When I was pastor at First Christian Church of Oakland, a couple of our regular members were homeless. They made most of their income by recycling. They could tell you where to go on Saturdays when the regular recycling center was closed, and how to get money for the wine bottles that don’t have the triangle arrow you need normally, and how to strip the plastic off phone wires to redeem the valuable copper underneath. (Although in retrospect they were a little embarrassed they admitted to their pastor that they knew how to do that last one.)

Monday through Friday, they took their recycling to Alliance Recycling Center in west Oakland, a few blocks from the home where some of my other congregants lived. You can actually catch glimpses of them in the documentary Dogtown Redemption, made by my now-friend Amir Soltani, whom I met and came to trust because my congregants had seen him in action and could vouch for him.

We showed a community preview of the film at the church in 2007 and would show it to youth groups who stayed at the Oakland Peace Center as a tool to discuss gentrification

This all came back to me because of a colleague’s post on facebook today expressing the same frustrations the film brought up for me: the debate between people who have moved into the neighborhood and the people who make their living from recycling continues to be an issue. The people who have moved into the neighborhood expect the neighborhood to be exactly how they want it to be and are frustrated with homeless people hanging out in the park and near City Slickers garden by the recycling center; they would rather see the recycling center moved to a remote area. And a little nuance I would like to add: some of the longtime residents are also ambivalent about homeless people hanging out in their neighborhood, but the ones I knew recognized that the people who recycled at Alliance needed to go somewhere and didn’t have a sense of a better place to send them. They also didn’t generally perceive them as a threat–the recyclers were generally recycling, they suspected, in order to avoid doing threatening things like robbery and violence.

The reason this has lingered with me isn’t just that I used pastor and continue to be friends with people intimately mixed up in this conflict. It’s that I now live a block away from a small-scale recycling center, too. (more…)