SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last month saw the second annual memorial to people who had died homeless in this city, located 42mi southeast of San Francisco. Among the participants in this interfaith event was Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess. She agreed to share more about the event and her work in this area with The Wild Hunt. According to the 2015 Point-in-Time Count for Santa Clara County, there were 6,556 people without homes there in January of that year, which is the month that these counts are performed throughout the Unites States.
I. The Silence (December 2013)
It was the last city council meeting of the year on a frigid, snowy evening two weeks before Christmas, and the immediate future of the Whoville encampment was on the line. A few days earlier, the police department had made public its intentions to evict the 50-person camp sometime within the coming weeks. The thought of so many people being tossed back onto the streets around Christmas time had prompted a community response unlike any I had seen before up to that point. In the hour or so before the meeting, the plaza outside City Hall quickly became a crowded scene with protests, press conferences, and media interviews simultaneously occurring as council members started to filter into the building.
“I’m in a lot of pain right now,” Daisy said to me quietly. I wasn’t sure exactly what type of pain she was referring to at that moment. For as long as I have known Daisy, which is going on six years now, she has lived a life of constant pain, both physical as well as psychological. She was sober and alert at the moment, which led me to think that she was referring to her arthritis as opposed to her inner trauma and emotional turmoil. “But I’m still a fighter,” she added with a smile.
I was just about to get on my bike when I looked in the basket and saw the note. “When you’re done finding Jesus, come by the shop and say hi.”
It made me laugh, and yet it also immediately brought me back to something I had been thinking about a lot lately. Indeed, my bike, which is well-known downtown and easily recognizable, had been locked up outside First Christian Church for the past two hours while I was inside for a meeting with a small group that included the church’s pastor. The author of the note was a Pagan friend of mine who worked around the corner from the church, and I sensed that the mood behind the note was both joking and curious at the same time. And while I hadn’t found Jesus in the previous two hours, I realized in that moment that I had been finding Jesus popping up constantly in my work over the past few years.
Throughout the 1930’s, Hoovervilles dotted the landscape of the Willamette Valley, just as they did throughout most of this country. The Great Depression sparked a wave of homelessness throughout the United States, a wave that triggered mass migrations and the proliferation of shantytowns that popped up everywhere from Central Park in New York City to a nine-acre settlement in Seattle on the mudflats of Puget Sound. Hoovervilles were generally tolerated throughout the Depression until the advent of WWII, when an economic resurgence triggered the eradication of the shantytowns. With the demise of the Hoovervilles, homelessness left the public spotlight but it never truly went away, hovering out of sight until the recession of the 1980’s fueled a resurgence of the visibly homeless across America. The historic parallels between the Great Depression and the Great Recession are rather illuminating in terms of understanding the patterns, attitudes, and social tendencies that are at the foundation of modern homelessness.