Yes in My Backyard: A Radical Approach to Improving Homeless Encampments

Neighbors are coming together. But there’s substantially more work to be done.

An Oakland, California, tent encampment similar to the one at 37th and Martin Luther King Jr. WayJane Tyska/Digital First Media/The East Bay Times via Getty

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For a decade, she lived two doors down from a vacant lot that was overgrown and ignored. One day in August, Stefani Echeverría-Fenn pushed through a hole in the chain-link fence and started sweeping, clearing the brambles, and pitching a tent. Since then, the lot has become a welcoming community for people priced out of housing, or who could never afford it to begin with, in Oakland, California.

Echeverría-Fenn and other neighbors with homes take out the trash, make sure the 21-person area has clean water, and empty the lot’s toilets in their own apartments. The camp also has a pump sink and a solar shower.

The site, known as 37MLK (it’s on the corner of 37th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way) has become a model for communities of people with or without housing to come together and improve conditions and care for unhoused families in the city.

“There are people who are living with their adult kids here,” Echeverría-Fenn says. “There are people who have their younger kids visit them here, and it doesn’t feel like a depressing sad place the way that other encampments do.” (Guardian)

Here are more Recharge stories to get you through the week:

Standing up for decency. The customer was spewing racist, anti-Muslim language in an Applebee’s restaurant. Manager Amanda Breaud asked him to leave. Then, Breaud said, her boss chastised her—and she was eventually fired. Other customers (and readers who have read Breaud’s story) have rallied to her defense. One left a note on a receipt that read: “To the Manager — Thank you for standing up to hate + Racism. Thank you for your service.” Breaud, who has filed suit to get her job back, told the Asbury Park Press she hopes her actions help others fight bigotry. “I’m a gay woman and I’ve been at the bar before or out in public and had people say things about me,” she said. “A lot of my life I wish that someone would have stood up for me. Now that I’m able to stand up for myself, I want to stand up for other people.” (NBC News)

Restoring history. There are more than 95,000 national historic sites. Only about 2 percent are devoted to African American history and culture, reports the New Yorker’s Casey Cep. For generations, resources weren’t devoted to preserving these spaces, says poet and Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander, and people of color have had “to carry around knowledge and stories in our bodies.” After the 2017 attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, by white supremacists, a new fund was established to empower historians and archeologists to more clearly mark and honor these spaces. (New Yorker)

Go libraries! What’s the most common cultural pursuit in the United States? Going to the library, by a 2-to-1 margin over things like going to a movie theater or attending a sporting event, according to a Gallup poll. Women go to the library about twice as much as men do, and people from 18 to 29 even more so. Since a similar 2001 survey, there have been small increases in the percentages in Americans going to a museum, a live music or theatrical event, or a national or historic park. (Gallup)

Recharge salutes: Fauzia Lala, a black belt in tae kwan do, who, after she faced harassment, began teaching self-defense to other Muslim women in Washington state; Terrance Lewis of Philadelphia, exonerated after 21 years in prison, who is trying to free others wrongly behind bars; Scotland, whose power grid is on track to be run 100 percent by renewable energy this year.

eI’ll leave you with the northern lights over Alaska’s White Mountains National Recreation Area, via the Interior Department’s Twitter feed. Have a great week ahead!

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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