“To discuss the Encampment Management Policy, we will bring in the department staff members who designed the plan to present their powerpoint,” announced the clerk of the Oakland City Council. The announcement launched what felt like hours of bureaucrazy-speak on a proposed bill implementing apartheid of houseless people in Oakland.
As the staff droned on and the powerpoint, with graphs and numbers representing people’s lives colonized the Zoom room, 19 houseless/formerly houseless Oakland youth and elders at Homefulness and Deecolonize Academy — and hundreds of others impacted directly by this hate — watched helplessly, hoping to get a word in edgewise, while struggling to keep our outdoor, cheap phones on, our shaky wifi connections connected, our tents from being taken by DPW and private security, our cars-homes not towed, our blankets and clothes dry, warm, stay in a lighted area even though we had no electricity, keep batteries charged and SIM cards un-full and waited in a line to get something warm to eat.
Several housing and political “experts” and painful hours later, this evil plan was unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council.
Then in San Francisco, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing showed up to present a “Transition Plan” to the Board of Supervisors to move houseless people out of the Shelter in Place hotels begrudgingly granted by the mayor.
This amounts to the violent eviction of thousands of already houseless, mostly Black and Brown, disabled people back to the street in a pandemic in the middle of winter.
Again, the “experts” were called up to present a series of confusing powerpoint slides that softly, graphically outlined one of the most violent acts against houseless people in the Bay Area to date.
“The numbers don’t make sense,” said Joe Wilson, almost in tears. He’s the executive director of Hospitality House in San Francisco and a fellow poverty skola who was one of the few people “invited” to speak who has actually missed a meal, as my Mama Dee would call it.
While Wilson spoke, the 15 houseless people who I stood with shivering in the night cold at a RoofLessradio gathering of tents and houseless folks already evicted from motels they were placed in (this is already happening) were brought to tears, literally.
As another “expert” spoke, Rhonda from the camp asked, “ why didn’t they call me in to speak, or you Tiny, or any of us? Who are these people? Except for Joe, how can any of them even begin to understand what this means to us?”
No More About Us Without Us
And of course, Rhonda was right. Every time these cities, which literally receive millions of dollars to “manage our homelessness,” legislate and criminalize our mere existence, they never, and I do mean never, name, ask or invite poverty skolaz in to speak about our own lives and most importantly our own solutions. I call this abusive, othering, violent process, “About us Without US” and to this we say: “no more.” And I don’t mean the meager public comment one-to-two minutes we barely get granted if we are able to keep the Zoom connection on or wait for hours at a meeting.
“People are terrified Tiny,” said Couper, from House the Bay, another powerful group of houseless poverty skolaz and housed allies, who are constantly naming the problem and the solution in San Francisco. “Folks don’t know where they are going to go, and so many have already been evicted too,” Couper, an unhoused street medic concluded to RoofLESS radio segment on Po Peoples Revolutionary Radio last week speaking about the evil evictions, a segment which also included Del Seymour from Code Tenderloin and other youth and elder poverty skolaz who have struggled with homelessness our whole lives.
As we poor and houseless people try to build homes in Oakland we were stopped by what I affectionally call the “permit gangsters,” that is, the insanely expensive permit fees and costs charged to building all new housing projects, probably based on the huge billionaire housing developers that usually build housing. In addition to the exorbitant costs of materials, this has caused us to take more than 10 years to literally even finish 10 units of housing for ourselves and fellow houseless families and elders.
Thanks to our vision and work we realized we had to actually propose a different way to the city, so that as many poor and houseless and landless peoples movement like ours could launch and finish building projects, and so we reached out conscious comrades Rebecca Ruiz and Bobbi Lopez who was an aide in Rebecca Kaplan’s office, who did in fact write a powerful version of our vision which is now set to be on calendar in January 2021.
The funny — not funny — thing is when we spoke to a couple of the council members’ offices about getting it on calendar and presenting it, they never thought to include us, — the homeless and poor visionaries who dreamt of the project – as speakers, because the idea that poor and houseless people can be the expert on their lives is so bizarre to people who never see poor and houseless people as skolaz in their own lives. One of the aides incredulously said to me, “Oooh, that’s an interesting idea,” when I proposed it to her.
At the end of the day, the struggle continues and we hope that some of the new legislators in Oakland can see beyond the rigid and unjust notions of who is an expert and what makes a skola in any subject.
Does studying poverty at Stanford make you a poverty skola? Does reporting on homelessness for your journalism degree make you a homeless skola? Does getting a degree on disability, make you a disability skola? Does writing a thesis, going to different, exoticized locations in the Global South as a missionary or translator, or working in social work or getting appointed to the Department of Homelessness make you an expert on poverty? Does being part of an Anthro-Wrongology expedition in some indigenous lands anywhere on Mama Earth make you an indigenous ancestor skola? Does leading a research paper on incarceration, race, poverty or criminalization make you an incarceration skola?
We incarcerated, disabled, poor, indigenous and homeless youth and elders say we are the experts in our own struggles and our own solutions. What these positions do show, is that you had channels of racial, financial, organizational access, privilege, time, love, a roof over your head, clothes on your back and shoes on your feet that enabled you to write extensive essays, fill out extensive applications and get in good colleges and jobs and study, write, research and speak about us without us, while we continue to be criminalized, incarcerated, evicted and hated.
To all of you privileged speakers about us without us: No hate, no harm, no foul, only love, we have all been lied to about access and poverty and privilege so instead we offer an invitation to come thru to the next session of Peopleskool January 30/31, but also a dire and emergent demand to give-back stolen land, resources, decision-making power and mics to us poor people who most definitely have a voice, ideas and solutions.
To reach tiny go to @povertyskola on Twitter or www.lisatinygraygarcia.com