Be Kind to Your Unhoused Neighbors

NEWSLETTER WEEK 34 – JANUARY 19, 2021

Before we forget, here’s our website of past newsletters, here’s a link to subscribe to our Patreon, here’s an anonymous question bank for anyone who wants to keep their questions private, here’s a fund tracker that breaks down how we spend our money, and here’s the link to sign up to receive these newsletters if someone forwarded them to you. 


Hi friends,

Happy belated Martin Luther King Jr. day! If you haven’t already read our message on his birthday this past Friday, dig back in your inbox or click here. The general vibe is this: Dr. King wasn’t here for thoughtless invocations of feel-good instagram posts assuaging white people of their guilt related to the existence of racism, poverty, and exploitation of all times. He wasn’t into peace and love at the expense of radically rethinking the very systems that stand in the way of real peace and real love. Resist the urge to whitewash his legacy.

In the spirit of Dr. King, however, it seems like a great time to launch our newest Unlearning Racism initiative! We often write about the importance of figuring out what it is that we value and putting our money and our actions where those values lie. We think it’s really important that we learn to make antiracism more than just something we share about on social media or argue with relatives about at the Thanksgiving dinner table (not knocking these things, but as recovering white moderates, we’re aiming for more than just these actions in the new year).

This summer, Emily got in the habit of calling or emailing an elected official each day about everything from travel bans to the Heritage Act to stimulus checks. It would take somewhere between 4-7 minutes and while it was initially uncomfortable, having the lunch break ritual (and honestly, the guilt associated with not doing it on the days she didn’t feel like it) was enough to get her to pick up the phone or peck out a quick email even if she didn’t have much time. The things that she called about (and the officials she called or emailed for each issue) differed day to day and week to week. But the ritual itself was pretty much the same (and generative – one day’s call turned into another week’s deep dive research for this newsletter, turned into a broader understanding of the root of the issue she had called about). And then fall semester classes started and the ritual kind of fell by the wayside and she’s lucky if she gets one call in a week.

This year, we’re emphasizing the importance of ritualizing our work against racism and oppression in all its forms. We are being more intentional about setting our readers up for direct actions, and in turn, we hope our readers will take 4-7 minutes each week to act. We think this has two main benefits:

  1. The benefit to ourselves: our habits become natural expressions of what we value. The more we connect to our community (making calls to officials, volunteering, checking in on our elderly next door neighbor), the more likely we are to keep doing it and the more likely we are to really value what it is we have invested our time and energy into.
  2. The benefit to our communities: ritualizing actions that chip away at long-standing systems of oppression are a (small) form of reparations. If our end goal is to make the playing field more level, it just makes sense to invest our free time, as well as our financial resources, in direct actions that can help clear the path to a more just world. 

Moving forward, we’re ritualizing our Non-Financial Ways to Take Action and we hope you’ll come along for the ride. Each newsletter we send at the beginning of the week will include our task. These might include making a phone call, writing a public comment on an upcoming piece of legislation, setting an appointment to volunteer/donate blood, showing up at a local protest, committing to regular correspondence with an incarcerated penpal, etc. 

A caveat: we don’t want to oversimplify this work. We know that these small, bite-size tasks alone do not change the material conditions or violence caused by generations of racism embedded in this nation’s founding. However, we also know that regularly performing tasks embeds them into our own sense of identity. And we know that when hundreds of people call an elected official or show up to a protest, we can see real change.

And we promise we’ll never send you an action without explicit steps (including a sample script, contact information, and context about *why* that is our weekly action). We’ll do the heavy lifting on our end so that you can keep the fire burning on yours. 

A NON-FINANCIAL WAY TO TAKE ACTION

This week’s non-financial way to take action will probably be our least drawn out. Because there is a transition of political power *tomorrow,* we’re going to hold off on all calls/emails until we have people in office. SO, this week instead, here’s our tiny action:

It is COLD outside, the mass evictions of the past few months have left thousands unhoused, and congregate living (i.e. shelters) isn’t particularly covid-safe. Seeing the humanity in people who approach you asking for assistance is the absolute bare minimum. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Plug your local homeless hotline into your phone if you live in a city that has emergency cold weather shelters or some sort of transport for people sleeping on the streets (take 2 minutes and google “your city + emergency weather shelter” or something of the like)
  • Get cash back next time you’re buying groceries. Keep it on hand if people ask for money. You are not “enabling” people, you are acknowledging their inherent humanity. We are living in an international tragedy; people didn’t “choose” this.
  • Gather old coats, warm socks, unused toiletry items, snacks, etc. and keep them in your car or purse. Share them with people that approach you for cash (it is okay to say “I don’t have cash right now but I do have (a granola bar! clean socks! reusable face masks! a gift card to a nearby convenience store!)” and offer what you do have on you). 


Practice the following things to say to folks experiencing homelessness that approach you. Seriously. Practice talking to human beings like they are human beings:

  • “Sorry I don’t have cash today, I hope you have a good day.”
  • “I don’t have cash but I am headed to [store or restaurant], can I get you anything there?”
  • “I am sorry, I cannot help you today but what is your name? How can I find you again soon?”
  • “I don’t have much but I have a few dollars/some change. I hope you have a good day.”
  • “I don’t have money but I do have [snacks, hygienic supplies, face masks, socks, etc.]. Would this be something you could use?”

We live in a culture that makes it seem like basic human kindness is in short supply, especially toward people who don’t have shelter. It’s okay to not have cash to give away; it’s not okay to blatantly ignore someone because preexisting biases about poverty and deservedness make us think that someone’s financial situation, cleanliness, perceived substance use, or mental illness make them unworthy of our time. 

We also want to note, what a person does with the money you give them stops being your business the second you give it to them. They know their own needs better than you do.  It is hard out there. It is cold out there. It is extremely uncomfortable and often violent and usually unkind out there. You don’t have to become best friends with someone who approaches you asking for money; you do have to get used to seeing them as one more person worthy of being looked in the eye and being treated like a person. 

One more thing: please avoid calling the cops on unhoused people (or anyone else who is not posing a direct threat to your safety). If you have questions about the impact of calling the cops on houseless folks, Emily is more than willing to talk your ear off about the ways that getting the criminal legal system involved unnecessarily further sets people back. 

For more on homelessness, we recommend We the Unhoused (for people who’d prefer to listen) and The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness (it’s expensive but your local library probably has a copy) and Tell Them Who I Am (for people who’d prefer to read). 

RECRUITING OUR BIPOC ADVISORY BOARD

Another thing: we are building a BIPOC-run advisory board! While this initiative emerged as an attempt to cultivate honest, shame-free conversations about whiteness without burdening Black friends, Indigenous friends, and friends who are people of color, as this initiative grows, we think it’s important to bring on a leadership team that *isn’t* white. If you know of anyone who is *already interested in* antiracist work, please forward this email to them or reply to us so that we can reach out! We are expecting this to be a low-lift role but want to make sure our resources are reflective of the communities we seek to support with Unlearning Racism. 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: A CONVERSATION WITH PROFESSOR DEION HAWKINS


This Sunday, January 24th, we’ll be hosting our first speaker of 2021 with Professor Deion Hawkins! As a reminder, we upload recordings of all our conversations with guest speakers to our Patreon so if you can’t make it, you can still listen in by subscribing! 

Dr. Deion Hawkins is a communications studies professor at Emerson College. Deion is a health communication scholar whose research utilizes intercultural theory to mitigate health disparities. Deion has studied a myriad of topics including police violence as a health issue and HIV in the Black MSM community; he is an avid social justice advocate for marginalized communities. In addition to his work in academia, Dr. Hawkins has worked as a health communication consultant for various social marketing campaigns, combatting issues like human trafficking, advanced care directives, youth homelessness and PrEP awareness. 

We’ll send this info again Friday and on social media but you can join us here!

Alright friends by the time you read this who knows what this world we’ll look like! We’re optimistic but cautious about any and all events related to inauguration tomorrow. Either way, we know that our work toward a more just world is far from over.  Either way, please stay safe.

See you Friday, regardless of what happens with the news cycle. We are rooting for you.

In solidarity,
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden

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