanity.

They are part of the 99% too. They're among the most vulnerable. When we stand for peace, we must stand for them too.

11:18 AM, November 20, 2011  
Blogger Kathryn Grace said...

Only the other day I read that a small fraction of the Pentagon's annual budget, an amount so small we would still have the biggest, most powerful arsenal in the world, would feed, shelter, clothe, provide medical care and fresh water and sanitation to ALL the world's homeless and poor.

We have it within our power to wipe out poverty today, this very moment. That we beleaguer, harass and abuse our homeless and sick is a crime. Our city fathers and mothers, and the police forces they employ, should be accused of crimes against nature and prosecuted.

Your voice, your deep understanding of the problem, Jarvenpa, is a deeply important one. May you not stand alone in your neighborhood and county. May your voice be amplified. May you find peace in your heart despite these ills.

3:19 PM, December 21, 2011  
Anonymous atma said...

I just found your blog. Thank you for a voice of poetry, sense and compassion!

5:10 AM, January 20, 2012  

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