We walked home via Alder Street, coming from dinner at Bluto’s the other evening. A few weeks ago, we would not have done that.
For the past two years there has been a large encampment of houseless folks there. On May 13th the City cleared the encampment due to reports of stolen bicycles and a “chop shop” in the homeless camp.
This was not a camp of people or families trying to find housing. There was drug dealing, occasional violence, stolen property, drug paraphernalia and trash all over the block. Fires they set went out of control with smoke and ashes coming in nearby windows and the fire department coming to put out burning tents. Residents’ flower beds were used as toilets during the night. The coming and going of cars, noisy motorcycles, loud voices and fighting throughout the night also kept the neighborhood awake.
When the encampment was cleared by the city, several neighbors took it upon themselves to clean up the remaining trash, broken glass and drug paraphernalia and restore the ruined parking strips by turning the soil and transplanting plants that they grew in their own gardens. They strung ribbons so that dogs and people would know not to step on the newly planted areas.
We met Kundalini Bennett, the owner of Freedom Massage, located just across the street from the former encampment, who had spearheaded the replanting. In speaking with her, we learned that although many neighbors are relieved to have peace restored to their long-time home, there is a group of activists who are NOT the houseless folks vandalizing the neighborhood’s efforts.
These activists are mistaking the residents for rich people unsympathetic to the plight of the houseless. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, one nearby property owner volunteered for many years at homeless shelters. Residents in the neighborhood talked with those in the recent encampment and gave them stuff to help from time to time.
These neighbors are trying to get their lives back in their own rented places and want to be able to sleep through the night while making the street look nicer with some plantings. It’s a lot of work and some of them get by with public assistance. These are not rich people.
It is disheartening to Kundalini and her neighbors to have activists vandalizing their beautification efforts without understanding who they are or their motivation. These activists are not homeless themselves but are young families and individuals coming from as far as St. Johns in nice cars, stealing plants and vandalizing garden beds while pretending to defend houseless people. This feels so unfair to those who are volunteering their time and energy – and their homegrown plants!
Since I like living in my neighborhood and not having to avoid streets to feel safe, I hope that Kundalini and her neighbors will have success in restoring cleanliness and beauty to the neighborhood. I will help them when I can.