Poetry exposes truth about public housing in the Bay Area

BY Victoria Fleischer  February 24, 2014 at 4:03 PM EDT

Deandre Evans, Will Hartfield and Donte Clark use poetry to reveal the housing crisis in Richmond, Calif. Watch them recite “This is Home” in a video created by Off/Page Project and read the full text of the poem at the bottom of this article.

For Deandre Evans, Will Hartfield and Donte Clark, writing poetry isn’t solely self-expression; it’s also a means of reporting a story affecting their community.

Through the Off/Page Project, a collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting, the three poets joined CIR’s Amy Harris in the field while she conducted research on mismanagement of public housing in Richmond, Calif.

José Vadi, the director of Off/Page Project, calls it “source storytelling.”

“It’s using source material from investigative reporting, in addition to our own personal narratives and our own personal history, to create new forms of storytelling,” Vadi told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

“We wanted to reach a younger audience and have the conversation centered around them … kind of putting youth in the driver’s seat of their own stories, and the issues that are reflected through their work.”

Evans, Hartfield and Clark created “This is Home,” a poem with investigative elements, fact-checked to report what’s actually happening on the ground.

For Vadi, combining journalism and poetry is a natural progression.

“Spoken word, like investigative reporting, is all about exposing the truth.”

PBS member station KQED reported on the housing crisis in Richmond, Calif. To learn more about what’s happening on the ground, watch their story below:

You can also read Amy Harris’s article accompanied by photos by Lacy Atkins of Richmond’s residents in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Tune in to Monday night’s PBS NewsHour to see Jeffrey Brown’s report on Off/Page Project. You can watch on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS listings.


This is Home

Deandre Evans:
This is where rodents and roaches are like family
‘cause we share the same meals
Top ramen, cereal, Kool Aid
Its no family complaints
Everything is enjoyed that we refrigerate and put in cabinets
We feel thirty-below air from cracked windows
No heat for when Richmond wind blows
No AC to cool down the weather that makes us sweat
Neglect is the only thing we get
Fungus disintegrating the walls
Bathroom sink replaces bathtub
Only place where I can wash my body
Everybody comes through the door except people who repair
Why are elevators broken in a place made for people who are disabled?
How can we use stairs when we
roll the wheels of our chairs and lean our bodies on canes and walkers?
No one is responsive – feel like I’m talking to myself
When help is asked to restore something as simple as a lock on a gate
So I can feel safe
Never get any phone calls returned
Don’t get to talk to anything more than an machine,
This is home -
it’s not built for us to survive.

William Hartfield-Peoples:
I see barren hallways
Broken cameras
Uninvited guests
There’s no service here
As if a sea of people were cast away on an island
to fend for themselves
The weather outside is frightening
The absent guards’ ghost remains in its rightful place
A world ran by village rules
We exist only to survive
Accustomed to the law of the land
Mind your business
Pay no mind to that body that just fell
from the top floor the other night.
Silence has become an ally to fear
the fear of being evicted,
Like a sickness the madness of this reality soaks in to a simple statement:
“Better here than out there”
I see Juanita:
a double amputee bound to a chair,
hands scarred not by surgery or disease,
but by a room and a door that a wheelchair wasn’t made for,
Everyday she pushes through,
Everyday she pushes on because
This is home.
Look at Mama Hall:
81-years young and she still keeping a routine
Weary eyes maintaining order with disorder
Day in and day out
and if the proper authorities won’t help
Then they help themselves
Whether it be mice nesting in the walls
Dope dealers in the halls
Or prostitutes treating for a trick
These seniors take hold of what they can
and fight for what they can’t because
This is home
Where video cassettes are glued to the ceilings and the walls to keep the mice out
This is home
Where the people make their own
Ain’t family but they’ll never be alone
Ain’t nowhere else to go
and these old folks need a place
so they make space
and pray for tomorrow
‘cause tomorrow shows a new face.

Donte Clark:
Tomorrow, as dawn peeks
and blue jays sing praise
I will awake,
with a gracious morning
resting lightly on my eyelids,
Thankful,
I can roll out of my plush covers feeling silk
Feet seep deep into warmed carpets in my apartment
On winter mornings around Decembers
Unthaw the frosted grip I have on misery
And set me free
Believing without seeing has brought life to this carcass
Tomorrow,
I will be treated more like resident
Feel more relevant than just a pawn
You feel me?
I bet not – see no dirt but green in these lawns, huh!?!
Don’t want to smell no cocaine linger
or mildew clingin to my doorsteps, huh!?!
Gotta protest, raid the government,
shake their pockets
and make them fix these pro-jects, huh!?!
‘cause if not here then where?
Where do we go next?
‘cause left is cemetery,
Barbed wired hearts
Unchained metal gates like a welcome place for the tear apart
Open doors For the match & spark where
Everything dies slowly,
on schedule.
But until tomorrow
Before my thoughts will manifest kingdom
And we feast in abundance of wealth
We’ll break bread,
share what left over scraps we have
and find communion in our struggle.

This is tomorrow.