A few weeks ago I was involved in a tragic scene. The City of Glendale condemned a building due to structural violations. They went from apartment to apartment and gave the tenants 12 hours to move. This was the second time the city had come in two months; earlier they had cleared a different section of the building. We didn’t find out about the first mass eviction until it was too late to do anything about it. But when the second mass eviction happened, we immediately went on the scene trying to help.
The situation we encountered was heartbreaking. Entire families had their belongings stacked on the walkway outside their apartments. Some families had even moved into their cars. Children were running and playing, not understanding the seriousness of what was happening, while their parents desperately tried to figure out what to do. I saw mattresses leaning up against the railings of the walkways; boxes of personal belongings stacked about, and a feeling of horror and disbelief in the air.
Charles Gosmon, the Associate Director of Arizona Tenants Union, was amazing. As I chased news vans trying to get coverage for my organization, Charles was going from tenant to tenant, trying to see how he could help them, moving boxes and furniture, telling them what their rights were with respect to recovering their pre-paid rent and security deposit money, and doing everything he could to be of assistance. These were not people who were members of ATU; they were just people who were in trouble. I was so impressed and proud of Charles in that moment – and perhaps even a little ashamed of myself – as he tried to be one more person who participated in helping the situation. It reminded me of Katrina: the City of Glendale certainly was not there providing these people with storage space, shelter and transportation. In that moment, I was reminded once again that first and foremost, we exist to exert a positive impact on tenants’ lives.
As the Executive Director of Arizona Tenants Union, I am trying to establish a culture of tenant organizing and tenants rights in Arizona. But I never forget that each tenant who has a problem with his landlord is not just a troop in a battle, but a human being who is experiencing a crisis in his life. It is our job to see that person through his crisis. We are a nonprofit organization committed to advocate for and on behalf of tenants. Please join us in our effort to ensure that all people, no matter what situation they are in, are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are enforced.
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