June 15, 2014


Those infallible indicators of urban squalor, at least around here: omnipresent (and oppressive) graffiti; homeless camps; garbage in the parks, streets, and strewn across the sidewalks; and discarded junk everywhere (ranging from small car parts through furniture and fridges to entire old trucks). All of these now dominate public spaces in my neighborhood; all of them are all-too-tangible symptoms of an almost completely broken social safety net and a deeply fractured, fragmented society where social services and policing (etc.) have basically disappeared.

On all counts my neighborhood’s one of the worst in Oakland (which is saying something); on all counts it’s gotten a lot worse in the past four years. I can’t walk the three blocks to Kefa Coffee any more without having to squeeze past several huge broken abandoned old trailers full of junk, or to walk past or through at least three rat-infested homeless camps (there are two well-hidden ones on our block alone), to wade through garbage (especially at the intersection of East 7th and Kennedy or at the end of the little 29th Avenue under crossing as it emerges (past a homeless camp) onto the Streets Of Jingletown Proper (straight across from the huge battered old abandoned trailer on 29th), or to pass under ten-foot-high graffitied tags on every wall I pass (and sprayed or carved at smaller scale into many of the trees as well).

It all feels like some sort of creeping apocalypse, but we can always tell ourselves that at least the murder rate is only about a third of what it was twenty years ago, when the streets were cleaner and the homeless far fewer. Well that’s the optimistic view, anyway. 

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