The January 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Religious Witness with Homeless People

Memorial for Homeless Deaths in East Bay

Remember Rosa Parks: Justice in Public Transit

Justice is Pushed to Back of Bus

Big Brother Watches the Poor

Homeless Woman Works to Survive

Let Justice Roll: Raise the Miserly Minimum Wage

Richmond Courts Unfair to Poor

War Profiteer Parties Hearty

Poets Against the War Machine

Poems for the Poorman

Poems in Spirit of St. Francis

Songs of Our Shared Humanity

Psychotic Breaks

How to Deal with Pain and Fear


November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005





Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Looking for Work While Struggling to Survive

by Lydia Gans

Van Akria, a homeless woman, works long hours selling Street Spirit and is trying hard to find a permanent job. Lydia Gans photo

"This administration doesn't give a damn. They don't care. Why are our jobs going across the water? We were American workers, now we're American consumers. And how are we gonna make money to be a consumer (when) we ain't got no jobs here? What's wrong with this picture?" -- Van Akria, Street Spirit vendor

The newspapers carry bold headlines: "Stock prices surge." "The Dow is at a new high," they tell us, reporting an "upbeat economic picture." In large print on the business page, the headline reads, "State gains 6800 jobs in October," followed by a less upbeat message in considerably smaller print: "but unemployment rises."

It's not entirely clear what this really means in terms of the overall economic picture, but it's very clear to people like Van Akria. She has been homeless for a year and two months, with little hope of getting indoors. She has been without a steady job for a year and four months.

Even if she could find reasonably priced housing, coming up with first and last month's rent and deposit seems an almost insurmountable hurdle. It's not that she hasn't been looking. And it's not that she doesn't have any job skills -- she was "a printer pressman by trade," she explains, but there are practically no more small printing companies. They've gone out of business, replaced by computers.

She was good at her work, and describes how to recognize good and poor quality printing. She is also an experienced painter, and is strong, energetic, and ready and willing to do any kind of work. Van's last regular job was as a general laborer for the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks until she was laid off as a result of budget cuts.

Now, while she looks for regular work, she does odd jobs, selling the Street Spirit, helping vendors unload their wares at the flea market and the farmers markets, helping in construction, whatever work she can get. It's enough to eat, to pay for a storage locker, to survive, and maybe get indoors in a hotel room for two or three days a month.

For those of us who have never been homeless, it's hard to imagine what it's like surviving on the street. Van has a regular camp spot with several other people she has known for years. She recalls Maria King, the homeless woman who slept alone on the street and was murdered in Berkeley on February 8, 2005.

Even sleeping with others around, a person has to be alert. Van makes her point with a colorful example: "When you're sleeping on the streets, you got to have your ears pinned to the ground -- you can hear a rat piss on cotton at night some times."

Their campsite is in a residential neighborhood where, she says, "people know somebody's sleeping there but they don't want to see you, and you don't want to see them." It certainly looks like a convenient way for folks to deny homelessness without feeling guilty. Van and her friends make sure to keep the spot clean, and they're up and away at 5:30 in the morning.
Van is 48 years old. She was born in New York, then came out here with her parents when she was 12. She still has relatives in Brooklyn who she recently went back to visit for the first time in 30 years.

We talk about living in New York and I tell Van that I think I would like to live there if I had money; but she doesn't agree. "If I had a lot of money, I'd live in Canada right now," she declares.

She is sensitive about how the public looks at homeless people, how they expect all homeless people to look dirty and unkempt; those looks are supposed to make homeless people feel inferior and stigmatized by their position.

What does it mean to "look homeless" these days, she asks. "There are people out here got jobs (yet) they sleep on the street. They don't look like they're homeless. They can go to work every day, they can buy a bus pass, but they can't afford the rent to stay somewhere."

Van stands tall and proud like any confident and capable member of the community, defying anybody to say she looks like a homeless person. "I go to MASC, take a shower, brush my teeth, change my clothes every day." She is trying to get a regular job "so I can stay inside," while working just to survive from day to day.

Struggling to survive, Van is righteously angry about budget cuts and outsourcing of jobs and a government that just doesn't care. "This administration doesn't give a damn," Van says. "They don't care. Why are our jobs going across the water? We were American workers, now we're American consumers. And how are we gonna make money to be a consumer (when) we ain't got no jobs here? What's wrong with this picture?"

She is clear on the problems facing the country, on the need for change, and on the need for political action; but she doesn't have the time or energy to participate. "I'm trying to get a job and get off the streets. I got to do what I got to do," which is "get a permanent job and get back inside."

She's not optimistic, and only sees things getting worse. "Right now, there's going to be more people out here besides me -- a lot more people, and families -- sleeping on the street, in doorways (because of) the Bush administration," Van says. "And people are going to say, 'Where are they coming from?' What do you mean where they coming from? You voted for that man to get in, well vote his ass out!"

She is convinced that more and more people are beginning to recognize what is happening. She notes that the public is not so ready to stereotype the homeless anymore. "When they see homeless people on the street right now, people say, 'Oh my God, that could be me next month.'"

If it could happen to Van Akria, who is strong and competent and ready to work, it certainly looks like it can happen to anybody.

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