July 21, 2024

No on Camping Ordinance

No on Ashland ordinance related to prohibitive camping
Ashland is on the cusp of accepting a dangerous and unfair ordinance, one that does not take into account trauma-informed care.

What is “voluntary” versus “involuntary” homelessness?

The city seems to believe that homelessness is a choice and that some people choose to be unhoused. What they fail to understand is that some people fall into homelessness, and after a while they do something that you and I also might do if we were in that circumstance, they make the best of it, and it becomes what feels comfortable to them. That sense of adaptation, and falling into a life that draws on incredible amounts of tenacity is something that this ordinance does not address. In the United States, it isn’t illegal to be unhoused. It isn’t illegal to make your own choices about how much shelter does or does not feel comfortable to you.

For thousands of hours, I rested on a hard floor near unhoused neighbors, and those nights of being in charge of the emergency weather shelter taught me a lot about the people this ordinance is targeted towards. There are a small handful of people who are local experts on this. We’ve turned down the lights, and listened for the soundtrack that meant that people were asleep, the snores, and sighs that signaled that folks were finally able to sleep in peace.

I’ve gently woken up people who were having nightmares, struggling with PTSD episodes, and comforted people who feared closing their eyes, because then their minds traveled to a place where they began to process incredibly deep trauma. Together we created spaces where they finally felt safe. This only happened over many years of consistently showing up, and being calm and gentle and ready to listen. It happened because they saw a pattern of consistency.

It didn’t work for everyone, like the man who had been sexually abused as a young boy for years, and the adult version of that boy lived on the streets of Ashland. He often broke down screaming. He tried to stay in the emergency shelter, but would often self-regulate, and leave in the middle of the night.
Sometimes emergency shelters do not work for friends who hear voices, and pace in order to survive the unimaginable terror they live in. Often they left the shelter while the moon was still rising.
Sometimes people tried to find rest in the shelter, but being so close to others proved to be harder than being outside on their own.
Even in the best shelters, communicable diseases and issues are often rampant. Flu, Covid, colds, scabies, lice, and other sicknesses have happened in every shelter sponsored by the city. It’s something that nobody talks about. Would you want to live in a space so close to others that your likelihood of winding up with the flu is widely increased this winter? Now remember that the emergency weather shelter shuts down at 9 am, on the days that it’s been called, so if you’re sick you will be put right back outside where it will be illegal for you to sit down on the sidewalk and rest. You could wind up with a misdemeanor, and it’s possible that the misdemeanor can eventually turn into a felony. Now you have one more barrier to housing, because that will count against you as you try to find housing.
Is this who we are? Do we really want to give law enforcement a nod to hunt unhoused people and ticket them for existing? There are hundreds of unhoused people living outside in Ashland tonight. We have 80 shelter beds between OHRA’S two shelters, and wait lists are months long. When the city calls for emergency weather shelter, that garage only holds 32 people. We do not have enough shelter space for our unhoused neighbors to say there’s a shelter for everyone who wants it.
I need your help. The city council will be trying to accept the first reading of this, and we need to tell them that marginalized people should have a voice in creating guidelines. Please click this link, and tell them to table this. If we really do want to be “better together”, the first step must be listening to each other. It needs more refinement.

— Vanessa Martynse Houk