RESTING SAFE involves five overlapping phases, summarized here.
PHASE 1: Intersecting Hazards, Intersectional Identities: A Baseline Critical EJ Analysis of Homelessness
National phone survey of houseless community representatives (Fall 2018 - Summer 2019).
Led by Erin Goodling, with support from Lisa Fink.
We are currently wrapping up the first-ever national phone survey of houseless communities representatives, asking questions about their communities, sites, challenges, and strategies. For example, Approximately where are you located? How many people live in your community? Do you have access to water? What concerns do you have about health hazards, such as air pollution, soil toxins, or police violence? How are you connected to other activist or community groups? What interactions have you had with public agencies related to environmental issues? We have interviewed nearly 50 people (as of September 2019).
Drawing on this survey and ongoing lived experience, RESTING SAFE charts an inaugural baseline critical EJ analysis of homelessness. This research reveals that houseless people indeed suffer from extreme weather; noise, air, and soil pollution; mold, rodents, and more. But to understand the EJ experiences of houseless people, it is necessary to examine much more than just direct hazard exposure. Sweeps – evictions – in downtown and residential areas push people into dangerous spaces. In turn, cities overwhelmingly respond to environmental hazard concerns with more exclusion and displacement—creating a cycle of criminalization, dangerous living conditions, and serial forced removal. Moreover, this incarceration-exposure-eviction cycle multiplies and magnifies other forms of violence that disproportionately impact houseless people along lines of race, gender, age, (dis)ability, and so on.
This survey is also informing analysis of climate change-induced factors that impact houseless people, including severe storms, heat waves, and wildfires, as well as houseless communities’ responses. In response to acute climate violence, houseless people report an ethos of mutual aid, given the pervasive exclusion of houseless people from state-sponsored assistance prior to, during, and following storms and wildfires. This ongoing research is in dialogue with organizers and scholars who urge a politics of climate justice that centers historical environmental and housing-based racisms and resistance.
PHASE 2: RESTING SAFE Environmental Justice Toolkit
Participatory action research, popular education material development & dissemination (Fall 2018 - indefinite).
Co-led by Erin Goodling, Lisa Fay, Laquida Landford, Ibrahim Mubarak, Alex Gillow-Wiles, Chris Hawn, and Nava Rastegar.
We are also currently developing a web- and paper-based "RESTING SAFE Environmental Justice (EJ) Toolkit" that draws on our phone survey, in-person interviews, and personal experience. Our EJ Toolkit includes a series of pamphlets, posters, and other resources created by and for houseless people, designed to support DIY mitigation of hazards. So far, we have created pamphlets with tips for addressing mold, fire in various forms (i.e., open-flame heating and cooking, wildfires, arson), and rodents.
We are currently developing protocols for communities to test for localized air pollution using a very cool, low-cost technique: collecting spiderwebs and sending them to Chris Hawn at UMBC, who will analyze them for the presence of diesel particulate matter and other harmful substances. We have heard from at least one community that they hope to test air quality in their current site near a highway, as well as in another nearby site, to decide if they should move due to toxic fumes. We have spoken with another community that is interested in learning more about the air they breathe, and potentially collaborating with neighbors to hold a local polluter accountable. All data collected and analyzed on behalf of houseless communities will be “owned” by those communities (rather than researchers), and our team is available to support follow-up decision-making processes.
Undergirding this EJ Toolkit tactic is an understanding that public agencies can rarely be counted on to intervene in the interests of houseless people—whether day-to-day, during extreme weather events, or following disasters. A response that simultaneously addresses immediate threats to survival, at the same time as it builds political consciousness that informs collective action against sweeps and other forms of violence pushing people into dangerous places, is necessary.
We have begun disseminating the EJ Toolkit around Portland, Oregon and Baltimore, Maryland, and will soon make pamphlets available to houseless communities across the US. Click here for more on the EJ Toolkit.
PHASE 3: Relational Site Histories, Roots of Resistance
Archival Research, In-Depth Interviews (Summer 2019 - Spring 2022).
Led by Erin Goodling, with support from Lisa Fink.
In 1905, over 5,000 people were living in scows – old ship skeletons – along Portland, Oregon’s waterfront. Portland’s mayor ordered them “burned, or moved to Lents”, a neighborhood six miles east of the harbor. Today, Lents and surrounding neighborhoods are ground-zero for vigilante groups seeking to collaborate with Portland Police to eradicate the city of houseless people. And the waterfront is home to a handful of groups fighting for the rights of houseless people to exist.
This RESTING SAFE phase investigates homelessness through a lens of urban political ecology, bringing attention to the structural roots of homelessness and its entanglements with settler colonialism and racial capitalism over time—as well as resistance efforts seeded in Portland and other US cities. This longer-term book project will entail a series of relational, deep site histories where houseless communities have established self-run encampments over the years, including in Portland, San Francisco, and Baltimore. These sites offer windows into the relationship between survival and collective action in the face of shifting modes of production and crisis, including the current climate crisis.
PHASE 4: Engaging Houseless People in Publicly Managed Green Space: A Trauma Informed Care Case Study
In-Depth Interviews, Participant Observation (Fall 2019 - Winter 2020).
Co-led by Lisa Fink, with support from Erin Goodling and Kathleen Guillozet.
A growing number of houseless people seek refuge in parks and green spaces due to increased policing in downtown and residential areas. Urban parks and green spaces offer a source of stability, privacy, and belonging for some unsheltered people, at the same time as the presence of houseless people in these spaces raises concerns for parks employees, who often respond by evicting people with nowhere else to go. Little if any research examines how natural resource managers and other park employees are coping with encampments in public green space in ways that go beyond forced removals, and there is little in the way of “best practices” on how natural resource managers might act without contributing to the structural tendency to control, exclude, and evict houseless people. In this context, the Oregon-based Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) led a series of innovative workshops in 2018 and 2019 for natural resource managers and staff that focused on taking a “trauma-informed care” approach in interactions with houseless people residing in urban and peri-urban green spaces. Reflecting on participant observation in BEF’s workshops and on semi-structured interviews with trainers and managers who attended, this research explores how natural resource managers address challenges in engaging with houseless people living in the green spaces and parks. Investigating the impacts of these trainings on natural resource managers as well as implications for agencies in other locations, this case study offers an alternative to the serial displacement of unhoused people.
PHASE 5: Community-Controlled Land: Informal STEM Learning for EJ Outcomes
Hazard assessment, informal STEM learning & remediation (Summer 2020 - Spring 2022).
Co-led by Erin Goodling, Chris Hawn, Lisa Fay, Ibrahim Mubarak, Laquida Landford, Alex Gillow-Wiles, Melanie Malone, Dillon Mahmoudi, Anthony Levenda, and Nathan McClintock.
Building on our EJ Toolkit, our team will work closely with a handful of pilot tent city communities to research site histories and conduct air sampling, by collecting spider webs and/or using low-cost sensors and testing for diesel particulate matter. Each community will collectively make decisions about how to address pollution and hazards, following a harm reduction approach. Mitigation options may include relocating tents away from particularly dangerous areas, staying away from encampments during peak air pollution times, raising funds to access air masks, or joining together with other groups in order to push government agencies to better regulate polluters.
RESTING SAFE supports houseless-led communities across the US in gaining knowledge about environmental hazards, reducing impacts using creative and low-cost techniques, stopping the sweeps, and fighting for more just cities. RESTING SAFE is contributing to building a network of houseless-run communities across the US, fighting for Sleep Not Sweeps, House Keys Not Handcuffs.