An open letter: to the male ‘Karen’ who couldn’t stand my van on your pristine street
In a city where homelessness has reached epidemic levels, your idea of a solution is to ensure you can’t see it.
Hello sir who informed me yesterday I was not welcome in the neighborhood where you pay a lot to live.
This may come as a surprise to you, but I do not want to live in your neighborhood.
I do not even want to BE in your neighborhood, as I was nervous from the time of parking that I might be subjected to the judgement that you so quickly and thoughtlessly levied on me on me yesterday. I am not trying to move in, as you suggested. In fact, I want nothing to do with a “community” that would act as anything but.
I could tell you about my story, and of the scary situation I was fleeing when my van broke down — very unfortunately, on the street adjacent to yours — but I doubt you’d care.
You did not see me as an individual when you approached me asking why I was in your expensive sight line; you didn’t care that I probably didn’t have anywhere else to go — and couldn’t leave — or that I was just trying to make it through a very difficult time. You simply asked me to be somewhere where you wouldn’t have to think about seeing me.
Apart from the personal hurt, this feeling of “otherness” you forced onto my day, my greatest worry is that you saw me not as human, but as part of a trend —the explosion of homelessness in Oakland and far beyond that I imagine troubles you greatly. My deepest concern is that if you cannot accept me — a clean, sober, white woman with mechanical problems — that you will be far angrier toward what is coming, and what will be far more traumatized and messier.
Because let me be clear: if things remain as they are, what is coming is a flood. It is something that is fueled by the unrestrained housing market that you have likely not protested. It is flamed by the unrestrained city and federal policies that you have likely not rebuked. And it will not stop at the gates of your fancy neighborhood.
People who work hard and long cannot afford to live in this country of great wealth, and I’m disheartened that all you can see is the fallout.
Would you approach a city council member the way you did me? If you want to stop people from parking and living in your fancy neighborhood, I would start there.
Demand affordable housing that is tied to the tiers of wages in this country. Insist that people in the unhoused community be commissioned to take autonomy in their own fate, in a way that will function long term — rather than support billions of dollars on senseless projects that we all see go nowhere.
Sweeps and other anti-homeless laws do not solve anything, but rather add to individuals’ immense trauma and the challenging logistics necessary to survive while simply pushing the problem around; since nothing has changed, people simply set up somewhere else, often a few blocks away, and prepare for the cycle to repeat.
Actual progress and change requires working with unhoused individuals to improve their lives, solve core problems together, and envision a future that is better for everyone. This is what it means to actually seek solutions rather than ostracizing folks whose roles society has valued less. You might even find that these humans you judge so harshly have things to teach you — about resilience and acceptance and empathy and perseverance; about, for example, how community is actually supposed to work.
But if you’re not interested in doing this work, and are unwilling to educate yourself, I sincerely hope you instead learn to shut the fuck up and accept what you’ve helped manifest. You’ve got more room to hide from reality than most.
As for me, I was able to roll my broken-down van away from your manicured corner, and out of that space in your mind.
I will not be in Oakland for much longer, sir. I am incredibly privileged to have my health, my sound mind, resources, friends and a network of good humans ready to assist. It doesn’t take nine rooms and a yard for me to see that I am very lucky indeed. But at this moment, I am temporarily stuck. I am briefly flummoxed. And I am in pain.
So until then, I’ll be set up a few blocks away.