Emergency Shelter in San Diego: Getting Beyond the Game of ‘Mother May I’

by on January 25, 2016 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Homelessness, San Diego

By Jeeni Criscenzo / San Diego Free Press

shelter spotBack when I was a kid, about a billion years ago, all the kids in the neighborhood would hang out after school until it got dark, or we got hungry, playing games like tag and Hide-and-Seek with the entire neighborhood for our playground.

We didn’t get in trouble or kidnapped … (well there was the time 5-year-old Johnny Pappa disappeared and everyone in the neighborhood was out looking for him well past bed-time, until his brother found him sleeping UNDER his bed).

One game we played was “Mother, May I?”. The kid who was the “Mother” stood at one end of the yard and everyone else stood some distance away facing her. The Mother would tell each kid what kind of step they could take towards her or away from her. The goal was to get close enough to tag the Mother and then you would become the Mother. The catch was that if you didn’t ask, “Mother May I?” before taking the step, you missed your turn.

We never seemed to worry that the kid playing Mother could skew the game by telling their favorite friend they could take 10 giant steps, while telling the kid they didn’t like, that they could only take 2 baby steps. Probably the fact that anyone might be the Mother the next time we played, kept any inclination to cheat in check.

I thought about this childhood game last Saturday when a group of people engaged in helping our homeless neighbors, met at my house. We were discussing what could be done to get hundreds of homeless people into emergency shelter even as the police are tearing down encampments in the midst of raging El Niño storms, on private property, where the owner had given the desperate inhabitants permission to pitch their tents.

I thought about there being nothing more powerful than people with nothing left to lose.

We talked about a collaboration to build a cluster of wooden shelters, some large enough for a mother and a couple of kids to stay while waiting for all of that affordable housing to appear. We envisioned an organized community with toilets, showers, dining tent and social services, that would be a major improvement over the encampments lining more and more streets throughout the city.

And in the course of this lively conversation, I mentioned that we could make a strong legal case to get permission to do this. One young man looked at me astonished, and stated flatly, “We aren’t asking permission. We are going to tell them this is what we are doing.”

My first reaction, being one of the few activists I know who hasn’t been arrested yet, was that it would really go a lot easier to do this with permission. But as the conversation progressed, I thought about that “Mother, May I?” game and how it was rigged and only favored friends get permission.

I thought about the Bernie Sanders campaign, talking about a political revolution. I thought about how Citizen’s United has completely castrated the power of the people with regards to having any influence on our government. I thought about there being nothing more powerful than people with nothing left to lose.

We’re going to show Mayor Faulconer and the City Council how to get people sheltered from the storm, like decent people ought to do. Fast. Without giving millions to developers and administrators. This is something that’s happening all around the country. I’ve receive emails from Seattle, L.A., Boston and Hawaii about similar tiny house neighborhoods.

If you are ready to take back our right and our obligation to help those less fortunate than us, please join us for a planning meeting next Tuesday, Jan 26th at 6PM. Send me an email at jeenicdr@gmail.com and I’ll tell you where we will be meeting. We need volunteers for legal, procurement, construction, logistics and media. We need donations of money, construction materials, bedding and more. And we are going to need people willing to put their bodies on the line to protect this sanctuary.

If a fraction of the people who attended the All Peoples’ Celebration last Monday would take these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to heart, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” then this little cluster of Humane Emergency Habitation will get built and become the first of the hundreds we need to get every human being off our sidewalks and out of the rain. It’s just a baby step, but it’s a start. And we don’t need no stinkin’ permission to help our homeless friends.

Also, I hope you will come to the LWV luncheon (League of Women Voters) on Thursday, Jan 28th where I will be joining Joni Halpern and Bill Oswald to talk about the Income Gap and in particular, the Hidden Homeless in San Diego.

Hope to see you next week.



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