Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vision of a Tuff Shed test Village

In Loaves & Fishes' May newsletter there's a missive, written in the second-person, that endeavors to show the desire for "SafeGround at its best," as a village of cabins.

Here, "SafeGround" is spelled as one word [which is the same way the recently launched nonprofit by that name is spelling the word/words.] Que lastima! the spelling of the term has been in constant flux! Perhaps, things are settling. The term, which has many usages, is used in the newsletter sequentially to mean (1) an illegal encampment in the woods by one the local rivers, (2) a stay at a church that is probably legal, deftly (and laudably) skirting the anti-camping ordinance and (3) the vision of "an actual safe ground" with "sleeping cabins" [read: Tuff Sheds] on property where city [or county, if it's in an unincorporated area?] officials allow a variance to the tough, meanspirited anti-camping ordinance, that, I believe, both the city and county have.

The vision of a Tuff Shed Village is given in a single sentence: "SafeGround is also committed to find an actual safe ground [meaning here a safe place to camp or sleep or be], where we can live together in simple inexpensive one- or two-bed sleeping cabins, self governed and self guarded."

All right. Fair enough. Like Loaves & Fishes and its allied charities, I want a Tuff Shed village to be attempted. And I think it must be tested. Next winter may seem to be a long, long way away, now, but it will come upon us fast, and with the economy being what it is in Recovery-laggard California, Homeless World Sacramento is going to need every means of keeping people warm and dry and safe that can be mustered.

I think that a village of about thirty people should be created soon, to see how well things go, with the hope that the village can be expanded to a larger size if things go very very well.  So, assuming a property can be found, a test village should be established, under the watchful eye of city/county authorities.

The idea of starting small and building up, to perhaps 100 people, creates problems that beginning with the full-blown village doesn't have. You have to decide upon what you need in ancillary equipment/features/appliances [washer/dryer; barbecue; club room; number of porta-potties; that kind of thing] for 30 people and then replace/supplement/expand those community features/things as the number of people and sheds ratchets up.

The idea of a small test-mode for the to-be Tuff Shed village can make everything seem especially expensive. Preparing Tuff Sheds and adding furnishings can be rather expensive, to the point of seeming to need a commitment beforehand that the village will be in existance for, say, a minimum of three-and-a-half years. Otherwise, the budgetting for all this comes to be a bit insane.  You can end up spending significant money and then have to throw it all down a rat hole.

So, you need the test-mode to be on the cheap and to be clearly successful. I'm thinking that the "starter village" should, at very first, have canvas-tent abodes, with perhaps a few EDARS (since EDARS, like common tents, can survive the failure of the village idea), and Tuff Sheds acting as a club room. I'm also thinking that there should be 'a test' of having a cordoned off area for guys to pee in the bushes [eco-friendly guy that I am]. [Read the SacHo post Yellow is the new Green in regards to the great good of proper peeing on plants.]  The mayor wants Sacramento to be the center of ecological revolution?  Hooray, that!  Let's go homeless people!  Let us do our part!

The test, you see, is to see how wild and wacky and violent things get and where savings can be found and where good can be done. Indeed, the test is to see if the village can be very peaceful and budget friendly. And if it's not peaceful and safe ― more like Mayberry than Baghdad ― then the idea of a sanctioned tent/shed town of some sort needs to be put to rest, til spring of 2011 at least, if not forevermore. We need to know soon if a tent town can be part of the network of accommodations ― shelters, transitional housing, housing at Mather, "A Movable Sleep" [aka, safe ground], camping in churches [also, aka, safe ground] ― to keep homeless people dry, warm, safe and alive during the winter of 2010-2011.

In its May newsletter missive, the second sentence reads: "You joined SafeGround yesterday by signing a pledge to not drink, do drugs or be violent in camp." The sentence is a misdirection. I believe that all charities have a moral obligation to never mislead, which is something I find Loaves & Fishes doing more often than not.  Donors and potential donors, especially, but everyone else, too, should be given the undebased truth such that, over the course of time, they can come to have a pretty accurate understanding of the charity's business [what it does; who it serves], and, ultimately, gain complete confidence in the charity. But, truly, overiding all the ancillary benefits, being truthful is its own reward. Or, should be. [I do worry that The Communist Thing has resulted in a sensiblity of "the end justifies the means" in the homeless-help industry far-far-whacky-Left.]

I have been given a copy of the pledge SafeGround-wannabees sign, as it is currently worded. It says, very much the same thing it did when I signed up last August.  The so-called "SAFE GROUND ENCAMPMENT PARTICIPANT AGREEMENT begins with a statement of what Safe Ground is about, what is expected and "guidelines," 1 and then asks an initiated participant to sign a pledge to abide by the Rules, which is this, in toto:

RULES:
       1. No drugs within 50 feet of the encampment.
       2. No alcohol within 50 feet of the encampment.
       3. No violence or threats of violence.


I, __________________________, have read and agree to abade by the above listed rules of the Safe Ground encampment.  I understand that I may be asked to leave the encampment for violation of any of the above-stated rules and I agree to leave promptly, upon being directed to do so vy a membver of the core group (Council of Elders) of the Safe Ground Encampment.
While SafeGround people are pledged not to drink or do drugs in camp, they can get high just outside camp and then be thoroughly sloshed and biffledinked and weave their way back inside the camp.

It is my understanding that when many core SafeGrounders were spending their extended Winter vacation at Hawthorn Suites [from about the middle of November to the end of March] there were issues relating to the use of alcohol and narcotics - and partying, generally - on hotel property. Some SafeGrounders' thinking was on the order of hell, this is a ho-tel-room! Let us use it for the good times it was created by the hotel god for! Meantime, SafeGround's elder elder figured a demonstration of SafeGround monastic restraint was what was required. Things devolved from there to a Spy-vs-Spy social atmosphere, with tattling, and threat of tattling.

So, while I like the idea of "SafeGround at its best," it may be we haven't seen it yet or it is tantalizingly out-of-reach, Kirstin Paisley's essay about SafeGrounders being a phalanx of Jesuses, notwithstanding. Would a Tuff Shed village be like the Merin encampment on C Street, with drug suppliers circling the area? Possibly. SOMEBODY needs to be 'real world,' talk "real talk," and face the very real possible problems that a sanctioned Tent City or homeless village, or whatever, might present.

The test should not be artificial, a short span of time when SafeGrounders 'play nice' while internally building up resentments.  It should be a community that really, actually-factually "grows up," advances to maturity and respect for neighbors, and takes maturity and respect to heart enough so that the community functions in that way.  That's a high bar, but nothing less should be attempted.  It should not be a community of people under the thumb of an autocratic "Council of Elders."  As for drinking or getting high or matters re sex in the compressed space of a camp, the problems should get resolved by maturity and acquiesence to a norm of serious behavior that doesn't want to discomfort others.  People shouldn't be disallowed to go into their baffoon subpersonality, they just need to know where the off-switch is.  And people shouldn't be subjected to some that have a controlling-others, running-the-show mode, enabling their inner Napoleon.

Remember, all:  At its inception, Safe Ground was incubated in SHOC meetings where communist principles were lauded and copies of People's Tribune were handed out.  You are a victim! Arise! Revolt! Revolution!

So, the new community will have a Council of Elders who can roust you, in an extralegal way, instead of the police!?  How is this unlike the Councils in Communist countries that suddenly gained power and had no oversight as they did what they pleased?  [Think of when Uri Zhivago returned home from the Eastern Front to find a Council running his house and the community of people that had come to live in it, in the book/movie Dr. Zhivago.  Or, the Councils in China that ran communities in th 80s and dictatorially maintained the one-child-per-family rule.]  At least the police are subject to legal oversight.

In America we are always supposed to be under the rule of law with due process.  Homeless people many, if not most, of whom have next to nothing are especially vulnerable and should not be subjected to whimsical rule by extra-legal autocrats.  This ain't the Soviet Union, and Homeless World Sacramento should not, in part, be made into the Soviet Union in miniature.

I love the suffering people in Homeless World Sacramento. People who know me out on the street, know that I do, very much. I love them as they are, as they really are, from my sense of their suffering [we all suffer], and admiration of the scrappiness of many, the resiliency of many, the boldness of some.  And I am in solidarity with the brokenness of more than a few.  Sadly, I have to wonder if homeless-help industy executives in our metropolis have the moxie and clarity to find a meta-positional sensiblity [lifting themselves above the dull hysterical drama of life] or have a clue what agape is to see the treetops above the forest and to appreciate the people of HWS.  I wonder this. Especially when things are particularly surreal and it's coming down so hard I need a hat.

Garren, Mark of WH & Gerrie, at Loaves can rise to a meta-position2 when called upon, which is supercool, but it's a meager few. C'mon, you others, lift your game.
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1 This is the explanation of Safe Ground at the top of the Participant Agreement, FYI. "We have been campaigning to get City and County permission for homeless persons to set up camp in Sacramento and not be harassed or ejected from their encampment. We are calling this a campaign for SAFE GROUND, a community where homeless people can live in peace and harmony in a self-governing community. Guidelines for this community include the following: mutual respect; maintaining a neat/clean environment; keeping loud noises down and allowing people to sleep after 10:00 pm; controlling pets; and respecting the community's rules."

2 Whoops. I thought I knew what meta-position means. Likely, there's some other word that I should use.

From the Internet I learn "The Meta Position in NLP [Neuro Linguistic Programming, a type of hypnotherapy] is a location outside a situation enabling you to view the situation in a more objective way. A dissociated position not involved with the content of the event or the person. Very similar to Third Position."


That's sort of what I mean - being in Witness Mode, as Ken Wilber calls it, maybe -- but I also mean being emotionally flat or  friendly and rising above the din of samsara.  In Buddhism, as I said, the avenue is mindfulness and seeing others as fellow sufferers. In Christianity, it can be that you get into agape mode.  I DON'T think I mean - from Buddhism or Hinduism - getting to experience your small-s self as your capital-S Self; nothing that heady. 

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