Baskets and Tents

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the dawn, early one morning I stepped out onto the porch just as the sun began to rise above the Sandia Mountains. And like a slow-motion picture, I saw a brown long-haired, young woman with her eyes closed, bent over her shopping cart pushing forward with a few of her worldly belongings inside. Like so many others in her predicament, she seemed exhausted and lost in despair. A second later, I turned to my left and caught the gaze of a brown skin man as he searched through my garbage bin. Our eyes met, for a split second and without saying a word and without changing expressions, he continued his search.

Every day I see the shopping cart pushers as I drive down the streets to run my daily errands. Some of them pushing fast as if they were in a hurry as if they had somewhere to go, some of them pushing slow with there blankets, and clothes and sleeping bags and whatever else they were able to stuff away for their daily survival.

Some of the carts are elaborate some tide together looking like boats with umbrellas fastened to the carts to protect themselves from the brutal Albuquerque sun which on somedays can reach up to 107 degrees.

Some of them I recognize like the short heavyset black women with her hair cut very short. Her back is curved in a bent-over position from hours and days and weeks and months and years of pushing her home on wheels. She always seems very clean and very neat and her cart is always very orderly. Sometimes I see her sitting on the curb to rest from the continued push to nowhere.

Sometimes you see couples walking briskly, pulling their suitcases and carrying their backpacks with the same looks as the others, a disconnected look, sometimes a zombie look.

In most parts of the city, you see the beggars at the intersections some with creative sighs, some asking for money for a bear or for some weed, mostly for a meal or some food for their kids, something, anything to keep them going until the next day. Some are clean some are not, some are young, some are old, and they are a rainbow of colors. I once saw a neatly dressed pregnant white woman under the freeway with a sigh hoping that someone would help her.

There are the homeless Native people, some looking like proud warriors, defiant despite their condition; they seemed to have adjusted to their fate better than others. I often times imagine them 200 years earlier before the conquest as proud people who once rode their horses reigning over the land.

If you want a clean, pristine sight, then you must go to the mountains. For all throughout the city, you will see this despair of the forgotten.

When I go home to the once lovely Seattle, I bare witness to the run-down tents filling up any open spaces or wooded areas. Many of the tents are on main streets next to or around the corner from the million-dollar condos that are going up like stalks reaching far into the sky as if to get away from what is below.

At first, these tents were out of site and not as numerous, now they have spread everywhere as the wealth has grown for the weird-looking Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates along with the others that make Seattle the richest city in America. You often see the techies and the elites who drive their BMWs and their hundred-thousand-dollar Teslas, oblivious to the growing army of the homeless.

Many of the homeless have been priced out of the housing market. Many have been gentrified out of homes and neighborhoods to make room for the white elites who build white sterile square characterless apartments and houses, building them in every inch of spare land that can be found.

The homeless, the tent occupiers, are pushed further north to once affluent nice quiet family-oriented neighborhoods, like Ballard and Queen Ann, looking for a place where they can rest their weary heads.

Yes, many of them are drug addicts and have turned into drug addicts as they try to mentally escape the hopeless conditions, they are in. The heroin, the fentanyl, the crack and the meth and the oxycodone are at epidemic proportions just as crack was during the crack epidemic that helped to destroy black families in the eighties and nineties.

The phalanx of liberal Mayors and their liberal puppet city officials have only paid lip service over the last thirty years as this epidemic has grown and multiplied. And the conservative greedy banks, developers and property owners, and managers contribute to homelessness.

You can see the deterioration of the city everywhere, many places have become dirty and dingy. The homeless mingled in with the addicts and beggars walked around like the walking dead as the garbage from the homeless fills the streets.

There is some effort by creative minds, building tiny one-room homes for families, and it seems that this has become the normal, tiny homes for tiny people while the rich live in majestic 4- or 6-bedroom homes for families of 2 or 3 while their summer homes sit empty.

In proud Oakland once our chocolate city the home of the revolution in the 60s, was just starting to come back to life. Picking itself up and cleaning itself off from the crack epidemic. Then the wealthy techies began to overflow from Silicon Valley and flood into the chocolate city after devastating San Francisco with their greed and materialism. Raising the cost of housing as they did in Frisco for the thousands of black and Latino families in this once proud city.

Now under the freeways are encampments with tents and cardboard homes, garbage piling up as people try to find a safe spot, try to create some type of shelter for them and their families, some kind of normalcy. Up the way in Berkeley, home of the free speech movement, the tents are on the front lawn of city hall. But it seems normalcy does not exist anymore. Now very thing us abnormal.

Riding on the Bart rapid transit train, you can see cardboard and little wooden hovels stretching for miles. San Francisco, San Mateo, Pale Alto, and San Jose, with the 4 fourth largest homeless populations In America, all have been devastated. In the east bay, the homeless are pushed north to Santa Rosa to Richmond to Valeo as they try to find little patches of bushes and trees where they can hopefully find a little privacy.

4 hours away in Lalla land, up on the hill, all can see the big, nice sign with the words Hollywood. But below is a horror picture. A small city of the homeless 60 to 70 thousand, has become a permanent fixture in Lalla land, add this to the tour after driving down from the Hollywood hills from the million-dollar mansions of the stars.

It’s like the apocalypse in the living collar. The walking dead in real life. Many living on the streets in alleys, in front of businesses the stench of urine in the air, the mentally ill, the drug addicts, the ex-felons, the lost, the unemployed, the hopeless, the hungry, and thrown in the families that lost their apartments because the monthly rent went up a few hundred dollars to satisfy some greedy owners and feverish landlords. Social services have set up shop as their workers fight a seemingly endless battle to stem the tide. There was an initiative passed to build some shelters or buildings. But where would they find a place to build for this population that needs so much more? The other neighborhoods full of liberals have made it clear not in our hoods.

But who cares, as long as the movies keep rolling and the stars keep getting 10 million a picture and as long as the Lakers and the Clippers and the Dodgers and the Rams keep on winning, and the big multimillion-dollar contracts are sighed, and the billion-dollar stadiums and arenas are built on the backs of the people while the billion-dollar owners use the teams like cash machines. As long as the big condos keep going up, Reo Drive stays open, and the money keeps flowing, flowing to the top to the elite. Who gives a damn about the peasants below?

Aaron L. Dixon is an American activist and a former captain of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party for its initial four years. In 2006, he ran for the United States Senate in Washington state on the Green Party ticket.