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Monday, October 25, 2021

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HousingHomelessnessThe bad narrative of 'bad choices'

The bad narrative of ‘bad choices’

It's an easy way to look away and blame homelessness on poor people.


How DO you look away?

Because we houseless and poor people have been consistently referred to as the other-those people-It’s our fault- our choices- and we are NOT OK- 

The Homeless people – you call us-disembodying our humanity- like we are a “tribe” with no land or culture or purpose of life- 

We have MADE BAD CHOICES- and therefore- somewhere in the back of yo mind- 

Deserve to Die-OutSide 

Admit it- 

This isn’t a trick 

Its the REALIST ….

And where was that choices list 

Who wrote this unseen manual we all supposed to overstand & get 

Who has the publishing rights- ? God ? Ancestors ? Great Spirit ?

BAD CHOICES CHOICES- these are Neo-liberal narratives allowing u to hoard, profile, convict, and evict without missing a step. 

Cleaning and Sweeping – Incarcerating and Taking- From Belongings to Homes- we have no value to own, hold, love or be slow- 

Because we made BAD CHOICES- so goes the submersion of our collective voices- our differences – our multitude of lives 

Today’s Poem from a poverty skola is dedicated to all of us distinctly different, humans who happen to live outside — the Bad Choice-makers — the losers, the low-lifes and the bums in yo eyes

the Ones- who make you sick 

cause you can’t solve us

and of course 

We are a monolith 

Todays message from a Poverty Skola is dedicating to un-packing the “C” Word used by racists, classists, church people, teachers, elders and politricksters of all cultures, classes, and communities.  

We can blame poor people for povery — or we can act

“I had to take my children and run for my life, now we are houseless,” one of so many co-mama, poverty skolaz who I hold, walk with, and love, told me her story of how she ended up houseless with her four children.

She went on to explain how the father of her children threatened her with a gun, how she had about two minutes to get out of there. I explained this situation to an un-peopleSkooled community member who was throwing some charity crumbs at me for the “poor people”  and he immediately responded with my favorite line: “Well she made some bad choices,” and then resumed handing me bottled water to “give to the homeless people instead of a dollar…”

The disturbing thing is people’s universal use of the “bad choices” narrative to explain away their dis-interest, anti-poor-people hate, anti-Blackness, racism, and deeply embedded fascism for folks who don’t have the privilege of privacy.

Because we are roofless, we are subjected to the violence of exposure. Our poverty, disorganization, “messiness” struggle is constantly subjected to peoples purview, whereas people who are inside could be messy, or clutterers, or substance abusers, or sick, or even making “bad choices” on a daily basis, but no one can see them, they aren’t in the open, exposed and therefore easily hated or judged by anyone and everyone.

This also enables people to endlessly practice what I call the violent acts of looking away.

The roots of this Bad-Choices Narrative goes all the way back to the early land-stealers, preaching “accumulation” and “hard work”  and “pulling up bootstraps” as the models to fighting “sin” and attaining  success — if you slog through the insanely boring book “The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism.” From the early 20th Century, they set the groundwork for the wealth-hoarders who preached “good choices” and “clean lives” and “bootstraps” pull-ups — and anything else was your fault. It’s “predeterminism,” a fascist world view that says you were born into your poverty and unless you resist that sin, it is ultimately your fault you are poor. 

The equally disturbing part of this narrative is the way that it is taken up and taken in by so many people on this stolen land, with no recognition of the racism and violent classism that undergirds it. 

My humble opinion as a mama and teacher is that concepts of “good and bad” choices (with deeply conscious critical world-views of the racism, classism, and patriarchy that exists in all notions of good and bad),  are important if you are teaching children and young adults who have not figured out the world yet, and need guidance and overstanding and eldership. But to use this bizarre line as a way to “look away,” not care, judge or give a water bottle instead of a dollar and dehumanize our houseless bodies is an extremely dangerous and violent act that is very specific to this stolen land, and enables and causes the ongoing death of our houseless bodies. 

In Finland, for example, they have almost eradicated homelessness because all people receive housing — just because they need it, not because they have made good or bad choices. Not because someone is “nice” or good or all the other racist and classist ways good choices is referred to and our lives are judged.

The first people to claim this Bad Choices Narrative is us poor, incarcerated, houseless people. “It’s my fault, I’m here, I made some very bad choices,” said my friend doing three years in San Quentin for drug sales.

Yes, he didn’t listen to his grandmomma or his auntie about hanging with better friends or staying in school. But he also got picked up on a racist classist drug raid by over-policing in his poor people of color neighborhood which happens every day in this country.

Yea, my mama got with a man who almost killed her and then almost killed me and then we ended up on the street with no place to go. Why? Because she had been molested, abused, hated, in violent foster homes and orphanages her whole childhood, and her own mama had attempted to kill her multiple times.

Do you know how many times people told us our poverty and homelessness was our fault, that we made bad choices, and that was just one of them?

What about the fact that every time she tried to get an apartment she was racially profiled as a poor single mama of color who “probably didn’t have good credit?” 

That there is no guaranteed actually affordable housing for poor families and children. And every police stop my friend encountered wasn’t for DUI’s or slanging but were Driving While Black and Brown.

Often our homelessness is caused by unjust profiling and incarceration, not to mention our death from exposure to COVID and silencing of important voices like Brother Malik from the SF Bay View Newspaper is experiencing in the Taylor Center right now. 

That no matter how many times you put me in jail for my houselessness it didn’t get me a home; in fact most of the time it leads to Black and Brown and poor people’s homelessness. That this is stolen land with settler colonial codes like red-lining in place that de-stabilized thousands of people from their family equity and made  them housing insecure for life.

That this krapitalist system enables, allows, and encouraged the ongoing profiling, arrests, sweeps, and incarceration of poor people, which destabilizes their lives and ends them up houseless.

It enables the elder abuse and eviction of Iris Canada, a 100 year old Black elder from her family home in the FillnoMore district of San Francisco, which led to her death, and my auntie Gerry, a poor domestic laboring, domestic-violence-surviving immigrant, evicted from her family home of 42 years in San Francisco to homelessness and eventually a broken trailer home in West Sacramento, where the family could never re-coup their already impoverished fragile lives. 

The early Puritan pilgrims were Calvinists, who believed that hard work and good choices were the way for us all to succeed — white people with a racist, classist world-view of good and bad. Don’t you think it’s time to move on from their ancient hate and realize where we really are as humans — and then maybe we can overstand the urgent acts of looking at, instead of looking away. 

POOR Magazine will be sponsoring a “#Jails2Streets Press Conference on Zoom this Friday, Feb 26th at 12 noon- where they release RoofLEss radio report on the connections to incarceration and profiling and homelessness in San Francisco, Sacramento and Oakland Click here to register: https://forms.gle/Vy6XK9WtWdfWm9PY9

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  1. Geek girl my comment about bulldozers and bricks was sarcastic but the fact remains there is a lot of talk and very little action to solve the problem

  2. Simba, they closed the asylums that served as warehouses for those committed. Some are rotting and show up in photo spreads of the hours of the past. Others have been demolished. But, if certain groups could turn back the clock their next step would to build new snake pits.

    As to your ludicrous suggestion, how is Tiny supposed to afford all that? It would take more than a bulldozer, and a few bricks. And where do you envision these micro houses would be built. It would cost a huge amount of money. And a couple of thousand miles of red tape.

    Breed needs to go. At present, a recall is not possible. The rules in place would take care of any effort to gather signatures. Unlike statewide recalls, they cannot be gathered online. But, as things return to normal, it may well happen.

  3. Geek Girl, Involuntary psychiatric admission has many legal obstacles, but even if commitment were easier there aren’t really any places to lock people up for care. There are a lot of other factors involved, primarily the stratification in our society. The Democrats passed a $15 per hour minimum wage as part of the stimulus package, but it may be blocked in the senate. So people turn to a semi-nomadic existence. Why work if you are no better off than you would be without working?
    It seems that there is a lot of talk and very little action even by the most liberal of the political spectrum. If Tiny wanted to solve the problem she could rent a bulldozer, buy some bricks and build micro housing for people instead of writing whiny self serving articles. If Mayor Breed campaigned on a policy of ending homelessness and its getting worse maybe it is time for new leadership. Either way it looks really bad for the Democratic party to have this problem in the most Democratic city in the US.

  4. aogilmore, your experience is not accurate. Drug abuse results from homelessness, not the other way around. People seek to deaden the pain. And most homeless are neither addicts, or seriously mentally ill.most addicts are actually housed.

  5. Simba, when the Supreme Court ended the old system that made it extremely easy to commit pretty much anyone to an asylum governments lost interest in “mental health.” Prior to 1975 all it took was too doctors signing off to commit someone. There was no recourse. If one had enough money, they could have someone locked up. The Supreme Court decided that committing someone had to be done with due process. That there would be a right to counsel and such. That actual evidence was required. Now, that it actually takes an effort, and is not a permanent solution, no one wants to bother. I mean, where is the fun in that?

  6. Gorn, again you are like a broken record. You find a way to make the same silly claims in every comment you post.

  7. Agreed, Don, or we could probably house all of SF’s homeless folks in a disused dock basin in West Oakland.

    Three hots and a cot in return for staying within 94607.

  8. There are different kinds of homelessness from temporary to chronic. In the Finnish model you don’t get to choose where to live or how much space you can have. It is likely you will be sent to some other location than where you are homeless. How about a studio in Fresno.

  9. simba: Other similarly situated nations and US states have not suffered such public sector dysfunction in dealing with psych and substance challenges as San Francisco has.

    Our failures have a peculiar local tinge to them, colored by the corruption that magnetizes San Francisco contracting.

    The same people have been bogarting places at the table on housing and homeless issues, getting paid to preside over the slow deterioration of their circumstance. If nonprofiteers were forced to seek democratic legitimacy through informed consent by their constituents, homeless people (not all of whom are paralyzed by substance and psych issues), then these corrupt manipulative operators who administer neoliberalism on the ground in SF would have been kicked to the curb long ago.

  10. There are millions of homeless people in the US. Some of these people did make bad choices. Some people may have simply been highly unfortunate and lost control of their lives or suffered some severe mental or physical setback. some homeless people have undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.
    While there have been advances in understanding of brain chemistry and mental disorders, scientists and doctors don’t fully understand how the human brain works or how it has evolved . No one fully understands the root cause of mental disorders like schizophrenia or autism yet. And in the US, we have woefully inadequate treatment of mental disorders. Many older people are warehoused in nursing homes with generic inaccurate diagnoses of dementia . The American prison system is essentially a mental illness treatment center and it fails the population it is supposed to serve, although there have been some progressive reforms in some states. Health insurance doesn’t usually pay for psychiatric care outside of the hospital which means essentially only the rich have access to mental health care. Its a very sad state of affairs, and the homeless population is merely a reflection of our society as well as lack of scientific progress in treating mental illnesss.

  11. The bad choices here are the suffocating nonprofits. In their absence, homeless and poor people would have long since marched on and occupied Washington DC as has happened in the past.

  12. It’s not that simple – either the Evil Krapitalists caused it, or it’s totally bad choices. There are bad choices, and there are the unfortunate. From my experience with the homeless, drug addiction and mental illness are the major causes. Usually the drugs make it worse.

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