This guest post comes by way of Tina Smith. Smith is founder of Dreamship, which is a low income housing cooperative in the Parkside Neighborhood. She has been a resident of Portland for 14 years and has lived in Parkside for 5 years. She is also a community organizer and teaching artist.
I woke up in the middle of the night hearing what sounds like a tow truck across the street. I hope it is not my car they are taking.
On Monday nights in our neighborhood, we have to move our cars for street cleaning and park on different sides of the street. I tried to move my car, but my car wouldn’t start, so I left a note with that information. I have had some problems with my car this winter, but I have been diligently trying to fix those problems by jumping my car, replacing the battery, etc. It has been a winter with a lot of snow and very low temperatures. When we have had parking bans and street cleaning days, I am always responsibly moving my car so that my city can plow our streets well. Recently, my partner posted on the city of Portland website under the Fix It program letting the city know that our street, Boynton Street, is not getting plowed, and that the snow on top of the adjacent city of Portland Maine Medical Parking lot is getting dumped on the little sidewalk we have and leaking into our already narrow street. Even last week, a police cruiser knocked on our door to have my partner move her car that was on our street for which she has a sticker because he could not get through to the end of the street.
So, when I called the Portland Parking Division this morning to dispute my car getting towed, the first three responses I got from the city workers were of blame and irresponsibility on my part. It took me being transferred through three people to get at least one voice of empathy, who still could offer no real solutions. Upon calling the actual tow company that the city hires to tow cars in these situations, I learned that I owe $85 if I pick up my car today, and then $25 for each day that goes by without picking up my car. And then in two weeks, the tow company will actually start applying for the title of my car and contact the city.
My experience scales much larger than the parking division and tickets and tows. I live in a wonderfully rich and diverse spot. It is a low income neighborhood with little driveways and many narrow streets. I have a respectable job as a Teaching Artist and live on a minimal income as a teacher. Let me ask you this: Who is holding the city accountable for plowing streets and making it workable for me to park on my street without a cruiser asking us to move our cars so the officer can get by to do his job? Why is the city not fined for not doing the work that our taxes are paying for? I was told by someone in the parking division that they are doing the best they can with all the snow this year in plowing the streets. So, am I. I am doing the best I can as well, and so when my car does not work on the night I am supposed to move it, I literally have the potential of losing my car completely by the city and the tow company because I may not be able to pay for all of that within this two week period. Those are ridiculous rules that do not take into account human being’s livelihoods and financial situations.
In the last few hours, what I received was blame, not compassion. I received lots of what I should have done and not any solutions or choices for moving forward. How will you expect anyone to feel safe to express their voices in this community if they are met with distrust and shame by the people at the top?