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HousingHomelessnessHomelessness—and failed solutions— in Salt Lake City and Denver

Homelessness—and failed solutions— in Salt Lake City and Denver

Sweeps and attacks on the unhoused are not just happening in the Bay Area; it's a national problem.


“They have shelters here…” Her voice was soft, she was looking down at her hands. Her eyes darted from me to the cement sidewalk she was sleeping on.

“They aren’t bad or anything, but their rules are so strict that…” she paused again to rub her legs, “it’s hard to be in them,” she whispered trailing off.

Her name was Shiela and she was houseless and one of our newest RoofLEssRadio reporters from the streets of Occupied Western Turtle Island that the colonizers called Salt Lake City, Utah. Home to the huge Mormon temple and all of their strange savior narratives and 21st Century missions. We houseless and formerly houseless, indigenous youth and elders were there on our last day of what we called the Stolen Land /hoarded Resources UnTour across occupied Western Turtle Island.

Site of sand creek massacre in occupied Ute, Cheyanne, Arapaho territory where we laid down prayer with ruby left hand Bull and Lynn Eagle Feather (photo by Momii Palapaz of a placa by Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia) Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources UnTour thru Occupied Western Turtle Island POOR Magazine

We provide protection for the new frontier of discovery 

—from a hashtag on the wall of the Mormon Temple

When we walked into the “HIStoric” Mormon complex, there were multiple “tag-lines” like this one—romanticizing the violent lie of empty frontiers, protection, and so-called discovery. There were sculptures and images of the humble “pioneer” and the washed history of the theft of land, already occupied, already inhabited everywhere. 

In all of these “ManUMents” (my name for them) there was not even one mention  of the Paiute, Dine, Shoshone, Arapaho Cheyanne, and Ute peoples who were already there, thriving, living  creating, building, and existing before the Mormons, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans and pretty much every colonizer arrived to “save” them. 

All of these pieces of colonial public relations were oddly back-dropped with a Munsters-style temple that brought up horror movie nightmares and signified a constant presence of colonial domination everywhere. KlanMarks, I call them which is the subject of a new POOR press anthology we are writing and living called KlanMarks and ManuUments – Unwashing Settler Colonial Lies across Mama Earth – An UnTour Guide.

Mormon “temple” – photo by Momi Palapaz /POOR Magazine 

“Half of my family are Mormons, they believe that you aren’t “human” if you are melanated, because you have been “marked” by God.” One of our POOR Magazine indigenous skolaz has direct experience with the Mormons so it was especially strange to be there.

“I’m scared to go in those places, it’s too much,” Roger, another RoofLessRadio contributor, reported.

The Salt Lake City shelter system was featured in a story by SF Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan as a “model” for San Francisco to follow in 2014. And yet this poverty skola witnessed the streets of this city in 2021 filled with unhoused people. Many of them were hiding, dying of thirst and/or holding on by a thread, refusing to go into to these amazing “shelters.”

The main issue: These model shelters were filled with programs created by anti-social workers and case manglers, poltricksters and “executive directors” non-profiteers and “churches,” people who had as my Mama Dee used to say, never missed a meal. Making money on our rehabilitation, caging, housing, and fixing. Rarely if ever taking into account the system that led us to even be in that situation in the first place was the one they built. 

Sweeps in Denver

“Sweeps are scheduled in this town, literally three times a week and oftentimes more than that. We are working on every front to resist them, but they have increased now with the so-called opening back up, so what we are doing now is to figure out workarounds with people,” said Therese Howard, Denver Homeless Outloud.

Youth and adult poverty skolaz, Amir, Tibu, Muteado, myself and elder Elephant Council member Momi from POOR Magazine sat with Therese and Benjamin and other houseless and formerly houseless leaders and organizers with Denver Homeless Outloud.

While they spoke, we all reflected on the same violent sweeps happening in Olympia, Washington, Oakland, San Francisco and Marin County. Sweeps we resist, fight, scream about and stand against every day in the Bay. Sweeps, the hygienic metaphors like we are trash, aren’t a Bay Area thing or a California thing, or West Coast thing, they are a national thing, used as the tool to eradicate, get rid of and dispose of houseless people using many of the same early settler colonial laws that were used to incarcerate, silence and remove First Nations peoples from their own land. 

“The next thing is the brownshirts, the private security, that the mayor has even signed onto,” added Benjamin.

As Benjamin spoke, I was thinking from Clean-teams to Cal-Trans, from Cob on Wood to Where do We Go Berkeley to the Poor People’s Army in Philly. It’s the same thing here and everywhere. And as all of us houseless and poor people and our advocates say and have “proved” as though it had to be proven, that sweeps kill.

Denver Homeless Outloud are warriors who currently fighting a lawsuit along with comrades from the Western Regional Advocacy Project against this killer violence against disabled, houseless elders and poor people. It’s an epidemic and it is not just the police. It’s also the so-called progressive legislators like we have in Oakland who voted unanimously for a “camping ban” making it illegal to be anywhere in Oakland while houseless. 

Warrior Shero Lynn Eagle Feather, mama of Paul Castaway- photo by Tiny

“I called 911, I didn’t think they would kill my son, he was having a mental health crisis,” Lynn Eagle Feather cried as she spoke, a fierce First Nations warrior and boarding school survivor taught and shared with us, the tragic story of the death of her son Paul Castaway.

Lynn Eagle Feather, whose story was first told to Lisa Ganser, POOR Magazine poverty skola, made the connections with the brutality her family shared from her own violent life in the racist boarding school system to her ancestors’ murder in the Makato Massacre of 38 Native American men ordered by the so-called good president Lincoln. She also, as an indigenous poor woman traumatized by the violence of krapitalism, was houseless in her own lands of origin for over three years, and sees the ways all of these issues are deeply connected and how our healing lies in our connecting up our struggles. 

The Unhoused Bill of Rights 

SiStar shero Cori Bush, the first member of Congress who was a houseless mama before she was voted into office, is badass, and just released a bill of rights that would make it illegal to harass anyone who is sleeping outside. We know that WRAP tried to get that passed in California and it went down in a lengthy stupid fight, so we wish her luck and love.

And right as she was making a move to get the eviction moratorium saved by sleeping on the Capitol steps because Congress went on recess while people were facing mass homelessness, the City of Oakland went on recess too.

They did that instead of voting on the emergency ordinance that would have let our homeless people’s solution to homelessness we call Homefulness open up the four multi-family townhouses that it has taken us poor and houseless people 11 years to build because it so costly and hard for poor people to build our own solutions, but now sit vacant. The Oakland City Council took a vacation instead of hearing this housing emergency that so many of us are dealing with.

Gated communities that are NEVER swept 

“Im here to share the medicine of Radical Redistribution and ComeUnity Reparations with people who have more homes than they can actually live in, and more money than they can ever spend.”

I stood at the entrance of a huge wrought iron automatic gate in the Cherry Hill Village area of Colorado. Houses (if you could call them that) were larger than the eyes could even see.

Miles of stolen Mama Earth with nothing on them, but private golf courses and driveways and stables and green manicured grass. There were only a few of these extreme wealth-hoarder mansions on every street off a road of the “gated” community of Cherry Hill, which wasn’t really gated, but they had their own police station, their own park, their own roads and their own signage. 

No amount of wealth-hoarding surprises me anymore as this is the fifth year of these painful tours across Turtle Island, where I share the concept of Radical Redistribution.

We always get a police escort within seconds, and the police usually realize they can’t arrest us even though they would like to, but this was up there next to Philadelphia’s Main Line, Bel Air and Tiburon in so-called Marin. All colonial cities that just like Denver, practice this violence called sweeps, from the evil destruction of poor people’s boats in Marin and then their peaceful encampments, to the arrests with weaponry of houseless people on Venice Beach last week, to the violence of scheduled sweeps in Denver and People Cages (open air cages created for houseless people) in St. Petersburg, Florida and San Francisco under London Breed, to the violence threatened against Cob on Wood right here in Oakland.

These wealth-hoarders are never approached to share these resources they continue to hoard, as a matter of fact they are never even mentioned as a resource for support of people who have nothing. 

This is why we say it’s not a protest, it’s a sharing of a medicine to the disease of wealth-hoarding and land-stealing. Because we have all been lied to. Including wealth-hoarders.

But the only way we poor and houseless people were able to build homefulness is though this medicine of Radical Redistribution and ComeUnity Reparations, and so we know that housed people and houseless people can actually collaborate and my new hashtag #WeCanKeepUsHoused is real.

It just takes wealth-hoarders to listen to poverty skolaz and stop the lie of about us—without moves like Salt Lake City’s model that no one wants to be in.

Violent gentrification in Denver

Denver is a huge example of violent gentrification. There are brand-new condos and high rises springing up in every corner. There are multi-plexus and strip mall and huge malls and police stations and hipster bars —and just as in San Francisco, there really is no place for poor people. 

It’s not shocking that removal of houseless people is constant and violent and organized. But lo and behold, just like every one of these colonial towns from Occupied Shinnecock Nation (aka the so-called Hamptons) to occupied Tongva land aka LA, to San Francisco, there were neighborhoods hidden, places so gated you don’t even know they exist. No one talks about them and they are never considered when discussing budget shortfalls and even so-called income inequality 

“The Police come around here at least twice a day, and then a private mall security, we have to move all the time, we can usually sit here for maybe an hour and then its arrest or harassment,” said Billie from So-called Denver.

At Amache, the site of a Japanese concentration camp, we were graciously given a tour by high school students in the area and the words and images were reminiscent of this plantation nation, full of colonial genocide, incarceration, arrest, death and removal. “My family were in Tule Lake, “said Momii Palapaz, an elder poverty skola who joined us on this UnTour and helped to steward us through this very difficult journey of tears and resistance. 

“We have our own ways of healing and living and honoring our culture and Mother Earth,” said elder medicine and prayer carrier Chief Lee Plenty Wolf . We were gathered at the location of this year’s Sundance ceremony in Boulder Colorado. He was explaining how we as indigenous peoples have our own ceremonies and traditions that need to be returned to so we can heal ourselves.

This is why we do so much work on healing in all of our poor and indigenous people-led programs at POOR Magazine. It is complicated to actually MamaFest (as I call it) a poor people led solution to poverty, its complicated to hold all that trauma which doesn’t end just because you get a shelter bed or a pill or a roof. 

These are the teachings we share and learn and live at Homefulness and we’ll be inviting people into the upcoming Decoloniation /DegentriFUKation Seminar at PeopleSkool on August 28/29th ( it will be on zoom and in person, for poverty skolaz and people with privileges) We are working with folks across Turtle Island to launch their own Homefulness— and maybe just maybe the City of Oakland can just let us houseless people how houseless people. Homefulness. 

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


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