Sunday, May 16, 2021
News + Politics For homeless people, normal life becomes 'dangerous'

For homeless people, normal life becomes ‘dangerous’

Eating, dreaming, reading, sitting, contemplating, resting, talking, working, chilling, convening, kissing, and god forbid, even having sexual relations are suddenly criminal when you don't have a private home


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.


A San Francisco Police officer was looking through our car window after he had banged on it with his flashlight.

Do these folks look scary or dangerous -- or are they just living the way the rest of us do, except they are on the streets?
Do these folks look scary or dangerous — or are they just living the way the rest of us do, except they are on the streets? Along Division Street, campers including Donna and Cathy serve each other at a makeshift picnic. Photo by Sana Saleem.

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


  1. <<u.

  2. I accept your historical analysis but also note that its similar lazy, sloppy thinking if you paint poor people as evil to justify using force against them. Convenient though, if your agenda is dominance and subjugation.

    Also, anthropologists observe that poverty is present only in societies where natural wealth is commandeered and allocated by a minority through use of force or coercion. That occurs largely in societies where the amount of immediate wealth is larger than immediate consumption needs.

    Finally there’s another French proverb that goes “when you purchase land, you carefully trace its ownership back to the person who originally stole it”

  3. There’s a lot of good in socializing certain basic human needs: healthcare, retirement, education. A sick person cannot work, an uneducated person will be at a disadvantage when looking for high paying work, and uncertain future impacts your current prospects. Society should absolutely provide a minimum livable environment for the less fortunate.
    At the same time, society should provide a mechanism for enterprising hard working people to excel and achieve a higher status in life, higher comfort and security.
    A successful society has both of these features strong, effective and fair with the overarching goal to allow a overall successful population.
    It can be very well argued that the U.S. society lacks in respect to one or the other (the former in my opinion), but going to the extreme of eliminating private property will only lead to the demise of entrepreneurship as there would be less reward for extra effort given.

  4. Tiny’s mindset should be seen in the context of mid-century socialist thinking where it was common to articulate phrases like “property is theft”. The idea, such as it was, is that nobody really buys land but rather somehow gets away with stealing it.

    An older reference was to Honore de Balzac’s (AKA “the fat french fuck”) often misquoted statement that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime”. Not surprisingly, Marx and Engels loved Balzac’s work as it justified the forced confiscation of fortunes which, paradoxically, left everyone poor.

    It’s really lazy, sloppy thinking. If you can paint successful people as evil, then you can justify using force against them. Convenient, no doubt, if your agenda is revolution. Or just envy.

  5. What the hell is land stealing? Is it shoveling dirt and take it home in the middle of the night? Last I check people give money to take ownership of a parcel. A lot of it actually.
    Do I steal groceries by using these pieces of paper I have in my wallet?
    “I know I’m stealing from you Mr. Shopkeeper, but unfortunately I only have money and a few organs to give, and I’d rather keep the latter.”

  6. <.

  7. When it comes to helping the poor and the homeless, there are two broad categories of people who try and help.

    The first are those who donate money, food and goods, or volunteer time, passion and effort, assisting in a practical way.

    The second are the self-promoting Tiny’s of this world who instead seek to politicize everything, and turn suffering into a class war with good guys and bad guys.

    If I were homeless I am pretty sure which group I’d prefer.

  8. “With all of the abandoned government properties in San Francisco, a Homefulness would be very possible. But the self-determined, truth- based projects are threatening to the land-stealing class?”

    Viva collectivisimo! Death to capitalist pig private property people!

    You go, Tini! You go girl!

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