RESTING SAFE involves four overlapping phases. In addition to written, visual art, and popular education materials, the project will ultimately result in a “RESTING SAFE Toolkit” that enables houseless communities across the US to learn more about and reduce risks to environmental hazards.
Houseless Communities, Environmental Hazards: National Phone Survey - (Fall 2018 - Spring 2019)
We are currently conducting the first-ever national phone survey of houseless communities, asking leaders and representatives 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?
As of February 2019, we have interviewed over 40 houseless community representatives, hailing from all regions of the country. The survey will inform creation of the RESTING SAFE Toolkit, a report, a poster, a map (concealing exact locations), and other popular education materials.
If you are the leader of a houseless community (broadly defined) and want to participate in our survey, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
RESTING SAFE Toolkit: Development & Dissemination - (Fall 2018 - Spring 2021)
We are also currently developing a web- and paper-based "RESTING SAFE Toolkit" that draws on our phone survey, in-person interviews, and personal experience. In addition to multi-media resources to help rest area communities gain information about environmental hazards at their sites (e.g., pamphlets, zines, posters, short tutorial videos, illustrated guides, links to local site history maps), the RESTING SAFE Toolkit will eventually include information about how to access soil/air quality testing materials, case studies of various approaches, and a support email address/hotline. It will also include an online platform for people to "crowd source" additional suggestions for staying safe, such as ideas for keeping rodents at bay, links to information about safe gardening practices, and more.
We have already created a pamphlet with tips and tricks for dealing with mold and mildew, and are in the process of developing a zine focused on fire safety. We are also developing protocols for people to find out more about air pollution in their area, by collecting spider webs.
Roots of Resistance: In-Depth Interviews, Archival Research - (Winter 2019 - Spring 2020)
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 eradicate the city of houseless people. This phase investigates the history of houselessness in Portland and beyond, bringing attention to its structural roots and entanglements with racial capitalism—as well as the resistance efforts seeded in Portland and spreading throughout the US.
We are conducting in-depth interviews with grassroots houseless community leaders, as well as staff of natural resource agency and conservation organization groups, in Portland and a few other west coast cities where Right 2 Survive has helped establish communities. Interviews are focusing on: 1) the rise and spread of houseless communities; and 2) the environmental politics of houseless communities. As part of this ongoing phase, we are also doing a site history of one key plot of land in Portland where houseless people have lived off and on for over a century. The contested land uses that have occurred at this site, over time, offer a window into how shifting periods of city-building are intimately linked to racialized poverty—challenging mainstream narratives that blame houseless people for their precarious situations.
Community-Controlled Land: Hazard Assessment & Remediation - (Summer 2019 - Spring 2021)
Our team will work closely with a handful of pilot tent city communities to research site histories, conduct soil and air sampling, and inventory other environmental hazards on/near sites. Each community will collectively make decisions about how to address pollution and hazards, following a harm reduction approach. Some mitigation options include low-cost soil remediation techniques (e.g., using earthworms or laying a thick layer of mulch), relocating tents away from particularly dangerous areas, or pushing government agencies to better regulate polluters.
RESTING SAFE will support rest area, tent city, encampment, and tiny house village communities across the US in gaining knowledge about environmental hazards at their sites, to reduce impacts using creative and low-cost techniques. Ultimately, RESTING SAFE will contribute to building a network of houseless-run communities across the US, fighting for sleep not sweeps, house keys not handcuffs.