6 – Resource distribution in disputed territory

By R Smith

	On providing objects in public places, advice for an emphasis on mutual benefit. Unconscious charity ignores externalities (especially ecologically) can cause harm in/to the commons, creating both conflict and trash. Seeking understanding of political/power dynamics of a space allows for deeper care and reduced risks for all involved. Whenever possible coordinate with organizations that already provide goods or services, keeping centered that the most important thing is that care is provided consistently not who is getting credit.. The easiest/safest practice is to show up in numbers — the risk of an individual being focused on and subsequently targeted later are lessened 

	While a student at UC Berkeley I heard People’s Park had a free lunch — this is where I got my first taste of mutual aid. Confusing it for charity initially, I asked the servers if I should leave it for the less fortunate. The organization Food Not Bombs was serving a multi course vegetarian meal every week day, run by volunteers and salvaging food that might otherwise go to waste. Years later at the Santa Cruz FNB I was surprised to find out, that in addition to having chapters across the country, there was an emphasis on literature and they held workshops on gardening and sustainability including a yearly retreat in Taos New Mexico. While this approach is in line with the greater project of food abundance/ sovereignty, some cook houses prefer simply to focus on the direct aid/charity of serving food, and leave the networking aspect out, or up to social media.

	My deeper immersion into mutual aid organizing has come through rainbow gatherings; which are multicultural interfaith assemblies that take place in the wilderness. The event is meant as prayer for world peace, and offers excellent training/practice. All group decisions are made through open counsel process. Through having numbers that make law enforcement difficult the forest service and police are forced into this modality, joining our circle(s) to tell us the event is illegal, then eventually working with us to create guidelines to protect the natural resources. Volunteers stay after the masses leave to remove all trash and re-naturalize. Donations are used to buy infrastructure and food in bulk increasing purchasing power drastically. Skill shares and workshops are common, and often provide mutual benefit, as the teacher(s) now have more people to help with the project/task. Over the years of attending I have learned how to: build gravity fed water systems, outdoor kitchens, organize food for equitable distribution, facilitate effective talking circles. I experience a sense of security unlike anywhere else because there is a meme “Shanti Scena” which one yells if they feel unsafe, which causes others to come help. If the assembled group still requires assistance they too yell “Shanti Scena” and more people arrive to deescalate/seek resolution, find a lost person, etc. 

	“First They Came for the Homeless” or “Here/There” is a mostly sober, formerly protest based, encampment near Alcatraz and Adeline. Regular meetings a requirement of membership. Advocates from/for various; projects, associations, organizations, also sometimes attend thus interacting with the group rather than risk the skewed perspective of one individual. They often have food, clothing, camping supplies for those in need. This level of community engagement and stewardship of a space is uncommon, and in stark contrast to the territorial hoarding that abounds in the surrounding area.

	What happens when an overabundance of resources lacks the physical and social infrastructure for sensible distribution? Overwhelming piles, items dragged and dumped, contribute to the persistence of a population, in turn attracting additional objects and even more collectors. Often when a group houseless people set up camp in an area, housed hoarders and those who sell (substances with high abuse potential) set up storage tent(s). However unlike local and residents of the surrounding area, they don't have the incentive to care about the externalities of a deal, because their sleep, safety, sanity isn't at stake. Over the years some of these predatory individuals have caused enough harm that even activists/social service providers have reported them to the police, leading some to believe they are confidential informants, or being used as a tool to continually cause dissent and bad optics.

	Harm reduction via capitalism is likely impossible. Being highly critical of any purchases is necessary for any hope of long term care, sustainably. Divest from culture that helps your local area short term, at great expense to distant ecologies. Less abstractly limit plastic, sugar/candy, processed foods; put health over providing momentary comfort; single use water bottles are easy to hand out, but ultimately discourage an individual from taking account of their water intake, and when bought from the wrong company increase their power to drain distant aquifers, and encourage water as a commodity. Once you've come to understand a scene it will be easier to discern who might not drink water otherwise, from those you are only saving a short walk. If interested in direct aid, going around to each tent/stuff pile/camp is a strategy that allows assessment of needs and avoids competition. The most common contention usually being the number of items an individual should take before others have a had a chance. If setting up free items careful curation is necessary to lessen the most able (often with the least need) from wielding their power over the supplies. 

	. Please don’t take this warning lightly. It is unfortunately common for dominant/territorial individuals to harass, threaten, run out, the vulnerable, leaving you to choose between condoning with silence or confrontation, becoming a target yourself. Some people so deep in psychosis/trauma/trigger that weeks or  months later, they will confront, threaten, attack; over something they observed overheard. Escalation of disagreements can sometimes be avoided by having a clear policy or asking recipients/crowd to respect the values/procedure of the group.