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Tuesday, June 05, 2018


by Jan Steckel 

It's been exactly one month since the city of Oakland constructed Tuff Sheds to try to house at least some of the city's growing homeless population. . . . During that time, the city has moved out virtually all the tent encampments around them. "We're at 85 percent capacity," said Joe DeVries, an assistant to the city administrator, which runs Oakland homeless outreach program. He says there are only six spaces left in the Tuff Sheds at 6th and Castro. "I guarantee you it's better than a tent," said DeVries. "These things don't leak when it rains. You've got a hard structure. You've got a locking door. It isn't perfect, but its certainly a step up from where people were." In the meantime, the city kept its promise to clean out most of the tent encampments that engulfed the area...leaving former residents with no choice but to move on -- or move in, to the sheds. "It's a good step toward a new life," said Hill. The city admits, this approach isn't perfect and stresses it's meant to be temporary. The goal is to find permanent housing for each resident within six months. —abc7NEWS (Bay Area), June 4, 2018. In the video, Gary Nash offers his version of what goes on at the Tuff Sheds site on 5th and Castro—bullying, inhumane conditions, prison-style rules. His Mom Robiyn has been keeping peace and caring for folks at this community but now the people in power are trying to evict her and Gary who both have medical issues.  —San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, May 28, 2018.

 “we the former tenants of San Francisco  / dead in jail sleeping under the freeway / out here somewhere / between Stockton and the grave” 
—from “Bang Bang Niner Gang” by Cassandra Dallett

She changed bedpans twenty years at Kaiser Hospital
in Oakland, but the property management company
evicted her for day-late rent so they could double it
for tech workers forced out in turn from San Francisco.
She ran out of her pain meds, started stealing fentanyl
from patients, got fired and banned, now sleeps
in a tent by the railyard, shoots up to deal with it,
trades blow jobs for her supply.

He drove the bus in a twelve-hour shift
until ride-sharing took over and his line shut down.
He got laid off, couldn’t find new work at his age,
lost his home in the housing crash.
He’s in a tent in a sidewalk camp now, where
people keep getting hit by cars at the off ramp.

He supervised parking lots, but his back went to shit,
the insurance cut off the pills, and he started drinking
again to kill the pain. His wife kicked him out.
He cleaned windshields at the corner gas station,
slept under the freeway, got robbed,
still thinks it beats the shelter.

They drove a truck for a queer-owned grocery
until Amazon Fresh drove it out of the market.
They squatted in a condemned warehouse
with other nonbinary people and artists till
a space heater and a tangle of extension cords
burned the place and its queer spirit to the ground.

All of them ended up in a West Oakland tent city
where neighbors emailed City Hall daily
demanding their removal. One night
someone set the tents on fire.
Now the City’s herding them into plastic
gardening sheds that used to be for storing
rakes and lawnmowers. Broken tools, all of them.

Jan Steckel is a former pediatrician who stopped practicing medicine because of chronic pain. Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her work was nominated three times each for the Pushcart and Sundress Best of the Net anthologies, won the Goodreads Poetry Contest three times, and won various other awards. She lives in Oakland, California.