Homelessness and colonial media

People who live without houses are treated as social outcasts -- and that has an impact

“The Homeless caused the fires, they are always leaving trash and causing a mess everywhere they go,” read the headline scrolling across the screen under the KTVUinvestigates2 banner. Following the written headline, the camera cut to a series of interviews with thin, white, 30-something men who were shown gazing down at the alleged location of “The Homeless,” (even though no one was there) shaking their heads in disgust while saying,

Caltrans discovered the “Homeless were the problem”   

“We made multiple complaints about the Homeless and nothing ever happened,”

“We are happy “they” put this fence up, now I guess we need to see if they (the homeless) still cause the problem.”

Homeless people share food: How long will they be treated as social outcasts?
Homeless people share food: How long will they be treated as social outcasts?

This “investigation” by corporate media, posing as “advocates” but really advocates for some, did what corporate media has done for decades, since homelessness was even a thing and before that with people of color, disabled people, and all people not part of the settler colonizer establishment. It first of all powers peoples who have roofs, giving them complete, unfiltered media access and respect — and then groups unhoused human beings of all cultures, ages, and abilities into one dehumanizing title, and with this title is able to singlehandedly silence, criminalize and disempower us.

Once we are deemed no longer humans, capable of love, conversation, work, art, beauty, nuance, and struggle, with needs like all humans, of food, shelter, warmth, care, and respect, the ruling class of land-stealers, buyers and profiteers who built the original colonial system of laws and their security guards, (police), corporate politricksters and media reporters were able to freely make serious accusations about us of multiple crimes including arson, trespassing, vandalism, littering, and theft without ever having to get a quote, a response, or a comment from us.

In addition, it was expected and understood that no one would even question these  serious accusations made without a comment from the “other side” and rather would also shake their collective heads in disgust at those disgusting homeless people.

By doing this, by adding to this severe objectification of unhoused bodies, corporate media becomes complicit in the targeting of us by police, gentrifying neighbors, opportunistic politicians and just everyday people, like in the tragic murder of Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat by SF Police which began with a call to the police reporting the scary, violent, dehumanized unhoused people.

This was clearly part of Propositions Q and R, created by Mark Farrell and Scott Weiner, who built upon the racist and classist hate to fuel more the creation of even more laws, on top of already existing ones, to criminalize unhoused people. This is even more terrifying as we enter the neo-fascist, racist, hate-crime filled climate of the life size Chuckie Doll (aka Trump) presidency.

Sadly, this is nothing new, even following an allegedly “comprehensive series of media” that was launched this summer and meant to raise society’s collective empathy for the “The Homeless.” The media series was scattered over several counties and media organizations, and took many different formats — and yet after the buzz died down, and even while the buzz was still up, us unhoused peoples were and are still being described as an inhuman, evil, criminal tribe of trash-makers, vandals, and trespassers.

The media fetishizing, criminalizing, and dehumanizing of unhoused, often disabled, multi-cultiural, multi-racial, multi-gendered, differently abled, indigenous, traumatized, and colonized youth, adults, elders is our reality for several reasons.

We have seen decades of “faces” campaigns, i.e, beautifully photographed, high color or film noir black and white images taken by grant-funded or corporate media funded reporters, albeit well-intentioned who rarely if ever have been unhoused themselves and then “tell” our story as one of exceptionalism, i.e., a story of this poor person or that poor person who fell into some crisis rather than looking at the systemic system of buying and profiting off of mama earth and how more and more people in the Bay Area and the whole world are becoming unhoused, the extreme cost of housing and sheer impossibility of attaining housing if you are poor, disabled, a person of color or very unhoused and the ways in which this crisis causes people to give up.

These housed and academically educated reporters who have never lived through our experience therefore have no basis for understanding or overstanding the nuances of houselessness and the lives lived that end you up unhoused and the ways in which all of our lives of houselessness are so clearly related to displacement , gentrification, settler colonizer laws, racism, white supremacy,  trauma and the many symptoms of struggle, merely publish feel-good, or not feel-good stories, photographic essays of unhoused folks and empathic “profiles” of our “plight” that perpetuate the colonial power dynamic and othering process and keep us unable to speak for ourselves and solve our own issues.

The real job is to share space, to decolonize media itself, to enable people to use media access to get their own voices heard, to co-author, facilitate and open lines of communication so we can create and give access to our own solutions. This is what  POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE /PoorNewsNetwork is. And we work really hard with fellow conscious publications and media outlets like 48 hills, KPFA and the SF Bayview to ensure our voices are not only heard but that the solutions and research of what I call poverty skolaz are telling our own stories and lifting up our own solutions.

This is what Homefulness, a poor-people-led solution to Homelessness is, and it would never have happened if we the poor, disabled, unhoused, incarcerated, truama-filled, bordered/migrant/immigrant and colonized people weren’t able to create our own media, aka POOR Magazine, our own education (PeopleSkool) which we do in shelters, the streets and all the places that us poor folks dwell, and our own liberation school for youth.  No-one gave us Homefulness, we work really hard every day for it, struggling to educate housed people with different forms of race, class or formal education privilege on why they should redistribute resources so we can do for self.

We aren’t asking for a hand-out, a hand up, or any kind of hand at all; we are asking for you to listen and stand shoulder to shoulder with us and take our direction in solutions we can do for ourselves.

And the goal of Homefulness and POOR Magazine is to spread self-determined solutions to poor peoples’ issues, led by us, the poor people, across Mama Earth, Currently, there are a few other really beautiful examples, the ongoing poor people-led research of Western Regional Advocacy Program, the WeSearch work of POOR Magazine poverty skolaz and the Unhoused encampment Town Halls of Bilal Ali and the Coalition on Homelessness.

As well there are a few powerful examples of truly liberated land use projects like our sister organization who is walking and working with us on the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tours through Turtle Island — the Sogorea Te Land Trust which is the first Native women run  land trust working to decolonize huchuin Ohlone land (Oakland and Berkeley) for their own cultural self-determinations and the work of Oakland city Council member Lynette McElhaney, who has listened to her unsheltered constituents and  has actually closed a small corner of street in West Oakland so that unhoused people can have their tents safely there, and Aunti Frances Self-Help Hunger Program in North Oakland who works to feed and grow food in a public, gentrified North Oakland park. 

POOR Magazine is currently working with Aunti Frances, Council member McElhaney, the unsheltered Oakland residents, and other poor and indigenous people-led organizations as well as the City of Berkeley and other cities across turtle Island to launch more Homefulness and POOR Magazine peopleskools not rooted in more othering, fetishizing work that talks around us, about and without us, but that sees us as total humans, with our own voices, our own ideas and our own right to be respected.

So the challenge to you, SF Chronicle editor, is to come to the next Decolonization/Degentrification seminar of PeopleSkool ( for folks with Race, class or formal education privilege)  and then do what the editor of the old Examiner did in 1999 and actually launch a PoorNewsNetwork weekly column in the Chronicle, which will be written by poor, unhoused and formerly unhoused youth, adults and elders, talking about our own solutions to homelessness,in our own voices, not yours.


Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia is a poet, teacher and lecturer, the co-editor of POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, co-founder of Homefulness and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America and the upcoming book- Poverty Scholarship- A PeoplesTextBook- Poor People led Theory, Art, Words and Tear Across Mama Earth


  1. “gentrification, settler colonizer laws, racism, white supremacy, bullying,hate-mongering…”

    You go, Tiny! You go, girl!

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