A Source of Income to Oakland’s Most Downtrodden

Those experiencing homelessness are viewed as squatters, occupying lands they don’t own. They collect the modern-day gold of the streets — recyclable materials including metals, glass, plastic and aluminum cans — hoping to earn an honest, independent living. Most are being pushed out by forces that are out of their control.

by Teslim Ikharo

It’s interesting to think that Oakland’s first mayor, Horace Carpentier, is commonly referred to as a “squatter” who illegally sold small plots of West Oakland land in the early 1850s. He lived communally with family members, including his sister Alice, the namesake of Alice Street in Oakland.

His aim, many say, was to strike it rich during this region’s gold rush. His legal training helped him when he persuaded the newly formed California state legislature to incorporate Oakland as a town.

He then used his skills to persuade the town’s trustees to pass an ordinance that gave him exclusive control of Oakland’s waterfront. He vigorously represented the Peralta family in their effort to maintain their holdings. He was a major beneficiary, becoming a major landowner himself.

This small piece of West Oakland history is interesting in light of recent trends related to low-income and homeless populations in the city. Those experiencing homelessness are viewed as squatters, occupying lands they don’t own. Unlike the elite status reached by early settlers in the area, those experiencing homelessness have rushed to collect the modern-day gold of the streets — recyclable materials including metals, glass, plastic bottles and aluminum cans — hoping to earn an honest, independent living. None have made out as well as Mr. Carpentier, however. Most are being pushed out by forces that are out of their control.

As explained in Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush’s documentary, Dogtown Redemption, West Oakland’s Alliance Recycling has provided a source of income to the area’s most downtrodden and hopeless. Many of those going to redeem their recyclables for cash have experienced unresolved traumas from earlier life experiences. The families of these individuals have often been perpetrators, not protectors, causing deep wounds that are often filled with alcohol, drugs, and prostitution.

Could I blame them? Yes. Do I? No. As Director of Business Enterprise for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), one of my roles is to develop social enterprises and jobs for our clients.

The combined social and entrepreneurial component makes the work challenging, but I can honestly say that these companies will help improve the lives of its employees and the greater community at large. We understand that it takes a community to help those amongst us that are struggling and have been victimized.

“Sam on the Streets” Art by Leon Kennedy

“Sam on the Streets” Art by Leon Kennedy

 

As Alliance Recycling plans to shut down later in August due to neighborhood complaints, I propose a community-focused alternative: keep Alliance Recycling open and let a nonprofit manage its operations so that this vital source of economic independence is still available.

Additional social services could be provided out of this location so that the facility is transformed from one that “encourage[s] theft, and a way to easily turn stolen goods into cash,” as Matt D. vehemently writes in his Yelp review of Alliance, into a place of healing and opportunity. The space could be transformed into a healthy place with many healthy fruits and vegetables provided by nearby City Slicker Farms.

The point is that we have lots of riches in Oakland if we come together as a community and view our neighbors as just that — neighbors — and not squatters.

Many of those experiencing homelessness have hearts of gold that have not been mined, minds that have not been tapped, and spirits that have not been explored. Our true potential as a community will come from our ability to see the so-called squatters as formidable mayoral candidates.

Tes Ikharo works as Director of Business Enterprise for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.