Punks With Lunch Keep Serving It Up In Oakland
In an increasingly cold and bullshit world, it’s really wonderful to see people taking care of the folks in their city who are in deep need. Back in 2016, we introduced you to a group who personifies this perfectly — Oakland’s Punks With Lunch. This group of punks provide lunches and supplies to people facing homelessness on a weekly basis for going on two years. We sat down with Alejandra, founder of Punks With Lunch, to discuss what they are up to, how to start your own Punks With Lunch, and how the City is not practicing what it preaches in its new program to address homelessness.
Since we interviewed you last year, have there been any changes at Punks With Lunch?
So, not too much has changed with our program, but we recently hooked with Community Outreach Harm Reduction Team (COHRT). They were doing something similar to what we were doing, as far as harm reduction measures go. We teamed up with them and since then we’ve really streamlined our harm reduction program. We’re also in the process of trying to become legitimized. We’re working towards getting our 501(c)(3) and becoming a non-profit, but that’s going to be a process.
How has merging with COHRT changed how PWL operates its harm reduction program?
We’re able to do a lot more now. Since we’ve paired up with them, we do needle pick-ups at least twice a month in different neighborhoods. We also have a new needle exchange program that’s on Wednesdays from 6pm-8pm at 36th Street and MLK. This is in addition to our needle exchanges we do Sundays at our stationary lunch sites on 5th & Brush and 35th & Peralta. Another great thing is that since pairing with COHRT we’re compiling better data since pairing up with them.
What are you gathering data for?
Basically, we’re gathering data on how many syringes we are gathering during our pick-ups, as well as how many we hand out and get back during our needle exchanges. Some of the other data we are collecting include: neighborhood location, age, race, and gender. We’re gathering this data somewhat preemptively so when we are legit we have it at the ready. Ultimately, we’re hoping to use it to help us get grants so we can continue, and ideally expand, our harm reduction program.
Has the number of lunches you give out every week stayed about the same?
Kind of. It’s a little difficult to say because people are getting pushed out because of the City’s hostile attitude about homelessness. The politics of encampments are crazy. The numbers of folks we have been giving lunches to has been really low, but this week was really high. It really changes how many people we reach each week. But, we’ve expanded in the sense that we give out more hygiene products and supplies than ever before.
The City of Oakland has been talking a good game about how they are helping the homeless population in Oakland. What’s been your experience of this?
It’s been rocky. One of the city sanctioned encampments on 35th and Peralta went up in flames a few months ago, and that was horrible because suddenly so many people didn’t have a place. We spend a lot of time talking to people who are homeless and have formed relationships with them. Through talking with these folks, we are hearing that the City calling their project to address homelessness successful isn’t quite what it seems. That what they are saying and what’s actually happening are two different stories. Many of the news articles are talking about how through City programs, more homeless people are getting off the streets and into housing. That’s not quite the case. What’s actually happening is these folks are given a voucher to stay in a SRO for a week. These are temporary fixes and not as grand as what the City is purporting. What it boils down to is we are hearing what Oakland wants to do all of this for people experiencing homelessness, but we aren’t seeing it. People who are experiencing homelessness have been treated with a lot of hostility by businesses, organizations, and the City itself, which is unfortunate.
Advice to people wanting to do their own Punks with Lunch in other cities?
Oh man. I think just sticking to it is important. It all starts up with a couple bucks and then you need to fund raise. Fundraising can be underwhelming, but you need to keep pushing through because you will get people who are just as passionate as you. When we first started we constantly had different volunteers and ran out of money all the time. Things just wouldn’t work out. It would have been so easy to say fuck this. But you need to keep pushing and connecting. You can start something like this. It’s a lot of hard work, but it is doable.
Where do you see Punks With Lunch going in the future?
We’re hoping to become a legitimate non-profit. We’d also really like to be able to provide case management to people. We’ve found that as we’re trying to find resources for people, like how to find housing, where get medical help, or how to get into rehab, that it’s really hard for us to navigate . So someone living on the street and doesn’t have access to a phone, WiFi, or the internet they’re going to have a much harder figuring out this crazy system. So, we want to eventually help people navigate that. We also would like a drop-in location for people to hang out, get supplies, and just to have a place to go off the streets that’s not hostile. We want to keep doing what we are doing and meeting people where they are at and provide our services.
What are ways that people can get involved?
I think that a great starting off point is to come and volunteer at our Sunday Punks With Lunch lunch assembly and/or distribution. Also, joining us for one of our syringe clean ups is a great way to get involved. You can follow us on Facebook and we list what we’re up to there. We are also always open for donations of food, hygiene products, and what not. All of our harm reduction supplies are donated through different organizations, so we are good there. But giving time or supplies is always much needed, and appreciated.
Want meet some bad ass folks, listen to some great jams, and help your community? Seriously, you’re going to want to check out Punks With Lunch. You can stay tuned by following Punks With Lunch on Facebook for info on volunteering opportunities, news, and upcoming fund raisers. You can also visit their webpage for more info on volunteering or donating. Finally, you can also help them out by visiting their fundraising page or their wishlist and help insure they have the funds and supplies to continue to serve the people of Oakland.
*All photos courtesy of Punks With Lunch