East Village - I Am Listening

The first time I went to East Village, I was completely dumbfounded. Tents, people of all ages laying in tattered sleeping-bags and rags in the middle of the side-walk, with provisional carts full of belongings at the foot of uber-tall modern condos and apartment buildings. I remember thinking to myself “this is what it will look like everywhere when the World is ending.”  

Coming from Chicago, I knew danger, but I did not know the depths of homelessness, as it is present in San Diego. I always feel safe amid the homeless here, but over the course of one month’s time, I saw four penises while walking to and from Hale Holistic — a yoga studio. I believe the exposures were largely due to the mens’ lack of access to privacy. 

Seeing male genitals and feces is disgusting, but witnessing countless homeless children is purely devastating. And when seeing random penises and homeless children and hundreds of people living on the street became an everyday part of my life, it became impossible for me to sit back and not do anything. 

Studying non-profits in graduate school left me skeptical towards privileged-outsiders effectuating real changes in communities like East Village — I wholeheartedly believe that the solution is found at the roots and is supported, not implemented, by community outsiders. So, I decided to ask East Village community members two questions: What would you say to someone who could make a difference in your life? How can we help you? 

The idea stemmed from ethnographic research I conducted in Kenya for my graduate thesis. Even though my apartment is less than two miles away from East Village, I feel as far removed from the issues in East Village as I did from the lives of my Kenyan friends.

So, I decided to take what I had learned from Kenya and implore a similar project in East Village — with a few upgrades to provide a louder voice to the community. 

Ever since I started talking about the project, one of the first questions I am typically asked is, “have you heard of such and such organization?” I did do some research before I set out… But, I am largely underwhelmed with the support the East Village community is receiving. I am confident the organizations and the field workers are going above and beyond to provide what they can; yet, it is quite evident the needs of the East Village community far surpass the organizations’ present capacities.

Something is missing. 

Several times, I have asked myself, “Who am I to document these people? Who am I to share their stories? I am an outsider — I pass by them on my way to teach and practice yoga. What if I give these people a voice and no one helps them and nothing changes?”  

While I may not have definitive answers to these questions, I am 100% certain I cannot continue to pass by masses of people living on the streets, next to my yoga studio (my place of peace), and not do anything. 

In the movie, Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore asked Marilyn Manson, “If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, who would you say to them if they were here right not?” and Marilyn said, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

And that’s how I plan to start supporting my East Village Community, listening.