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Thursday, May 23, 2024

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HousingHomelessnessShoplifting on stolen land

Shoplifting on stolen land

Debt-Lying, surviving and dying from hunger


EBT—U got me 
EBT u got me
EBT— best believe 
Im yo baaadest b 

Sell my azz for crums like these

U already know
im deep in poverty- 
Can’t you see
Im yo best ho 

—Excerpt from The Sidewalk Motel- Poems and PoShunary from a povertyskola  

The ache at the bottom of my stomach had claws. The claws were covered in blood and bits of old food scraps still floating around my empty gut. I imagined this quiet horror inside my body as I stood on Sansome Street in then-bustling downtown San Francisco trying to sell bootleg hand-painted T-shirts.

Banko Brown struggled with housing and food insecurity.

Each person walked past me and said nothing, bought nothing and as a matter of fact didn’t even look at me. This meant the hunger would get worse and last longer and there was nothing I could do about it.

You see, I had no money at all. If someone didn’t buy one of my T-shirts, I would never get enough to buy a sandwich, a cheese stick, candy, or anything. Me and my panhandler and street performer comrades working next to me were having the same day. Which brings me back to the claws.

When Jordan Neeley and Banko Brown’s stories splashed across my social media, the strength left my body, I was right there again, a younger me, tryna hustle survival money or die. I had been a street performer, a vendor, and a survivor, povertyskola since I was a child with my mama. Both of us floated in and out of housing when we could afford it, but more often than not, we were sleeping in cars, doorways, park benches and filthy SRO rooms. 

Now today, less than a month after Jordan and Banko’s killings for being hungry, the politricks started to swirl from the Legislators about the so-called Debt Ceiling, or what I have re-named Debt-lying. 

In addition to the requisite TRILLIONS for wars and war machines to kill more indigenous peoples and steal, rape their lands across Mama Earth, they were now gonna make financial aid debt violence part of our collective lives again and in the neo-poor-people-hate reality, make poor people even more likely to starve with more scarcity requirements put on the fragile food benefit crumbs.

The multitude of legislations created for the scarcity programs that supposedly “help” poor people, HELLfare, SNAP, Medi-Cal, etc., are already filled with pages upon pages of ways to criminalize poor people for reaching out for help, hundreds of rules and regulations about what you have to do and not to, be and not be, to qualify for the tiny “benefits.” 

As a recipient of CalFresh, known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, I can tell you that, first of all, to get the benefit, I had to fill out at least 65 pages of a proof of income and eligibility form. I had to have a strange sci-fi meeting in the middle of Covid outside the HEllFare office, which has now thankfully moved onto phone contact in Alameda county. But am required to show proof of whatever income I don’t have or don’t make at least 36 different ways. I am required to show proof of work, and life, and household and am required to sign a multi-page document under penalty of perjury. 

Not to mention the fact that the reason I call it a “crumb” is the small amount of SNAP “benefit” barely covers one person’s food needs beyond one week, especially if you are trying to eat healthily or decolonize our killer diets. For us poor folks already poisoned by food high in sugar, sodium, and fat because they are the cheapest and most accessible food to poor people, it is actually dangerous for our health to have so little money for our food. This is another factor that is killing us. Diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart attacks to name a few, based in large part on the crap we can barely afford.  

The Angry-Old-White-Man (AOWM) anti-poor people narrative of “Those lazy poor people are getting free money” is now and has always been a lie. Actually, most of us, like Jordan Neeley and me and my mama when we were on the street, aren’t even getting the SNAP crumb at all. The paperwork, the “work” of proving our poverty, and constantly being interrogated for our trauma-filled, stress-filled lives is way more than anyone feels like dealing with when we are hungry, tired, houseless, or even marginally housed in the crappy, uninhabitable, poor-people housing we can barely afford.

The supposed “changes” to the SNAP crumbs that were part of the debt-lying, I mean debt ceiling, now make it necessary that in addition to the 50-65 page “applications,” endless paperwork and documentation and the basic requirement to work or go to school or be in a training program, you have to somehow work even more. And especially if you are 50.

The point is we are already supposed to work, we are already criminalized for applying for a meager bit of support and they have already dropped the Covid-era extra off the Crumb so it’s hardly any money again and barely gets us through the month. 

The AOWM syndrome is based on classism, racism, and Christian saviorism. By putting all this hate and crumb-snatching attention of student debt and food stamp debt on poor people, no-one looks at the trillionaries, land and resource hoarders who are still hoarding in this bill and have no requirement to share, redistribute or change their violent capitalist ways. 

Not to mention the fact that poltricksters, bureaucracies, and non-profiteers are still making money on the poverty they caused us to be in, creating products, projects, and anti-social work jobs to manage us, case-mangle us and criminalize us. This whole 50-year-old additional work requirement will cause not only more people to give up and not try to get support but cause more punitive workers to be hired in the already stupid, broken, scarcity system. 

From land theft to bootstraps to starving artist to bread lines to so-called food insecurity, wealthy settlers have been naming, shaming, criminalizing, taking and saving poor and indigenous/Black, Brown and disabled people for centuries. 

Stealing land from First Nations peoples then “saving” them from poverty and the alcoholism they caused. Incarcerating disabled and poor people for being poor and disabled and then “saving” them from poverty. It’s a classic capitalist template and all goes back to the original pauper laws, ugly laws and settlement houses. 

The welfareQUEENs project at POOR Magazine, made up of us poor and houseless mamas, poets and cultural workers on welfare, SNAP, medi-hell and subsidies were, like me and mama, some of the hardest working people I know, holding down three and four jobs, raising children and doing the multiple punitive forms and appointments required to qualify for the crumbs. 

In the welfareQUEENS poor-mama led WeSearch (my word for poor people-led research) we were able to uncover the racist roots of all these programs. Welfare’s scarcity initially wasn’t even made accessible to women of color and in fact was created only for “white, widows of war veterans.” 

Poverty skolas Junebug, Laure, Queennandi, myself, Vivi-T, Flaherty and Tracey Jones Faulkner, to name a few eventually created a powerful play where we acted out our multiple struggles to survive and thrive through so much class and race hate, which sadly is really not that much different today.

Bread lines, free boxes and saviors are not what poor people need or want. We need wealth-hoarders to transform into radical redistributors, Mama Earth de-occupiers, ComeUnity Reparators and change-makers.

This is why we poor and houseless people have created the Bank Of ComeUnity Reparations, which helps wealth-hoarders un-hoard by setting up a sacred vessel of distribution that goes directly to poor mamaz, elders and youth who need it.

This non-bank bank has literally provided food, medical care, hotel rooms, and car repair money to poor folks like us that need it and is helping to mama fest the next iteration of Homefulness—a homeless peoples solution to homelessness that we houseless and poor peoples are working to build in Deep East Oakland.

I never sold that t-shirt that day or any day that week. There were weeks like that. I saw no option but to liberate some food from the market. I am not proud of what I did, but in that moment of struggle and hunger truly saw no other option. I ended up getting arrested by the security guard and later the police, but most of all I felt deep shame for my poverty and for my hunger.

“I’m Hungry,” Jordan Neeley shouted. Not because he was violent. Not because he was “crazy.” Not because he was “dangerous.” Because he was hungry. 

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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