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After the homeless micro-village nicknamed Homeless Hill was cleared, someone who is a wonderful ally looked at the “after” pictures and asked: Why so much abandoned stuff?

Consider this:

You and all your neighbors get a two-week notice to be out of your house. You can’t believe this is really happening. You think how nice the neighborhood is, how much you care about one another and all the things you and others have done to make the neighborhood nice. It’s unjust. You feel targeted and humiliated.

You live on a hill and have hand-carried everything you own up a steep single-person path over months — or years. You have no money, and the last time you tried to rent a storage unit, you failed to keep up the payments and lost everything. You have lost everything you own several times in the past. You don’t trust anyone, especially cops, social service agencies and government workers — people just like them have tormented, bullied and harassed you in the past.

Rumors run through the neighborhood that a lawyer has been obtained. That no one will have to move. That everyone is getting into a house. That those who stay the longest will get motel vouchers and not have to go into the shelter. That the cops will be here tomorrow, or the day after … or any minute now.

If you use drugs you live in fear that people will steal what little you have. You dare not leave without everything of value on your back. Informal agreements among neighbors have broken down. Old irritations flare into hostilities.

The police come through and say everyone is going to have to leave. Social workers come too. You feel barraged by police and social workers who give inconsistent messages. Some of your neighbors leave. Others vow to stay no matter what.

You’ve been in shelters and found that you couldn’t sleep, were harassed by staff, picked on by other residents, couldn’t take the crowding, found your sobriety threatened by the drug and alcohol use, were made sick by bad air, couldn’t eat the food, were allergic to the perfumes and cigarette smells on people’s clothes, were traumatized when they kicked you out for a rule infraction, were traumatized when they kicked you out because your six months was over.

Your PTSD from the trauma of homelessness, past arrests and/or other events of your life is rising. Every self-destructive habit you have is being triggered, and you are watching a similar melt down in others in the neighborhood. You’re overwhelmed and depressed; rage alternates with severe fatigue. Your cat or dog is freaking out with all the changes.

You think about packing up your tent, but you need to sleep in it tonight and it’s your only safe space. You pack a few items and feel overwhelmed. How will you get these bags off the hill? How many trips would it take to pack it all out? Where can you put it if you manage to get it packed and off the hill? You think you will lose all your stuff no matter what you do, so why bother? You pack a few items more.

The minutes, hours, days pass. Stress, fear and anger continue to eat away at you.

Then the cops come and say you will be arrested if you don’t leave now. A worker from Catholic Charities is with them and offers you five nights in a motel or a bed in the shelter. What else are you going to do? You have nothing better, so you accept the offer. Or you don’t. But you don’t want to go to jail, so you pick up what you can carry and trudge out.

This trauma picture, I feel pretty confident, is part of what happened on Santa Rosa’s Homeless Hill. But as we talk more to those who went through this displacement, we’ll hear a richer story. We’ll hear the ways people supported one another. How people came together to build a beautiful altar for grieving. How social workers will find some people a place to live this time around. About people who put their lives back together. About other places people have found to sleep where they hope not to be bothered. About the strength Homeless Hill residents demonstrated.

When will we hear that the city and county will no longer displace homeless people before they have a better place to live?

Adrienne Lauby is a member of Homeless Action! a group of service providers, church congregants, homeless people and caring individuals. They meet at 9:30 a.m. every Monday morning at First United Methodist Church Santa Rosa.

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