I must start off by saying I laughed when I heard that Alameda County agreed to lease the City of Oakland use of the Old North County Jail for $1.00 a year. Would the officials who had this idea stay in North County? Exactly how it is that this is an option just because someone else feels like, “well it’s better than where you are now so this is what I have to offer you, take it or leave it”?
All throughout my incarceration, I have never called my cell a home. Moreover, I consider the bars that cage me disrespectful, even to animals. So, I think Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf let down some very vulnerable people when she told the San Francisco Chronicle that a vacant jail is an “obvious” option for a homeless shelter.
Jorge Peña walked his tiny dog, Chiquita, around the inside perimeter of 711 71st Avenue in Oakland, behind the RVs parked neatly facing each other, stopping to say hello to his neighbor sitting in the shade. He is one of the first residents of Oakland’s new, invite-only “safe RV lot” next to Coliseum BART, and he calls it a “godsend.”
It’s simple. Public sidewalks are too crowded for homeless people, but wide enough for waddling robots and monolithic, data-sucking electronic sidewalk billboards with 65-inch screens. Public sidewalks are dangerously over-filled with backpacks and bedrolls but have a sad aura of being deserted without unpermitted signboards, tables, chairs, and rolling racks of commercial merchandise.
Rhode Island has become the first state in the country to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights. The law passed with the overwhelming support of both houses of the Rhode Island state legislature. It may offer new hope to homeless people who suffer unequal treatment from police and government officials.
As one of Kurt Vonnegut’s characters in Slaughterhouse-Five says, “It’s a crime to be poor in America.” This is a truth my brother Larry experienced for decades. Larry taught me that everyone matters, and this lesson fueled a longing for a world whose policies and conditions reflected this basic fact.