Friday, January 22, 2016

Suzanne Hastings at the Community Dinner Project city hall occupation

A piece on the fifth page in the Jan-Feb, 2016, issue of Homeward Street Journal has gotten my attention. It’s titled “Rude Awakenings” by Suzanne Hastings. It tells of Hastings’ efforts camping at City Hall with homeless people as part of the “Community Dinner Project city hall occupation.” The “occupation,” which goes by several names, I believe, including Occupy City Hall, City Hall Occupation and The Right to Rest, pushes for the repeal or invalidation of the City of Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance.

Hastings has spent several nights camping with homeless colleagues during a period of intense cold and rain. One night, December 20 -- that Hasting calls “the night from hell” -- is given particular attention in her article. She writes:
“…you fight to protect your gear. You fight to keep your tarp from blowing away. It’s a war between you and the wind. You’re in the trenches. The wind is firing overhead and, like in all wars, you must keep vigilant.” 
Suzanne Hastings puts me in an ambivalent place. I am both amused and admiring of her colorful writing and fearful for her well-being as she combats the elements.

In the middle of her piece is this:
I asked myself, since when did America become so inhuman to its citizens? The ones who have been priced out by gentrification; whose jobs have been outsourced; those who are forced to escape an abusive environment; and those who age out of foster care. This thought, like the wind and the rain, kept me awake. And even if I sleep indoors, it will jab at me like the trickle of icy rainwater or the fingers of the wind.
Hastings’ effort is a bit of a stunt. She has a home; she spent nights at City Hall by choice. Unlike the homeless people who camp near her, Hastings can evoke an escape clause at any point. She can simply grab her belongings and toddle off to wherever it is that she lives. Nonetheless, her effort is valiant, noble and, for her, enlightening.

I would want the city council members and declared mayoral candidates to do something akin to what Hastings has done. I would want them to camp out around City Hall to get a taste of what it is like. I would want them to get a little ragged and go incognito to Loaves & Fishes for lunch; and later, I would want them to hear a sermon at Union Gospel Mission. If the council members and mayoral candidates are good people they would have an interesting time. They would learn something that they couldn’t learn otherwise.

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