Punks Care for Humanity

No-BS DIY homeless benefit puts proceeds where they count

Nikki Howard, member of the Santa Rosa branch of the punk collective, Pyrate Punx, declares: 

“We support all local shit.”

I met with Nikki and her collaborators, Alec Nordschow and Bob-0 Cushway, at the home of Nikki and Bob-0, married, to talk about their upcoming benefit concert for the homeless. 

It is obvious, from the half-dozen bright faces that pop over the back gate in 52 minutes of interview, that this couple knows how to take care of a community. “We’re doing the Bohemian interview,” Bob-0 calls to each of them in turn.

Shy smiles framed by a dirty rainbow of hair colors, the visitors half-wave, then let themselves into the house as if it is their own. It’s very clear they all heard I was coming.

Bob-0 continues explaining that it is not a homeless problem. “It’s a problem for the homeless,” he says. “It sucks to be homeless.”

He means that, often carless, jobless and effectively without family, the homeless have little to no recourse to earn even the most basic living.

No doubt the reader has seen homeless populations increasingly visible here in Sonoma County and throughout the Bay Area. Look around and it is clear that government policy fails to address the real needs of the homeless population.

And that awareness alone raises the question: Is it enough to wait for Congress to address the complex issues that surround the ever-intensifying mess of poverty and food insecurity?

While progressive lawmakers are starting to make noise about funding the “care infrastructure,” the rosiest timeline for such a policy will do nothing for those members of our community sleeping outside tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next night.

Some say we need to do more in our communities to address the human comfort and security of the homeless people we now pass on the street every day.

The Pyrates suggest we think about what people really need. What if tonight’s cramps are not from hunger, but rather from that part of a woman’s cycle just before the blood of mammalian motherhood flows beautifully into the world? Should dozens of women in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Marin City go to sleep by the edge of the road calculating if the change tucked into their socks is enough for breakfast and a box of tampons?

All hail those who are taking charge of helping our most vulnerable community members—the unsheltered, the uncared for, the forgotten. Queue the “Socks and Tampons for the Homeless” benefit concert organized by the North Bay Pyrate Punx at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma this Saturday, which includes the bands George Crustanza, Wayfairy and Hunting Lions.

The show highlights local bands, artists and businesses who care deeply about this issue. In addition to enjoying the punk rock blasting from the stage, and playfully dodging the skaters thrashing the Phoenix’s signature half-pipe mosh pit, concert-goers can bid on the silent auction.

Contributors to the silent auction include Heebe Jeebe General Store, Bodega Surf Shack, Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Noble Folk Ice Cream and Moonlight Brewing Co. Punk art will be on display for bidding, including the original of the now-infamous flier for the event, drawn by Charisse MC. “I had to take it down from the board at work,” Nikki says. “HR was like, this may offend some people.”

Other Benefits

Recent benefits organized by Pyrate Punx raised money for funeral and medical costs for community members. The group organized a concert in support of sex-worker safety with United Against Sexual Oppression, sending proceeds to St. James Infirmary in San Francisco.

Next up? “We should do a mental health benefit,” Bob-0 says, to nodding heads. As we each share from our own mental health experiences, it becomes clear that this effort is as much for our own benefit as for others.

“You have to find your own existential reason to live,” Bob-0 says. Even then, “It’s really easy to trip and fall in a hole.”

Alec makes the connection for us. “Punks trauma-bond like nobody’s business,” he says. “We’re good at building community because we trauma-bond so well.” We note how trauma, addiction and homelessness are connected, and how access to treatment is limited.

He continues, “The [treatment] framework [that] is set up to help that person keeps them identified as an addict and reinforces the role and identification of an addict.” And “addicts” are almost expected to end up on the street. “That, to me, is … really the crux of the problem,” Nikki says. “When have you hit rock bottom? Have you ever?”

Punks and Community

Pyrate Punx is an international organization that books touring bands and gives them a safe place to crash, from Reno to Indonesia.

Nikki says, “No matter where you’re from, if you’re Pyrate Punx you’re kinda family or a second home.” As she discovered then she toured with her band, to “find the hidden punk crew inside these tiny towns” means to be safe.

The Pyrate Punx are “one of the best examples of how important the punk movement really is,” says Phoenix Theater Manager Tom Gaffey. “’Cause they really have true soul, and they really do want to effectuate good change.”

They even get bands lined up for others’ benefit shows. Genres other than punk? “We are not purely punk rock,” Nikki says. “I mean, that sounded weird. We’re punk as fuck.”

Alec clarifies again, “We’re not exclusive.”

Handouts

The donations from the concert will be distributed directly to those in need in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and throughout Sonoma County.

Nikki says, “I’ve lived in Santa Rosa for most of my life. I know a lot of homeless communities and where they can get things. Where we can drop stuff off, hand it out personally.”

“We’re literally going to be going with backpacks full of these bags,” adds Bob-0. “Hands-on approach of us just running around. Then, also, we get to meet the homeless population.”

What You Can Do

The real ask for you, dear reader, is to spread the word, buy a ticket and bid on the silent auction. People will be bringing plenty of socks and tampons as well, to fill the big boxes on standby. The crew will use donations to get the most popular tampons at the lowest price. “Fuck cardboard applicators,” is the consensus.

“Socks and Tampons for the Homeless” benefit concert, 8pm Saturday Sept. 11 at the Phoenix Theater, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. Vaccine card or 2-day Covid test with negative result required for entry. Masks required inside. https://tinyurl.com/35bdtxbc

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