About a week ago, @marissenmark was invited to spend a night at Crab Park.
Mark accepted, and I decided to join him.
On Friday the 7th, less than 24 hours before our scheduled stay, multiple people at Crab Park were stabbed and taken to the hospital. It’s election season, so a few candidates were happy to use this as an opportunity to advertise themselves. Videos, photo ops, tweets.
Mark resolved that it was all the more important to look this crisis in the eyes. To stop talking, and listen.
What we experienced during our overnight stay brought everything into focus for us: How we got here. Who we’re failing. And, unexpectedly… the hope our future holds.
The full moon watched over uneasy quiet as we walked, blankets & bags in tow. Crab Park is an enclave of about 50 tents, nestled between gleaming waterfront skylines and patchwork towers of port containers. The tide fizzles gently in, then out – to the cries of gulls & distant sirens.
We found a public warming tent when we arrived. There we settled into well-worn rolling chairs and waited.
A man grabbed a plate of dinner from the kitchen tent and plopped down next to us. His face was pale with exhaustion. After talking for a bit, we were shocked to learn he had just come from the hospital: a victim of the previous night, his heart narrowly missed by the blade. Stabbed right in that very tent, in fact. He was stable, but in deep pain. Alive, but still nowhere else to go. Reeling trying to figure out the meaning of it all.
When he learned we didn’t have a tent yet, he offered us his.
“Everything in there is yours, if you want it,” he said. “I just need my library book & sketchbook.”
All night, the residents of Crab Park offered us open-armed warmth. They didn’t know us. Didn’t care who we were. War veterans, wildfire victims, escapees from abuse… each of them carried pain – physical & emotional – that would bring anyone to the brink.
The man who helped us most (we’ll call him “D”) was a soft-spoken survivor of an Afghanistan IED. He found us a tent, helped us settle in, and showed us where everything was. “My joints stiffen up from all the injuries if I stop moving,” he explained, trying to rise from a kneel in front of our tent flap. “By the way, do you want a cot? I’ve got one. I made it myself.”
There was no refusing. D made it, and he wanted someone to use it. So Marissen slept on it.
Sturdy. Surprisingly comfortable.
Our first attempt at sleep didn’t last. A little past 9, someone came walking slowly down the path, shouting, “Pizza and Ice Cream! Pizza and Ice Cream!” Curious, we unraveled from our blankets and stumbled back outside. There we found a cheerful gathering of 15-20 people at the kitchen tent. Residents took turns in a polite line while volunteers scooped ice cream. D saw us and brought over a couple pizza slices, with red solo cups for soda. A guitar appeared and started strumming out songs from the band Alestorm.
The mood was downright cozy. But lingering trauma still cast its shadow.
“There were warning signs,” D sighed, talking about the perpetrator of the stabbings. “Foreshadowing, you know?”
Before Friday, there were 70 people at Crab Park. For over a year they’ve built eachother cots, fixed eachother’s tents, and brought eachother pizza. Together they challenge despair itself.
But our leaders do not see them. Politicians and news crews didn’t show up when they rebuilt after a storm blew away their tents. They didn’t show up for the tender moments of community and care. They only showed up to exploit suffering when they thought it’d boost their vote.
Mark Marrissen did not fear for his life while sleeping at Crab Park. Bundled up in his tent, he did not find comfort in the thought of more police officers or more prisons. What he found instead? A stab victim who left the hospital in search of better care. A broken man who offered countless cries for help before his violent outburst… failed at every turn by our mental healthcare & justice systems. A community, desperate for somewhere to be. Its own victimization used as an excuse to dismantle it and isolate its most vulnerable.
We must do better. We must face reality. And if our leaders can’t shut up and listen? If they can’t stomach a night facing the consequences of their failures?
Then, in my opinion… they’re not ready for the job.
We need courage, humility, & compassion to fix this. That’s the leader we need right now.
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