This past week, officers from our local VFW post changed the locks on the doors of the Garberville Vets Hall to prevent the building from being used as an emergency shelter during our recent spate of severe weather. We have no other shelters in Southern Humboldt, and hundreds of people live outside around here, largely due to the lack of housing, economic forces, and the nature of the cannabis industry.
A lot of these people currently work regular jobs in town that don’t pay enough to afford a decent place to live. More still, work in the cannabis industry. Of course we also have people who suffer from illness, mental or otherwise, that prevent them from thriving, and people who simply cannot cope with, or have given up on society, and/or life. It’s much too large of a population to make generalizations about, except to say that too many people in SoHum have too few housing options.
We have a perverse attitude towards poverty in SoHum, although I don’t think SoHum is unique in this perversion. We try to punish poverty with more poverty. We attempt to drive poor people from our midst by withholding services, and demonstrating our hostility and disdain for them. It never works. Every year we have more poor people, and every year, the hostility increases. Isn’t it about time we faced the fact that not everyone in SoHum can be rich or middle-class?
Try as we like, we cannot run a town exclusively for the benefit of the rich and the middle-class. In fact, almost no-one in SoHum would be rich or middle-class were it not for a hell of a lot of poor people. The black-market marijuana industry makes a few people rich, but it makes a lot of people poor. Most of the money that comes into SoHum by way of the cannabis industry, comes from poor people. Besides that, poor people do most of the work necessary to produce and distribute black-market cannabis as well, but the secrecy of the industry, and a community in denial, demand that they remain unheard and unrecognized, if not, unseen.
Here in SoHum, not unlike the rest of the world, we have two kinds of people. A) people who make their living from what they own, and B) people who make their living from what they do. Around here, the thing that people own, that makes money, is land, and the thing that people do, to make money, is grow weed. The people who own land, the “owners” if you will, fall broadly into two categories: A) the dope yuppies, who got here first, and their kids. These people still think they are God’s greatest gift to humanity because they invented marijuana and hold a patent on it. They think that the rest of us are just lucky to get high, at any price, and that we should be nothing but thankful to them for it.
Whenever you hear the word “community” used in Southern Humboldt, it refers exclusively to this group of people. Increasingly though, as the dope yuppies retire, they sell out to: B) large-scale distributors from out of state, who send managers, to aggressively expand production, often at their neighbor’s expense.
Both the dope yuppies, and their successors, the big distributors, need help from the “Doers” in order for their land to make money. They need workers, lots of them, but not the normal 9-5 type workers. They need people who can drop everything and move to a remote piece of land, where they camp-out all summer while they do all of the work necessary to turn piles of soil into piles of cannabis.
These workers need to work hard in the hot sun, deal with primitive conditions, keep a secret, know the cannabis industry, and appreciate good weed. The pay is negotiable, and often based on a share of the harvest. Usually, the people who want these jobs have exhausted other options. Growers know who they’re looking for. They recognize desperation, and take advantage of it when they can.
The people who want these jobs know that if you work hard, volunteer a lot, and suck-up to the right people, you can get off of the streets and into some abandoned trailer or shack with plenty of weed, and maybe even a few bucks in your pocket. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, didn’t finish high-school or have big gaps in your employment record, this might be the best job you can get. As a result, a lot of people come here, smile a lot, and try to find something nice to say about everyone.
“Oh, this is such a kind, wonderful community.” and “We feel so blessed to have found this place and want to contribute to it in any way we can” they say, as they help clean-up after a music festival. This proven strategy has helped many young “doers” find underground work and substandard housing where they produce most of the marijuana grown in SoHum. It has also contributed greatly to the swollen egos of the dope yuppies, who have come to expect lots of free labor and ass-kissings from hapless strangers looking for work.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow, so grows this workforce. By now, they comprise the majority of the population of SoHum. These people make Humboldt County prosperous, and they pay a lot of taxes. However, they are not protected by workman’s comp; OSHA never inspects their workplace, nor will they receive unemployment benefits if they lose their job, and inevitably, they lose their job, and have to start from scratch.
So, we have a large workforce of people who don’t mind camping for extended periods of time, in an industry with a high turnover rate. In this business, generally, your boss and your landlord are the same person, so when you lose your job, you lose your home too. This happens a lot. The cannabis industry becomes a trap, and the workers in it rarely get ahead, so eventually, they quit, or get fired, but instead of complaining, they keep their mouth shut, and continue singing the praises of “this kind, wonderful community,” while they attempt to brown-nose their way into another job.
It shouldn’t surprise us one bit that we have lots of people camping around Garberville, because that’s the nature of the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry needs workers who know how to “rough it” even if local merchants prefer to cater to a different clientele. Most of the people who live here in SoHum have no use for dashboard hula dancers, makeovers or $25 dollar-a-plate entrees. They need a campground, affordable housing, cheap eats, a place to charge their cell phone and wifi, not that anyone cares.
Nor should it surprise us to hear so many praises for “this kind, wonderful community” from people who enjoy so few benefits from their participation in it. How could “this kind, wonderful community” exploit them more? In truth, land owners use the veil of secrecy that surrounds the cannabis industry to sweep displaced workers under the rug, and we see how “kind and wonderful” this community really is, by how it treats the least fortunate among us, on the coldest nights of the year.