homelessness

i’m at “home” in los angeles. where i was born. where i grew up. because i am allowed to go home. something palestinians are not allowed to do. something so simple as going home. i picked up a copy of the weekly publication la weekly which had a feature story in it about a palestinian man who is living not far from my grandma’s house in a tent. a palestinian refugee–naser nasralla–living in a tent as a homeless man in a suburb of los angeles:

As you drive north on Tampa Avenue, toward a giant mall called the Northridge Fashion Center and the sun-scorched hills of the Santa Susana mountain range, the strip malls and shopping centers change from mom-and-pop businesses, like the Tampa Market and J & J Liquor to shiny, corporate-chain stores such as Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond, located a half block south of Nordhoff Avenue. That avenue has been a longtime demarcation between the affluent and not-so-affluent in Northridge. Jimmy lives behind Bed Bath & Beyond in the slightly more blue-collar part of the community. His neighborhood, though, looks and feels as if it’s going through an upgrade.

On another 90-degree-plus day, KNX 1070 blares from his transistor. Jimmy says that he’s already fed the seagulls and pigeons — something he does twice a day. He turns off the news and offers me cookies and fruit juice, which, as a self-described vegetarian, are his daily staples. It’s also an economical diet — Jimmy receives a monthly welfare check of $220 and a monthly food-stamps stipend of $200. “That’s what I’m living on until I find a job,” he says.

Jimmy then grabs a green plastic chair so I can stay out of the sun and sit with him inside the tent that he bought at a local Target for $130. A gray tarp spreads over the tent, which reflects the harsh brunt of the Valley’s intense summertime sun and gives him some relief. The odd little piece of land he has selected is cement in every direction, and situated close to a railroad spur used to supply goods to local businesses. There are no trees nearby to provide him shade.

Inside, Jimmy’s tent has space for a full-size mattress covered with a green blanket and a large, pink cage, which houses his gray-and-white cat, Meana — a word, Jimmy says, that in Arabic roughly means something one wishes for. Green shamrocks hang from everywhere inside the tent, as do little, tree-shaped car fresheners in green, blue, orange, yellow and red. On one wall, Jimmy has hung a sonnet from William Shakespeare, which famously begins, “Shall I compare thee/To a summer’s day?/You are more lovely/And more temperate.” Small crosses and American flags add to the décor in and out of his home. Jimmy, raised as both a Muslim and a Catholic, says he’s “bound” by the Ten Commandments.

“I’m religious,” he says. “I’d rather die hungry than steal anything to eat.”

The interior of the welcoming tent is stacked with his belongings and toiletries. He shaves every day and, for a shower, Jimmy places water inside a 1.44-gallon, clean, plastic gas can, hitches the can to a bar inside the tent, and opens the downturned spout halfway, which lets the water cascade out as if it’s coming from a household shower. He collects and dispenses with his wastewater, rather than letting it flow across the small, concrete bridge on which his tent is pitched, and into Aliso Creek — today a narrow flood-control channel that flows below the span Jimmy has staked out as his home.

He says he doesn’t drink or take drugs. He smokes the cheapest cigarettes on sale, for which he’s created a homemade, double filter out of a small piece of a plastic straw and used cigarette filters. Jimmy’s been smoking since he was a youngster in Jordan, which sometimes brought the wrath of his father, who Jimmy describes as “abusive.”

Jimmy was the fourth child of 11, with a father who was Muslim and a mother who was Catholic. The household practiced both religions. “When we were young,” Jimmy says, “we were confused, because we would go to the church and the mosque.” In 1967, when he was 8, the family fled their village on the West Bank for Jordan after the Six-Day War broke out between the Israeli army and the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

“The bullets were flying,” Jimmy says. “That’s the only thing I remember. The tanks and helicopters were shooting at everyone. Everybody was fleeing.”

In Jordan, Jimmy learned to read and write English in school, but he didn’t care much for studying and his father wanted him to work. He left school as a boy with a seventh-grade education and worked as a cement mixer, earning $6 or $7 a week.

but now the railway company who “owns” this land where naser has his tent is trying to force him off the land. there is a lawsuit. you can read the rest of the article to see how even in amrika palestinians are forced off the land. land that does not belong to amrika, but to the indigenous population here. this land that once was indigenous. once was mexico. and now is “owned” by amrika. and yet again a palestinian refugee in a tent is being forced to leave…

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