An Open Letter to the Community
Editor: Ron Anderson has had personal experience with homelessness and has a deep commitment to helping those living on our streets. He works as a Senior Advocate for Hope and Justice at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland. He sat out one cold night with people who live in the encampment by the Greyhound bus station under the underpass. These are their words and his reflections.
Dear Community Members,
This correspondence’s intention is to give you an inside perspective from the people in the midst of that living nightmare of homelessness. My name is Ron Anderson and I qualify myself to speak on this crisis by having been homeless for four hard years on the streets of Oakland.
I overcame homelessness from what St. Mary’s Center had to offer through their winter shelter, their transitional house and other programs within the center. I now have a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland and I am active in their Hope and Justice program as a Senior Advocate.
I recently spent the night at the encampment near West Grand in Oakland, not to tell them what they needed to do to change, or what they needed to correct, but to offer encouragement and let them know that anyone can overcome homelessness.
We sat on milk crates on a cold night, and we ate sandwiches while I listened as they talked about their fears, despairs and why help takes so long to reach them.
The following is what was told to me in their voices. I have used “I” statements instead of their names.
This is what we deal with while living on the streets under the underpass by the Greyhound station in West Oakland.
A. Police come down here for warrant checks because they know they have given out citations for “indecent exposure” because we have no restrooms. The citations have turned into warrants because they know I am not going to court dirty and smelly; it is their way to get rid of us, slowly but surely.
B. The city is reluctant to bring in portable toilets down here. Public restrooms are a thing of the past and once the drop-in center closes, there is nowhere to go to use the restroom.
C. Shelters are few in Oakland and I don’t have $5 a night to stay in one, to sleep on a mat then get put out at 5:00 a.m. to panhandle for another night. I’d rather sleep on the streets and spend that money on food.
D. I tried to get into that drug program near Chinatown. The next day they woke me up to take my weary body to their dock to load and unload trucks for eight hours. I just could not do it.
E. I was in the Social Services office no more than a few minutes before the Deputy escorted me out saying they got a complaint about my foul smell.
F. I can’t get a free cell phone because I don’t have ID, so I go to the shelter to use their phone but the bulletin board information is outdated and the phone numbers are out of service.
G. I go to the drop-in center to shower just to put back on the same clothes I been wearing for weeks, which is better than putting on secondhand clothes, ‘cause I saw bed bugs on them.
H. We call the old people “auntie” and “uncle.” I try to look out for them but they still get jacked for the food they leave in their tents either by the rats or someone else.
I. I feel we are looked at like we are a contagious disease; the way they look at me, makes me ashamed to enter a public office.
In closing, I, Ron Anderson, would like to say we are a long way from that so-called light at the end of the tunnel. When you are out on the streets, hope is out of reach.
I respectfully recommend that community members meet them half way and come down to the encampment and show that they want to help. People need a free shelter that is not tied to work requirements, but tied to personal goals and where they could rest and stay longer than a day or a week.
This will give us time to clear our heads, rest, talk to a case worker and help heal from the stuff we have buried inside, so we can release it and get a new outlook and hopefully a better life.
and the voices of the encampment
A New Beginning
by Robin Merfeld
It’s never too late to change your way
You can always start anew
Discard those habits you’re tired of
and fashion a whole new “you.”
Don’t consider the past a waste of
time, just learn from your mistakes
But if you want to forge ahead,
a change is what it takes.
So start right now and set new goals.
Decide what you want to do.
Be patient and take one step at a time,
but be sure to see each one through.
For as each step is finished and
you add it to the next,
You soon will see that you have built
a stairway to success.
by Robin Merfeld
It matters not the color of skin,
Only the goodness that lies within…
A heart that beats with love for all
And heeds the words
of the Master’s call…
A soul that’s washed as white as snow
With a smile that sets
the world aglow…
A tongue that speaks with Godly fire
Of glory and praise to fulfill
One who throughout the complex day
Takes the time to worship and pray
Let not the color of skin disguise
The saintly brother who dwells insid