When Sarah Norris joined a “community art build,” a protest that invited community members to work on art projects in a public park in December 2021, she had no idea she would soon face felony charges stemming from her action. Norris was part of a mutual aid group called the Asheville Survival Program, which supported a houseless community that regularly converged in Aston Park, a centerpiece of downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Like many American cities, Asheville faces skyrocketing housing costs, which is why local activists began supporting the encampments of those pushed out of indoor housing by rising rents. Like many such encampments, the city does not support the one in Aston Park, and the camp is instead built autonomously by those who need shelter each night.

“Mutual aid is showing up for each other from a stance that we all deserve care, that we all have the same inherent dignity, that there is space for all of us,” says Norris, who explains that her collective provides weekly deliveries of food and camping gear to the people in the park. The encampments faced daily sweeps, where police clear the people out of the park, after which the houseless community would usually return to rebuild.

Many mutual aid groups report facing pressure from law enforcement, which they see as emerging directly from their support for marginalized populations. As cities experience a deepening housing crisis, mutual aid projects have become essential for supporting houseless encampments, refugee communities, and others who are met not only with neglect from government and social service organizations, but also harassment from and criminalization of their activities by law enforcement.

Read the full article about mutual aid by Shane Burley at YES! Magazine.