The final death toll is 36. According to the L.A. Times, the Ghost Ship in Oakland was considered an “enchanting ‘safe space’ that many called home.” Yes, people lived there, but they also opened their doors for others to meet and gather.
I’ve been in plenty of spaces like that: filled with wooden furniture and antiques, decorated with draped cloth and light strands (although I cannot picture this pallet staircase everyone keeps talking about), and it didn’t occur to me to search for fire exits or sprinkler systems. I took it all for granted.
Maybe that makes me stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that a building could stand in a highly populated city for 30 years without a single inspection. I know I’ve lived in apartments with insufficient fire exits (not to mention the severe pest problems and illegal underheating that made for some very, very cold February nights) that still managed to pass city inspections on a regular basis, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to report the issues, criminal though they may be.
Why would I do something like that? How could I be such an arrogant, brain-dead moron? Answer: because I’m not made of money, and it’s better to have a shitty roof over my head than none at all.
As many people have already pointed out, not only was the Ghost Ship an essential place to the people who did call it home, it’s far from one-of-a-kind. You’re probably within spitting distance of a DIY space right now.
These are places where people live and work. Usually, if they’re not squatting, they’re not living there 100% legally (that is, the space is not zoned for residential use or there are more residents than the lease allows, etc.), and it has nothing to do with sticking it to The Man. People simply cannot afford to live and eat and clothe themselves. That’s all there is to it.
The fire has terrified city officials nationwide. Fire departments are all combing their files, searching for any structures they may have overlooked, especially those that are the most suitable for a group to occupy with little risk of detection.
I get it. It’s their job, and they’re the ones who would have to sift through the wreckage searching for bodies. A consequence of this, however, is that people are losing their homes.
I’m looking out the window right now: snow continues to fall, and will through the night, as temperatures hover below freezing. Some local spaces have already been closed down. The DIY kids are going underground. Even more than usual, I mean.
That’s the rub: their goal is to evade detection. That’s how their homes have stayed below the radar for so long. That’s why they’ve been so easy to ignore. Will they eventually be forgotten entirely?
On the plus side, another Lost Generation means we’ll have some great artistic and literary works to look forward to. Remember how awesome F. Scott Fitzgerald was before he drank himself to death? And Steinbeck before he smoked himself to death? And Hemingway before he stuck a shotgun in his mouth and blew his brains out?
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