The homelessness in California cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco have only worsened in recent years.Wikimedia Commons Source: Wikimedia Commons
More and more residents are being displaced as rent skyrockets out of control. Many are finding it extremely difficult (impossible for many) to keep up with the ever-increasing rates. Not to mention the other bills millions of Americans struggle to pay.
The burden gets heavy for all. Nobody is exempt from life’s hardships. Unfortunately, some find themselves displaced amidst the crisis.Max Pixel Source: Max Pixel
But one woman from Oakland is determined to see all of that change and she is willing to fight to the end for it.
Stefani Echeverría-Fenn, 32, says she walked by a vacant lot in the northwest part of town every day for a decade.Stefani Echeverría-Fenn Source: Stefani Echeverría-Fenn
“Every single day for the past decade I lived here, I walked on my way to work past this vacant lot, this eyesore, this blight that was never put to good use to the community,” she told The Guardian. “Meanwhile, you would see the tents grow just a half a block down there. You see people literally sleeping on the side of the street, on the side of freeways.”
It simply didn’t make sense and she wanted to see something done about it. Thus, 37MLK was born.37MLK Source: 37MLK
However, Echeverría-Fenn didn’t intend for the encampment to last as long as it has. She initially just set out to inform her neighbors and friends in need of housing. It grew into something much more – a community.37MLK Source: 37MLK
What began as an all-women encampment became a community of 21 women, some of which have brought their male partners with them. All of the members are black or Latinx ranging in age from 30 to 60. They also are all longtime residents of Oakland – which says a lot.37MLK Source: 37MLK
These people who have lived the majority of their lives in Oakland but can no longer afford to live in their city.37MLK Source: 37MLK
37MLK Source: 37MLK
Echeverría-Fenn once had to navigate homelessness herself from a young age. Though she was able to get back on her feet, she notes things have changed drastically since those days.
37MLK Source: 37MLK
“When I came out here in 2009, there were still landlords willing to rent cheap apartments, no questions asked. I could get an apartment for $800 with a $500 security deposit, a one-bedroom, and I still live in that apartment to this day because I have rent control. Now, identical units to mine go for over $2,000 a month. I see just the way I climbed out of homelessness, that door has closed behind me.”
But Echeverría-Fenn was determined to not only give the homeless a safe and clean place to stay, but she made it a point to be as environmentally-friendly as possible.37MLK Source: 37MLK
The 37MLK camp offers a solar shower, camping toilets, and pump-operated sink. There’s also a community garden, kitchen, and common area. What’s more, is that they raise live chickens for their eggs. In turn, it helps to keep the rodent and insect populations under control.37MLK Source: 37MLK
The campground stays lit when the sun goes down with solar-powered lights. They even have mini white picket fences.37MLK Source: 37MLK
Echeverría-Fenn and her neighbors help take out the trash, empty the toilets, and assure that the residents have clean water.37MLK Source: 37MLK
37MLK has become a model for local lawmakers in implementing a system of self-governed or co-governed encampments for those who can’t afford the high rent in the city.37MLK Source: 37MLK
Oakland city council member Nikki Fortunato Bas states that though there are affordable housing projects in the works, people need transitional housing to help get them back on their feet. In fact, she has allocated $600,000 to begin a project similar to 37MLK.37MLK Source: 37MLK
“These are spaces that people may need to stay in for two to five years, not a matter of months,” she said. “And we need to be able to house them in a way that’s healthy and safe and dignified.”
Thanks to people like Echeverría-Fenn, they are headed in the right direction.37MLK Source: 37MLK
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