Editor’s note: News media all over San Francisco are writing about homelessness this week. We though we could offer a very different perspective. Our first piece looked at why there are so many homeless people on the streets. This piece by Tiny describes what life is really like when you don’t have a place to live.
The moon was bright; it lit up the sky and shone down on our plates. We had set our little table with care, dreaming of the small but nonetheless, delicious portion of meat me and my mama were gonna share for dinner.
Then: CLACK..CLACK, CLACK… PLEASE ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW…Why are you parked HERE?”
A San Francisco Police officer was looking through our car window after he had banged on it with his flashlight.
This was one of many times throughout my childhood of houselessness with my mama, that police, security guards, and random people who didn’t like a houseless single mother and child sitting, sleeping, or resting in an old car parked in their neighborhoods would harass, arrest, or profile us for the sole reason that we had no roof.
Eating, dreaming, reading, sitting, contemplating, resting, talking, working, chilling, convening, kissing and god forbid, even having sexual relations while houseless (or unhoused, as I began calling us folks without roofs in the middle of Superbowl Sweeps of tents across SF) are normal human activities that are automatically criminalized, and/or seen as strange, odd, “scary,” or “dangerous” if they are done by unhoused people.
These are everyday regular activities that all humans do EVERYDAY, sometimes multiple times. But there is something terrifying to people about being able to “see each other” do these normal human things.
Humanity in this post-industrialized, colonized reality is associated with privacy; the ability to do things in private somehow makes us human. And privacy itself, in these times of dangerous housing shortages, high-speed gentrification, and corporate theft of so-called public land, is an act of privilege. Being able to even afford access to a roof of one’s own, to a private space, unseen by others is accessible to less and less people.
The other dimension of this issue is that in the 21st Century we have all been socialized to believe in the buying, selling and profiting off of mama earth and the nuclear or pseudo-nuclear style of living, inter-acting and surviving in little private modules. For reasons tied to so-called modern living and capitalism, we have all moved away from collective living, convening, food-sharing, food-gathering, collective work. As well, we have casually abandoned our own communities of origin, our family homes, our elders, and often times our cultures.
Inherent in this is the rise in gentrification, the need for more and more rental housing and the idea that new and different is better, that the ideal of clean and orderly is a kind of corporate fascist “clean” that includes no humans, especially if they are sick, or old, or look “poor” or disabled
Which all brings us to the experience of Chronicle editor in chief Audrey Cooper, who witnessed unhoused people having sex in public — and whether taken out of context or not was “disturbed” by this sight and was inspired to launch a one-day media confluence on the issue of “Homelessness.”
The thing about this so-called “series,” which will be comprised of mostly media of the land-stealing (land-owning) or corporate class who would actually like to see us in jail, “swept away” or out of sight completely, is that those of us who are actually unhoused, who have been unhoused for most of our lives or are currently struggling with losing our housing, are not the ones you will be hearing from in this series (except thanks to Laney Tower and 48 Hills).
Rather, it will be the same media-makers, who as my mama Dee used to say “have never missed a meal,” have never struggled with the terrifying loss of self, belongings and home, who can report calmly and “objectively” on real estate investor Sup. Mark Farrell and poor-people-hater Scott Weiner’s attempt to put yet another law in place to criminalize us of the sole act of being homeless.
Additionally, I’m sure there will be multiple stories about corporate-enabler-Mayor Ed Lie’s newest Kafka-esque “department of homelessness,” which is a newly packaged version of the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s claims of the 1990s, under Gavin Newsom, which claimed to do exactly the same thing as this new agency, and which POOR Magazine’s own Leroy Moore was a panel member on and testifies to.
I wonder if this series will deal with the racist, classist police murder of unhoused and Brown Luis Demetrio Gongora, or unhoused and Black Jessica Nelson Williams, both murders due in large part to the fact that they were both houseless and people of color and therefore unprotected, surveilled, followed, profiled, and harassed for doing nothing.
Will this “ground-breaking” series highlight the tireless research of fellow poverty skolaz ( as we at POOR Magazine call people who have struggled with actual poverty and struggle ) of Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), which tracked and unpacked the decades long dismantling of public or what i call poor people housing aka projects, Section 8 and housing subsidies? And will it include the WeSearch as we call it at POOR Magazine – i.e. poor people -led research – that interviewed and chronicled 86 unhoused San Franciscan residents who had had their belongings stolen by Department of Public Works and thrown in trash bins, because we are unhoused our belongings are not seen as belongings anymore and are viewed only as trash.
And most of all, will this ground-breaking series highlight the “ground-breaking” ceremony of Homefulness — a poor and indigenous people-led solution to homelessness like we are doing in Deep East Oakland (Huchuin) on BlackArthur (MacArthur), the Sogorea Te Land Trust — a Native woman-owned land trust in Huchuin or Landless peoples are doing in Brazil with the MST (Movemeiento Sin Tierra) or Shackdwellers are doing in South Africa with the Shackdwellers Union?
All of these pioneers are unhoused, poor, and landless peoples who refuse to accept the poltrickster hamster wheel of subsistence survival and are pushing for decolonized visions. With all of the abandoned government properties in San Francisco, a Homefulness would be very possible. But perhaps self-determined, truth- based projects are threatening to the land-stealing class?
And finally, houselessness, homelessness, or whatever you want to call people who have no roof is not a “thing.” We are not a “tribe” or a nation because we don’t have enough money to pay insanely high rent. We are just folks who need to be heard in our own voices, with our own stories and our own solutions.
Lisa Grey-Garcia, aka Tiny, is a poverty scholar, revolutionary journalist, lecturer, Po’ Poet and welfareQUEEN, Mixed Race, Boriken-Taino, Roma mama of Tiburcio, daughter of Dee, and the co–founder of POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE/PoorNewsNetwork. She founded Escuela de la gente/PeopleSkool- a poor and indigenous people-led skool as well as the Po Poets Project, welfareQUEENs & the Theatre of the POOR to name a few. She is also the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, co-editor of A Decolonizers Guide to A Humble Revolution, Born & Raised in Frisco and the upcoming textbook- Poverty SkolaShip #101- A PeoplesTeXt- In 2011 she co-launched The Homefulness Project – a landless peoples, self-determined land liberation movement in the Ohlone territory known as Deep East Oakland, CalifaZtlan