Cooking in your car

The rise of the un-housed middle class -- and a radical approach to homefullness

The smell of salt, grease and fried meat filled the air, with just hint of burnt sugar thrown in. My mind wandered to breakfasts past, sizzling in a greasy diner. The only thing was, I was on my bike, riding past an empty lot in East Oakland at 6:30am. No houses or restaurants were remotely close.

And then I saw the smoke, and heard the sizzle. It was coming from one of a long line of late-model Subarus, Hondas, BMWs, Acura sedans, and even a Mercedes, no car older than 2015, parked along this hidden street. This breakfast was courtesy of a tiny grill plugged into a cigarette lighter in a 2017 Honda two-door. These humble quiet group of cars and their inhabitants were part of a rising group of unhoused peoples, teetering on a fragile middle class, earning just enough to pay a car note but not the scamlord, gentriFUKed rents of 2018 Bay Area rentals.

The Poverty Scholarship-Poor People Led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth Curriculum and Book Tour will launch at City Lights Books on February 10th at 5:00 pm, February 16 at the Fruitvale Branch of the Oakland Public Library at 1:00 pm and February 24th at the San Francisco Main Branch Library Corett Auditorium at 1:00 pm

“I work every day, sometimes 12-hour shifts, but I still can’t afford the rents in Oakland or SF,” Malcolm, one of the unhoused parkers told me. “I originally got out here due to an Ellis Act eviction from my San Francisco apartment of 20 years. It costs too much to get back inside.”

Malcolm went on to tell me that he had always paid his rent on time and had dreams of buying a cheap home out of the county — and then the eviction happened. Now he is unable to raise the $5,000 to $10,000 it costs to get back into an apartment, pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area.

Malcolm is a 62-year-old Black elder and was really scared about his future. He is a contract worker (code for no health insurance, no pension, no security.) 
On today’s bike ride, which my formerly unhoused, trauma-infused self calls My Bike Rides for Sanity, cause without it I truly could not function with all of the PTSD triggers constantly rolling through my brain. I witnessed more than ten new cars added to the nine cars already there, all with folks of all colors and cultures and ages in different states of getting ready for work or school. My own past with homelessness and vehicle dwelling made me terrified for them and their safety against the police, poltricksters and hater neighbors.

“I come from a working-class family, I couldn’t afford rent and school supplies, “ Yesica, a UC Berkeley graduate and one of more than 15 fellow unhoused folks who live in RVs in Berkeley that the City of Berkeley recently  evicted from a parking lot in the Berkeley Marina, for no reason but the fact that notwithstanding the veneer of political correctness oozing out of Berkeley, the city is full of HypoCrazy and anti-poor people hate.

“They have done nothing to change the laws, there is no way to legally live in a vehicle in Berkeley,” said revolutionary lawyer for the people Osha Neuman who is working with the Berkeley RV dwellers to fight the anti-poor people hate of Berkeley. “Emeryville repealed the law on the books specifically targeting vehicle dwellers, but Berkeley uses a law that says you can’t park a commercial vehicle between 3am-5am targeting non-commercial RV dwellers.”

His words pierced my heart. I had been there for most of my childhood. We weren’t living in RVs, or late model Hondas, we were in hoopties, buckets, whatever me and my mama could buy with what we earned from a street based micro-business. We parked wherever we could, working really hard to avoid people, bougie neighborhoods and police. Usually this wasn’t very successful, and we were ticketed and towed literally all the time. Either it was parking tickets for sleeping in our vehicle or no current registration, taillights, and other poor-people crimes. When the cars were towed it was either sleep on park benches or doorways out of sight or unsafe shelter beds where we were predated on. When I turned 18, I did three months in Santa Rita County jail for the poverty “crime” of sleeping in our car.

Every Tuesday myself and other PoorNewsNetwork correspondents go out to conduct poor-people-led media and research or what we call “WeSearch” for RoofLESS radio ( which also includes healthy hot meals served to all who are hungry and hygiene kits as have them.) Every week unhoused poverty skolaz hiding in their hoopties, in parks and under tents report multiple stories ranging from “sweeps” of our unhoused bodies like we are trash, being asked to move, having their tents and belongings stolen by Deptartment of Public Works or just plain being told like the recent reports in SF that they can’t sit down at all. You could argue that the sort of middle-class car dwellers are better off because they don’t get this same non-stop hate and have a container for their belongings — but the harassment hits them too, it’s just more subtle.

“Parking enforcement was ticketing me literally every day, I’m parking here because there are hardly any residential homes here so less people to call the police on us,” an elder Latinx woman who works at a hospital spoke to me out of a 2015 Subaru. “I’ve got so many tickets I’m at risk of losing my car and ending up in a tent.”

From San Francisco to San Mateo, people are harassed all the time and the anti-poor-people laws on the stolen land support, promote, and underwrite this harassment.
Its why poverty skola elder Bobby Bogan and myself are calling for a Poor People’s Party. It’s why us Po and houseless folks at POOR Magazine are building Homefulness — a homeless peoples, self-determined solution to homelessness.

But more important, for people reading this, it’s urgent to understand and that we are in a different time. There is no room for the same old greed-filled, land stealing wealth-hoarding policies. Mama Earth is weakening. Climate destruction is increasing. More and more of us are unable to afford the insane prices being falsely placed on land. For our collective survival as human beings, it’s an emergency for us to listen and learn and follow the practices indigenous nations have been teaching and living and manifesting since the beginning of human-ness. 

“San Diego has a huge lawsuit going right now on the right to sleep in vehicles,” said Paul Boden, poverty skola and long-time poor-people revolutionary and director of WRAP ( Western Regional Advocacy Project). 

No-one owns these parking lots like the ones the Berkeley RV dwellers were parking on, because no-one owns Mama Earth. No one owns the public streets that people are parked on in San Diego, just like no one owns the (so-called) public streets in San Francisco, San Mateo, Berkeley or East Oakland.

My proposal to conscious folks like Jovanka Beckles and Cheryl Davilla and Cat Brooks who happen to walk in those politrickster halls is to unearth the property-first settler colonial laws and actually create space for us growing members of the Unhoused Nation. Decriminalize parking and sleeping, decriminalize sitting, standing, living, and being while unhoused. These practices aren’t logical in a 21st century reality, and of course never were logical, but rather undergirded this culture rooted in scarcity models, crabs in a barrel survival models, racism, classism and greed. 

Support indigenous women-led projects like Sogorea Te Land Trust and their fight to save, preserve, liberate and honor a 5,000-year-old sacred indigenous site, the West Berkeley Shellmound from more development, land-stealing, and profit-making.

Transform both private and publicly “owned” empty lots (like the thousands of acres of CalTrans owned land) and privately speculated empty houses into collective land use not rooted in “property values” and more buying, selling, and speculating.

And conscious folks reading this don’t have to wait for the poltricksters or beg them to activate. You as the housed citizen are the ones the elected officials supposedly implement and enforce all these anti-poor people laws for —  and it’s why I’m putting a call out to conscious housed people to stand with us Po and unhoused people and say: “No we don’t want unhoused people incarcerated or criminalized, we don’t want vehicularly housed people to be police harassed.” 

And if you have inherited land or resources, please understand that projects like Homefulness happened with the redistributed dollars of decolonized young people who learned from poverty skolaz at PeopleSkool  and the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tour to redistribute to poor and unhoused folks for their own self-determined solutions. These are the deep and life-changing lessons shared in Poverty Scholarship – Poor-People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth, coming out with a radical book and curriculum tour in 2019.

At the same time, stop enabling, funding and building more and more high rises and rich people housing and liberate stolen indigenous territory to poor people-led projects like Homefulness. We poverty and indigenous skolaz at Homefulness are going through a long legal and ceremonial process to take our small part of Mama Earth permanently off the real-estate snaking market, so it will always remain a space for people to live and learn and grow and heal without the threat of removal, eviction, or displacement. 

The four families who live here now (I being one of them) are all formerly unhoused folks, don’t pay rent to anyone, aren’t trying to make a “profit” off of the land and only pay toward the taxes, insurance, and utilities, and don’t want to own any part of Mama Earth- but like I always say to my son, are very certain we would be homeless if it wasn’t for Homefulness. 

“It’s not the best grill and sometimes the pancakes don’t get cooked all the way through,” Malcolm told me looking out his window, “ but it’s all I have and its better than nothing.”  
To co-lead or walk with us in the next Stolen Land /Hoarded Resources Tour or book us for a reading or workshop on the upcoming  poor peoples Textbook Poverty Scholarship email us at [email protected],com. To register for the upcoming PEopleSkool DegentruFUkation and Decolonization Seminar happening BlackAugust 25 & 26th  go to www.racepovertymediajustice.org