LACAN releases update of "Dirty Divide: Out of Service" - report on human rights violations on Skid Row

“Instead of parks, water, and hand washing stations, poor communities received paddy wagons; instead of porta-potties and supplies we received additional police and patrol cars; and, instead of being treated with dignity and respect the community was punished for existing in spaces in which we were not welcome. Thirty years later the pattern continues and compliance with any form of public health standards is non-existent.”

To read more about the impacts of human rights violations on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, click here. Huge shout out to our friends at Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) for all their work on the front lines building a better world by and for poor people.

Tiny House Village by and for Black folks in East Portland

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RESTING SAFE team member Laquida Landford organized a beautiful event for Earth Day, focused on building a village by and for Black people in East Portland. Featured groups included Mudbone Grown, Black Community of Portland, and Right 2 Survive (R2S). R2S director and RESTING SAFE team member Ibrahim Mubarak spoke about his over a decade of experience organizing houseless-led communities in Portland, as well as helping to establish similar villages in over a dozen US cities. The event also featured opportunities for youth to learn about STEM careers. Most importantly, the afternoon was a chance for people to connect and learn from each other, and to envision new futures.

RESTING SAFE team member breaks down policing of houseless folks in Portland for the Western Regional Advocacy Project

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Portland is one city with two very different opinions of itself. Whether or not the concept of our city as a liberal utopia, a playground for the young and a capital of millennial culture started with that particular television show, our city leadership has leaned hard into the idea and the monied interests that are attached. That narrative clashes with the other version of Portland, the one where a history of racism and poor housing protection has combined with the insatiable pursuit of developer dollars to create an avalanching crisis, and one of our own making.
 
A long pattern of decisions on the part of State and City leadership has prioritized the short term interests of land owners and business interests over the needs of the humans living here, creating this particular point in time where the economic refugees sleeping on our sidewalks and making communities in our shared green spaces can no longer be hidden. The people drawn in by the marketing efforts of Portland leadership, moving here to live in the mythical land of bicycle activism and backyard goats, are increasingly forced to confront the residents of the other Portland, the one where tepid and slow moving City responses have done little to blunt the force of our housing crisis. 

In the face of this dissonance, Portlanders are turning to the police to enforce the boundaries of their world.
 
We’re gonna start with some numbers, but bear with me- this is important. This is all from the Willamette Week. In the last five years 911 calls have increased here by nearly a third'; however, less than a quarter of total calls have anything to do with any crime, real or suspected. People are calling to report the existence of someone living in a tent or in their car. Someone who is committing no crime and frequently not interacting with another human being, but simply living in a way that callers finds unacceptable. Police refer to these calls as “unwanted person” reports, and they couldn’t be more right. Portlanders are calling the Portland Police to report the presence of someone who is unwanted in this city, hoping that the cops will make them disappear. We as a city are using the cops to control what members of our community we see and interact with and have to acknowledge as living here. (To read more, click here.)

RESTING SAFE team speaks at RACE TALKS in Portland

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RESTING SAFE/Right 2 Survive’s Ibrahim Mubarak and Laquida Landford, along with Right 2 Survive’s Adam Carpinelli, broke it down for an overflowing audience last week at RACE TALKS PDX. They drew on their own deep experiences organizing for both racial justice and housing justice to discuss the ways in which a broken housing system disproportionately impacts Black people, including via the policing of houseless people and the disproportionate exposure of houseless folks to environmental hazards. They also shared how culturally-specific organizing led by and for Black people is charting a new path forward. Ib, Q, and Adam ALL received standing ovations!

From RACE TALKS materials advertising the event: “Late in 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development presented its annual report on homelessness to Congress. Oregon ranks near the top of states in terms of the percentage of its homeless/houseless population that are living “unsheltered,” i.e. on the streets, in vehicles, parks or other places not designated for humans to sleep. According to the report, Black Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by houselessness. African Americans only account for 13% of the U.S. population, yet they represent 40% of all people experiencing houselessness, and 51% of the houseless who have children. Join us as some of Oregon’ top advocates for the houseless share the story behind the statistics and their efforts to stop houselessness while giving its victims dignity.”

RESTING SAFE team members speak at AAG

A handful of RESTING SAFE team members recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers, in Washington DC. Highlights included: Chris Hawn and Erin Goodling presenting on the RESTING SAFE project as an example of doing critical physical geography on a panel in which Melanie Malone served as the discussant; Chris speaking again about how to make citizen science relevant to environmental justice (EJ) communities; Anthony Levenda on EJ and prisons; and Erin presenting for the first time about the RESTING SAFE national phone survey, focused on environmental hazards faced by houseless communities.

Collecting Prey & Pollution

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Ali Cat Leeds from Entangled Roots Press just finished screen prints of a beautiful poster she created to help get the word out about our efforts to design low-tech protocols for gauging air pollution levels in the places where houseless people make their homes. It turns out that spider webs not only trap flies and other tasty treats, but they also collect diesel particulate matter—which creates huge problems for houseless people and others living near highways and in industrial areas. Shout out to RESTING SAFE team member Chris Hawn who is leading this work, along with Dillon Mahmoudi, Nava Rastegar, and others in Baltimore!

Some reflections on the RESTING SAFE Toolkit

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Our Portland-based RESTING SAFE team met yesterday, and we reflected on the role of our popular ed EJ Toolkit project (e.g., mold and mildew, fire safety zines, spiderweb air quality testing tutorials) in this broader movement for the right 2 rest, housekeys not handcuffs, homes for all. We talked about the toolkit being a "triage" tool on the surface -- but also a tool for knowledge-legitimizing and collective knowledge-building, because of WHO is involved. If a group of wealthy college students were making this toolkit it wouldn't hold nearly the same potential; in fact, it'd amount to asking houseless people to “take better care of their environment". We also discussed the process of how interviewing people across the country around EJ concerns will contribute to a much broader national grassroots houseless group network to emerge.

Community Control Over Land, Housing, Police - MAX RAMEAU in town!

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RESTING SAFE brought Max Rameau to town last week, from Pan-African Community Action the US Human Rights Network in DC (and co-founder of Take Back the Land). We organized 5 events over 3 days, and all told engaged with ~175+ people around the topics of community control over land, housing, and police. Here’s a run-down of the events and key take-aways brainstormed by our Portland-based RESTING SAFE team:

1) BIG event : 100+ people gathered at Woodlawn MIC on a rainy cold night, mostly from very grassroots/radical Black and/or houseless orgs, to hear Max speak on community control over policing. We also witnessed some beautiful music, art, and homemade food, in a space filled with groups' banners and posters. The crowd gave Max a well-deserved standing ovation! Our organizing team reflected on how refreshing it was that Max could launch into some pretty radical ideas without spending time trying to convince the audience that racism and homelessness are problems that can't be solved via lukewarm reforms.

2) Nuts and bolts of community land trusts: Hosted by Lisa K. Bates and Sharita Towne from the Black Life Experiential Research Group, this meeting focused on everything CLT — from why a group might configure an LLC vs 501c3 CLT model, to how different arms of a group using different tactics might work together. We also discussed why a new, as-yet dreamed up model might be even better than a CLT for de-commodifying land and housing. Key point: start with an overarching objective, then work backwards to figure out a strategy to get you there.

3) Grassroots group strategy session - This was the culminating event. People from a dozen mainly houseless and/or very grassroots tenant rights groups, most who'd attended #1 and/or #2 above, convened to reflect on "lessons learned" for their own work + connected with people from groups who might not know each other. Max helped set the stage with a few words, small groups formed for break-out discussions based on interest areas (Business Improvement District policing, building people power / knowledge, self-run houseless communities trying to HOLD ground once they have it, and neighborhood-based anti-displacement / affordable housing), and then groups reported back to the larger group and committed to a next step (like, "trade contact info and convene for a CLT study session").

4) Smaller session: Knowledge-sharing meeting with the Portland Clean Energy Initiative / Oregon Green New Deal coalition folks. Max was interested in learning more about the model to take to the east coast.

5) Smaller session: Max presented on why the civil rights movement needs to evolve into a human rights movement.

KEY TAKEAWAYS (from the RESTING SAFE lead organizing team’s group reflection meeting following the big events):

  • structural racism rather than racial prejudice should be the target of our work

  • get clear on building power instead of settling for influence - know the difference and strategically choose one or the other, but whenever possible shoot for building power

  • study and prepare for crisis and chaos -- the "movement moments" when totally new and transformative models can emerge

  • PACA is proposing a new model of community control over police, and why this "movement moment" is an important one with regard to policing; learn more about it, and think about ways to adapt it

  • it is imperative to be "scientific" in our thinking about movement-building

  • develop systems of accountability instead of relying on trust

  • center the most marginalized in our work - i.e. Black queer women and trans people

  • it is imperative that white people organize their own communities to fight systemic racism and racial prejudice

  • acknowledge that "resistance" has an important place -- but that now is a time to push forward

  • join an org! - don't go it alone

  • get clear on objectives before deciding on strategies

  • community land trusts are one key tool for de-commodifying land (and they emerged out of Black communities in the south long before white Vermonters started them) -- but develop clear analysis to know if/when to pursue a new model

  • a human rights movement is a logical next step, building on the civil rights movement

  • and MUCH MORE!

HUGE shout outs to Max for taking time to share wisdom; Mic Crenshaw, Donovan Smith, Johnny Cool, Coya Crespin, Q, and Ibrahim for joining Max on the stage Friday night; to all the groups who tabled (Monica, Benjamin, and Kaitlyn from WRAP, Sarah from Glitter Squad, Chris from Black Community of Portland, Aileen and Charles from Street Roots, Coya from CAT, Adam and Lisa from Right 2 Survive); everyone who brought food and helped organize other events, especially Joanne from Lents Strong!, Lisa and Sharita from BLERG, and Donovan from Gentrification is Weird!; Woodlawn MIC, Rose CDC, BLERG, and Social Justice Action Center for providing space; Equal Exchange for kicking down snacks and coffee; and funders - Antipode Foundation, Social Justice Fund Northwest / PHCC, and Bonneville Foundation.

RESTING SAFE - Report from Los Angeles

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For the last few days of January, Ibrahim, Laquida, and Erin travelled from Portland to LA for the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities conference, hosted by UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy and LA Community Action Network. The Housing Justice in Unequal Cities research network brings together researchers, grassroots groups, and other institutions working to understand “issues of housing precarity (evictions, homelessness, displacement, segregation, informal settlements)”, as well as “practices of housing justice (eviction blockades, community land trusts, housing cooperatives and commons, tenant organizing, homeless unions, social rent, land value tax)”. We were honored to represent Portland and share the work that Right 2 Survive is doing in collaboration with local groups and others via the Western Regional Advocacy Project and beyond, as well as to learn from people who attended from around the world!

Mold & Mildew Pamphlet - hot off the press!

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We finally finished up our very first RESTING SAFE Toolkit product, a pamphlet highlighting the harmful effects of mold and mildew, as well as some of the ways in which people sleeping in tents, cars, and other makeshift shelters can keep mold and mildew at bay.

We are so grateful to Street Roots vendors for sharing their expertise with us! For example, one person described how they slip a few dixie cups in between their tent and tarp to keep the air flowing. Genius!

And we LOVE the artwork, created by Quinn!

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