Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Following the Chinatown Homeless Sweeps, A New Tent Community Thrives at Salinas City Hall

In the wake of the Chinatown homeless sweeps that displaced hundreds of people in downtown Salinas in March of this year, a small but thriving tent community has established itself at Salinas City Hall, where a group has been camping out every night for over four months.

Salinas City Hall on the evening of July 30

On the evening of July 30, 20 tents were set up around the courtyard area of Salinas City Hall, and several people were sleeping out in various locations without tents.

"You can call it a sort of silent protest," said Van Gresham as he sat reading near his tent, which was located on the walkway outside of the city council rotunda.

"We're hoping they will give us a place to go," he said.

Gresham, who is without fixed housing, is a member of the Monterey County Homeless Union, a coalition of unhoused and housed community members who are organizing the campouts at city hall.

He is also the Editor of Voices of the Street/Voces de la Calle, a bilingual newspaper dedicated to homeless and social justice issues in the Salinas area. Gresham has been living in a tent since the city impounded the recreational vehicle in which he was sleeping in the Chinatown area. The vehicle is registered and up to date with all state regulations, he says, but the fees the city has levied against it have been so high he is unable to pay them.

Individuals first started sleeping at Salinas City Hall on March 22, the night before the scheduled sweep of the homeless community in the Chinatown area was to begin. The sleepout was organized to build support for an action organized by the homeless union to physically block city work crews from evicting homeless residents of the area, and to prevent the removal of their possessions.

Homeless sweeps in Chinatown have have been conducted by the city on a regular basis in the past, but community members knew this sweep would be different due to the recent passage of an anti-camping ordinance by the Salinas City Council that now allows for the city to quickly remove "bulky items" stored on public property. Additionally, the new ordinance outlaws setting up tents on public property between the hours of 6am and 6pm. Prior to the passage of ordinance 2567, there were no restrictions placed on the erection of tents on public property, and outside of the city parks, Salinas did not have any ordinances that directly addressed camping on city property.

Chinatown residents, supported by the protesters, were able to prevent the homeless sweep from proceeding on March 23, however work crews arrived the next day with the police, and the homeless tent community in the Chinatown area was eventually cleared.

On the day of the attempted sweep on March 23, Jill Allen, the Director of Dorothy's Place, announced publicly in Chinatown the organization's response to the sweeps, which was a commitment to house 200 people within 90 days. Dorothy's place hosts a transitional residence and a women's shelter in Chinatown, and provides hot meals through "Dorothy's Kitchen," in addition to hosting a health center and as a drop-in center.

A week later, the Monterey County Homeless Union announced they would be camping out every night at city hall until their demands were met. Their primary demands were that Jill Allen live up to the commitment to house 200 people by June 20, and that the city repeal ordinance 2567. Also included in their list of demands was the expansion of homeless services programs around the world, and a safe place (building or lot) in every city for homeless individuals to stay without punishment. The homeless union also put out a call for the donation of tents, sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows.

In early May, the homeless union announced they had experienced a "significant increase" in the number of people sleeping at city hall after the Salinas Warming Shelter closed for the season, and they again were seeking more donations of sleeping equipment. The call was successful, and the union was able to expand the number of people being sheltered at city hall.

Gresham said there have been very few problems or security issues in the four months the tent community has located itself at city hall.

"I would consider it a safer haven," he said. "I think some of the women appreciate that."

Gresham said the homeless union was hoping to obtain a temporary permit to establish an officially sanctioned tent city in Salinas.

He said during the four months they have been at city hall, the space has been kept clean, and with very few exceptions, people have followed the city's new ordinance and have packed up the tents by 6am each morning.

On June 20, the homeless union organized a press conference at city hall to denounce Jill Allen and Dorothy's Kitchen for not living up to the commitment to house 200 people.

According to a press release from the homeless union, Dorothy's Place is, "almost the only point of entry into the HMIS database system to connect people with housing availability within Monterey County through the current list of service providers."

They say the Dorothy's Place caseload is basically at capacity, and the process of housing people has been particularly slow because, "there is not a ready accessible inventory of placements available for people who would be a good fit."

The city of Salinas does offer additional shelter services, such as the Warming Shelter program during wintertime, but those services don't offer the same flexibility in lifestyle that is possible within a tent community, according to Gresham.

"Warming shelters don't offer enough personal liberties," he said. "It's better to be able to come and go, and not lose your freedoms because you are looking to stay warm."

Gresham also noted that within the existing services provided by governmental agencies, "there's almost no representation by the homeless guy himself."

He's hoping that official support for a homeless tent community, and some funding from the city, would change that.

"We're hoping as a peer group we can regulate ourselves," Gresham said. "At least we would be able to represent ourselves."

As for the future, Gresham said the Monterey County Homeless Union is also looking to expand the union to other cities, and more supplies are always needed. 

Van Gresham, the Editor of Voices of the Street/Voces de la Calle, reading near his tent

Van Gresham

Despite the very neat looking appearance of city hall, campers received a cleanup notice recently

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tuesday is Still the Night to Sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall

After celebrating their one-year anniversary on July 5, the Freedom Sleepers returned to Santa Cruz City Hall for their 53rd community sleepout on July 12, as well as their 54th sleepout on July 19.

A Freedom Sleeper lies next to a protest sign that reads, "Embrace Your Moral Compass Because We Upon This Earth Are One," at the 53rd community sleepout held on July 12

Since July 4 of 2015, a coalition of unhoused and housed community members have converged to sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall every Tuesday night to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness.

Many of those participating in the sleepouts call themselves Freedom Sleepers; individually and together they advocate for a wide variety of approaches to end the criminalization of sleep. The one primary demand that unites the Freedom Sleepers is their call to repeal the city's camping ordinance, which bans sleeping in public between the hours of 11pm and 8:30am, with or without the use of bedding materials.

By sleeping at city hall, the Freedom Sleepers are in direct violation of the camping ban.

In 2015 the group faced a number of police raids and attempts by the city to clear the sleepers out of city hall in order to terminate the sleep protests. Over the course of a year of sleeping at city hall, however, activists have developed a strategy for sleeping there relatively safely as a group.

When homeless individuals attempt to sleep together on other nights of the week in downtown Santa Cruz, outside of the context of the Freedom Sleepers protests, they have been subjected to the standard homeless sweeps regularly conducted by Santa Cruz police. The department dedicates a significant percentage of their time and budget to clear the downtown of homeless people sleeping at night in public.

Tuesday nights continue to be the night to sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall, and in downtown Santa Cruz in general.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are from Community Sleepout #54, held on July 19-20.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Linda Yamane Demonstrates How to Construct a Tule Boat at Ohlone Day

Linda Yamane constructs a traditional tule boat at Ohlone Day. Photo: September 10, 2011.

Linda Yamane, who is of Rumsien Ohlone ancestry, is an Ohlone basket weaver and cultural preservationist who lives in the Monterey Bay Area. She spent years researching Ohlone basketry before producing her first traditional basket in 1994. Yamane's were the first Ohlone baskets to be made in over 150 years. She and her students are the only authentic Ohlone weavers alive and working today.

A young person sits in a tule boat on display at Ohlone Day. Photo: September 10, 2011.

Yamane is also the author of  the book, "When the World Ended, How Hummingbird Got Fire, How People Were Made: Rumsien Ohlone Stories."

For more information about Linda Yamane, see:

Tule Boat (donated to the Oakland Museum of California by Linda Yamane and others)
The Ohlone Basket Project (Oakland Museum of California)
Linda Yamane (Alliance for California Traditional Arts website)
Linda Yamane – Reviving Ohlone Language

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Remembering Frank Alvarado, Two Years After His Death at the Hands of Salinas Police

It has become a tradition to celebrate the life of Frank Alvarado with flowers. On July 10, Frank's family was joined by a large group of supporters near the location of his death to mark the second year since his killing by Salinas police. His father, Frank Sr., handed out roses to many of the women gathered, saying the gesture was in memory of "lover boy" as he lightheartedly referred to Frank. His family fondly remembers how dearly Frank loved to give women gifts, and especially the gift of flowers.

Frank Alvarado's father, Frank Sr., holds a sign calling on Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter to represent the community

Frank Sr. smiled joyously as he gave out the flowers.

The lightness of the activity was distinct, especially in the context of the seriousness of the family's fight for justice following Frank's killing at the home of a relative on July 10, 2014 by Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton of the Salinas Police Department.

The gathering for Frank began with supporters holding protest signs near the location of his death. Community members then circled around a small altar the family assembled. They shared words about Frank, and the fight for justice for him and others victims of police violence.

Frank's sister, Angélica Garza, is still deeply grieving from the loss of her brother. She emotionally described Frank's impact on people.

"He mattered to me. He mattered to everyone that he touched," Angélica said.

"I want justice for my brother. I want justice for all, and I want to see a change," she said.

Also in attendance at Frank's memorial were the family members of two other individuals killed by officers with the Salinas Police Department in 2014. Besides Frank, four other unarmed Latino men died at the hands of Salinas police that year.

Angel Ruiz was shot and killed on March 20 by Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter; Osmar Hernandez was shot and killed on May 9 by Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson; and Carlos Mejia-Gomez was shot and killed killed on May 20 by Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd. Jaime Garcia died after an officer with the SPD shot him with a Taser gun on October 31.

On the evening of Frank's killing, the officers involved were responding to an emergency call made by a family member who reported Frank was exhibiting erratic behavior at their home. Police claim that after a standoff with Frank, they were acting in "self-defense" when they killed him because they thought he was charging at them with a gun. It was revealed that Frank was holding a cell phone at the time of the police encounter and not a gun. Monterey District Attorney Dean Flippo later called it a "suicide by cop" and refused to press charges against the officers involved.

The 2014 police killings sparked a movement for justice that persists in Salinas, largely due to the involvement of the families of the victims. Frank Sr. and Angélica have participated in countless civic meetings and political demonstrations, calling for justice following Frank's killing.

At the memorial, Angélica made a call for others to join the movement.

"We need change," she said. "We need people to stand up and say, 'Enough already. Enough. Quit taking our sons. Quit taking our brothers. Stop.'"

Frank Alavardo was himself was an activist. In May of 2014, just two months before his killing, he spoke about his experience of being incarcerated in the California state penitentiary at a rally in Santa Cruz to oppose prison expansion. The rally was organized by Sin Barras, a prison abolition group.

At the memorial for Frank, members of Sin Barras were present.

Several members of Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) were also in attendance at the memorial, including two members of the Monterey 8.

Eight individuals gained the "Monterey 8" moniker after they were arrested for blocking Highway One in Monterey during a Black and Brown Lives Matter protest in March of 2015. The action was organized in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and in response to the Salinas police killings of 2014. All eight of the activists were eventually sentenced to serve 40 days in jail and required to pay nearly $1000 in fines per person.

Frank Sr. and Angélica spoke about Frank's killing at the rally that preceded the action to block Highway One in March of 2015, and they supported the Monterey 8 through the subsequent court procedings that lead to their sentencing.

Direct Action Monterey Network members have worked closely with all of the families who lost loved ones to Salinas police in 2014.

The Alvarado family has received a large amount of support from civic leaders, many of whom were present at the memorial. Some of those who spoke included Salinas city council member José Castañeda, Attorney Anthony Prince, and Monterey County Branch NAACP member Steven Goings. 

Frank Sr. gives out roses

Angélica Garza speaks

Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter: Police Brutality Protest in San José

One person was arrested during a march to protest police brutality on July 10 in San José. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the protest was organized in response to the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Minnesota, as well as the local killing of Latino youth Anthony Nuñez. Nuñez was killed at his home by officers with the San José Police Department on July 4.

A speaker at the protest displays a sign that reads: "Black Lives Matter. Black and Brown. We Stand United"

After first gathering at San José City Hall for a rally, with many individuals speaking out and sharing their personal stories of police brutality, community members set out for a march down East Santa Clara Street. A number of San José police officers arrived fairly quickly and exited their vehicles. After changing into riot gear, they jogged ahead of the march to join another group of officers in blocking the street. During a short face-off with the marchers, who wanted to move forward, police identified a person in the middle of the crowd for arrest. After strongly protesting the takedown, which involved several police officers piling on top of the person they targeted, the marchers reversed direction and headed back. They then staged a die-in at city hall, followed by another speak-out.

A cousin of Anthony Nuñez stated that a family member who was at home with Anthony when he was killed believes the 18-year-old was unarmed when police shot him. The police have told a different story, saying were called to the home after Anthony shot himself, which resulted in a light grazing wound. The police claim that Anthony was still in possession of the gun when they arrived, and that he pointed it at them, which prompted them to "defend themselves." Anthony's family members are questioning the police account of the killing, and beyond being devastated by their loss, they want answers.

Anthony Nuñez's cousin speaks

A police helicopter followed the march