Nothing About Us Without Us

0
639

Rarely are the voices of those with lived experience heard in discussions of homelessness, and some unhoused persons are beginning to say that the housed should decide “nothing about us without us.” Some of those voices were heard at the January 23 rally in front of City Hall.

In a moving video in which persons experiencing homelessness told their stories, one looked straight into the camera and said, “Anybody can become homeless.” Anybody.

Our very own Club Recording Secretary Shannon Theus told us about a period of homelessness she had experienced as a child when the family home was leveled by an earthquake, and the insurance company had been reluctant to pay. She emphasized that her unhoused family needed help. Help not criminalization.

A formerly unhoused person who spoke at the rally, Theo, put it this way, “Housed people are always telling us what’s what. But you don’t have the same reality when you don’t have a bathroom.” He spoke of a “housed consciousness” that seeks to “erase the most vulnerable”. 

Theo invited us to ask—What if I had spent all my money on a family health issue? What if I were using substances to cope with the harsh conditions of life unhoused? 

Ndindi Kitonga. a local educator and organizer with Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid (PUMA) shared with us a statement from one of her unhoused neighbors, Ruth Rooflesser, about the impact of criminalization under the Los Angeles ordinance.

Ruth Rooflesser writes:

“Here is my experience with criminalization: I’ve gotten 7x $237 tickets here for things like possessing an umbrella + a suitcase & public sleeping. I went to court for two of them. For two more of them, my significant other told the judge we moved away & they were dismissed. When we were in Court, they did not offer or refer us to any housing resources. They did, however, offer to convert my tickets into 12 hours of uncompensated hard labor for Public Works, clearing encampments of other unhoused people, as if wage theft didn’t contribute to my current situation. 

The Court made this unpaid labor offer after I pointed out the fact that possessing an umbrella (my crime, according to my ticket) is not even illegal. The judge seemed annoyed at my reluctance to accept diversion. I later found out that all seven tickets were out-of-LAPD jurisdiction. Despite their illegitimacy, I am still dealing with five of them from 2019.

So this situation has, by design, rewarded us for lying about moving, punished us for our honesty & assertion of our constitutional rights & has shamelessly attempted to profit several thousands of dollars off of our very extreme poverty by sending us into collections for five times the original $237 cost – over $1,000 per interrupted public nap, despite napping being legal AND LAPD not even having jurisdiction.

This police harassment & entrapment by the judicial system has encouraged us to make ourselves invisible by having no possessions & in the past, it has led to us hiding in dangerous places like dark storm drains & the caverns of bridges, where we nearly died after getting trapped in a fire, & where will have to return if criminalization ramps up into high gear again. 

Criminalization forces us to hide, “move along” or face arrest, rather than to make relationships with our neighbors & try to find a sense of belonging in the absence of actually affordable housing.

Criminalization forces us to forfeit our chances at accessing programs like Project Roomkey, which you had to be visibly encamped to qualify for. Outreach is supposed to be able to find us in the first place, & contact or locate us again when resources get matched to our case file, so hiding from them is self-sabotage. It means “I’ve given up hope.” & that outlook is the one you’ve [the City Council] gathered to promote.

It is TOTALLY possible to find belonging without housing, but not if you are being criminalized for your lack of housing.

Thank you”
—Ruth Rooflesser

The Grinch Caucus of the Council assures us that the Culver City tickets will be issued by Code Enforcement Officers and not cops. The cops will only be in the background to assure the Code Enforcement Officers’ safety. But does it really matter whether the hand that writes the ticket belongs to a Police Officer or not? Ruth still can’t pay it, and it only increases her misery index.