'Dear NIMBYs' — An Open Letter From A Homeless Woman In LA
Keanakay Scott cried when she read a story about a public meeting over a proposed emergency shelter and permanent housing for the homeless. One of the local homeowners who attended the meeting later told LAist that he thought authorities should build a "reservation" for homeless people "somewhere out in the desert." Scott has been homeless for a decade. She said the story "broke" her.
"I went over to my supervisor crying, and I'm just like, 'I'm a person. And what did I do for these people to hate me?'"
Scott decided to write an open letter to the people who are against housing the homeless in their neighborhoods. She sent us the letter and we decided to publish it because it's a perspective we don't often hear, and a voice too often absent from these debates.
Here is her letter, reprinted in full:
My name is Keanakay, and I'm not welcome in your backyard.
I am twenty-eight years old. I have two children, ages five and nine. I am a student at Penn State World Campus. I work full time, and I have been chronically homeless for the last ten years. If you are wondering how someone like me could spend her entire adulthood homeless—it's because I grew up in foster care.
I aged out of the foster care system at eighteen. I was a high school dropout with no skills, and I was expected to take care of myself after never having had to do it. Where you had a mother, father, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, I had no one. There was no one to ensure that I went to school. No one to take me to the grocery store and teach me how to shop for food. No one to show me how to cook. No one to make sure I understood credit or how to pay bills. No one to explain how to fill out a job application or to teach me how to apply for an apartment.
I have spent the last ten years trying to figure out how to teach myself stability, and because of that, you declare that I have no right to live in your backyard. I even read recently that I should be exiled to a "reservation" in the desert where I, and the rest of my city's homeless population, can receive the help we need!
I'm not welcome in your backyard because local shelters are overpopulated and I had to sleep on the street.
I'm not welcome in your backyard because I went my entire life being misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders and turned to drugs to self-medicate.
I'm not welcome in your backyard because you "pay your taxes" and I "don't care" about myself and I "made my choice."
Here are some questions for you. How could I have prevented myself from becoming homeless? How could I have stopped my group home from kicking me out simply because I turned eighteen? How could I have forced the L.A. County courts to make sure my foster families taught me life skills? How could I, as a child, know I would need them? How could I have convinced my doctors to recognize my behavior as chronic PTSD instead of the multiple personality disorder they diagnosed me with that led to years of addiction? How can I force someone to give me a place to live when, while working full time, I don't make half the rent in even the worst neighborhoods in my city?
Still you yell, "Not in my backyard!"
What you are really saying is that the homeless are not people and that we are not worthy of your compassion.
You're saying homeless people don't deserve the opportunity to be properly diagnosed so they can stand a fighting chance at recovery, stability, and a sense of normalcy.
You're saying homeless people don't deserve access to proper healthcare.
You're saying homeless people don't deserve the basic right of cleanliness and eating a meal that did not come from a garbage can.
You are saying that women who wind up on the streets because of physical or sexual abuse don't deserve to be safe.
You are saying that foster children who age out of the system and find themselves instantly homeless don't care about themselves—so why should you?
I work. I pay taxes. I go to college. I contribute to my community. I obey the law. I do my best to teach my daughters all the things no one taught me.
What else can I do to convince you that I care about myself?
Being able to yell "Not in my backyard!" is a luxury. After you're done, you return to your home where you can open your fridge and fix yourself something to eat, or take a warm shower and forget all about what you're protesting.
We don't get the luxury of forgetting. Our tents, shelter cots and car back seats are constant reminders that you hate us and that we aren't welcome anywhere. We're an inconvenience. We're an eyesore when you're exiting from the freeway or leaving Trader Joe's.
This is our life. Every day. This is our future. And our children's futures. This is life and death for many of us.
Not only have I never had my own home, I have never had my own room. I have always been a guest—in shelters, on someone else's couch, and even in someone else's car. I've worked full-time, but my paychecks still weren't enough so I had to panhandle to buy food. I've been spit on and called names for wanting to feed my daughters. I've gone hungry because I only had enough money to feed them. I've snuck and eaten leftovers off of the plates of patrons who ate at the restaurants I worked in.
And through all of this, here is something you probably did not know. I maintained hope.
Hope that one day things would get better.
Hope that one day I would get the help I so desperately needed.
Hope that my children would never have to live the way I lived or remember having to live this way.
Hope carried me forward. After finally getting into Alexandria House, a Los Angeles shelter that helped me begin to heal from the trauma of foster care and homelessness, get properly diagnosed, and receive the stability necessary to maintain permanent employment, I got a Section 8 voucher that provides a rental subsidy. But guess what? I'm still not welcome in your backyard.
You turn up your nose at my voucher. You dissect my life, scrutinizing the credibility of my story. You wear your bias like a badge of honor when you see my history. You judge me for having children, for needing assistance. You hate me for wanting the stability you take for granted. You force me to perform to prove my worth. Then you still deny me access to fair, affordable housing.
And why? Because you didn't like looking the other way when you saw me on the street? Because you were repulsed by my tent? Because I was aesthetically un-pleasing? Or is it simply because I make you uncomfortable, and your discomfort is enough to disqualify a person from the American Dream?
More About Homelessness In Southern California
Correction: A previous version of this story said the suggestion about building a homeless "reservation" was said at the public meeting in Sherman Oaks. It was said in an interview with a reporter a few days after the meeting. LAist regrets the error.
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