KOREATOWN, CA — Over the past few months, city officials have been looking at a number of different communities in Los Angeles and Orange County as potential sites to build supportive housing for the homeless.
- City officials want to build supportive housing for the homeless
- NIMBY ("not in my backyard") supporters are against this
- Keanakay Scott writes about her homeless experience in a viral letter
There has been a lot of debate between residents in those communities about the pros and cons of having people who are struggling with homelessness in their neighborhoods.
One woman who has been homeless for over a decade wrote a public letter to the people who say they don’t want her in their backyard that went viral.
It was published on the LAist.com website, and was read by over 17,000 people.
Keanakay Scott is sitting on the grass in front of a large house in Koreatown reading through the letter she wrote: "Dear NIMBYs, my name is Keanakay, and I'm not welcome in your backyard. I'm 29 years old. I have two children. I'm a student at Penn State World Campus. I work full time, and I've been chronically homeless for the last 10 years. I'm not welcome in your backyard, because local shelters are overpopulated, and I've had to sleep on the street."
Scott wrote a two page open letter to NIMBYs - the acronym for “not in my backyard” that is used for people who oppose the presence of homeless people and housing in their neighborhood.
She saw a video of people protesting proposed homeless shelters that neighborhood council meetings and Venice and Sherman Oaks, and was shocked at their reactions.
Scott opens up a clip of one of meetings she found on YouTube and tears well up in her eyes as she watches people yelling at city council representatives that they don't want drug addicts and mentally ill people living near them.
Scott says she has been homeless, and she aged out of foster care system at 18 years old. She was basically dumped on the street with no skills and no support.
"There was no one to ensure I went to school, 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 teach me how to apply for an apartment,” she said. “I spent the last 10 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."
Scott has spent the past two years getting help at a women's shelter in mid-city LA called Alexandria House. It’s temporary housing, but it was better than the wrath she's received sleeping outdoors.
She continued to read: "I've worked full time but my paycheck still learning, 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've only had enough money to feed them."
She has a car that she uses to take her 5-year-old daughter to school and to get to her job at DCFS downtown. But they have also had to sleep in it.
In her letter she says, "Our shelters, tents and car backseats are constant reminders that you hate us and that we aren't welcome anywhere. This is our life every day."
Scott gave up her room at Alexandria House two months ago when she finally got a Section 8 voucher for her own apartment. But that fell through, so she and her daughter are back at Alexandria in an over-flow room.
"Through all of this, here's something probably didn't know… I maintain hope, hope that one day things will 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 lived this way. Hope carried me forward,” said Scott.
She continued, "You judge me for having children, for needing assistance. You hate me for wanting the stability you take for granted. 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?"
She has spent the past decade trying to find a place to call home. However, Scott is not giving up on one day making that dream come true.
Here is her full letter:
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?
- Keanakay Scott