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Saturday, July 20, 2024

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HousingHomelessnessThe brutality of criminalizing homelessness

The brutality of criminalizing homelessness

The Supreme Court decision is another step in the process of legitimizing systems of oppression.


“Pleeeeease don’t take my mind… please don’t take my mind.” My Aunty Rochelle was screaming and crying at the cop while they motioned to the orange-vested men hurling her collection of dolls, her torn sleeping bag, and her last tarp into the trash truck near us. 

“We will arrest you ma’am if you don’t leave now.” The cops were robotic, barely registering my aunty’s  terror, much less her humanity.

This was years ago in San Francisco when she was staying with me and mama in our broke-down hooptie, which we parked wherever they didn’t arrest us or cite us for parking in public while houseless. 

The laws against the use of public space are just making things worse.

Aunty came up from LA, where she was a legit doll collector, but like the fate of so many Black, Brown/Indigenous disabled women and men alone, she lost her home, which housed her little doll store in South LA,  through a violent paper trail of foreclosure and eviction. She ended her up with nothing but 22 dolls, which she kept wrapped up in a series of old paper bags.

Now she equated the loss of her dolls with the loss of her family. Her kin. Her people. Her mind. 

Today, the US Supreme Court overturned Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case that had barred multiple settler cities across stolen Turtle Island from citing and arresting people for the sole act of being homeless in public. 

The Supreme Court, packed with and supported by wealth-hoarding, land-owning, classist, racist, ableist haters, in a 6-3 decision, said fining and arresting homeless people does not violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

Decolonizing Homelessness

“200 years ago, before colonization there wasn’t even a concept of homelessness,” said Corrina Gould, talking chief/spokesperson of the confederated villages of Lisjan/Ohlone and co-founder of the Sogorea Te Land Trust and Family Elders Council member of Homefulness.

So-called Grants Pass, Oregon itself is of course stolen land.

“This (ruling) is horrible, sleep is a body’s survival need,” said warrior shero Martha Escudero, houseless leader with Reclaiming Our Homes in occupied Tovaangar (LA). “If unhoused people are a concern then provide housing for them or truly affordable housing options. Rent is too high and wages are low there are too many people struggling that may be unhoused soon. Elders are the highest population growing as unhoused because they can’t pay rent with their pensions.”

Not having a home and being forced to sleep on the street is only a crime in this stolen land governed by a colonial system that criminalizes poverty and commodifies Mama Earth.

“Today, the Court stated that these ordinances that criminalize poverty are not “unusual” because they remain the “usual mode[s]” for punishment,” said Andrea Henson, a lawyer with Where Do We Go? “Historically, the ‘usual modes of punishment’ in this country have been slavery, lynchings, mob violence, Jim Crow, LGBTQ persecution, gender discrimination, the genocide of indigenous communities, the shunning of the poor, disabled, those with mental illness. Now is the time that we stand up for those experiencing homelessness and those who are in desperate need of affordable housing. Today, we fight, “

Houseless people have already been terrorized by hundreds of laws, like the Sit-Lie Law and the Encampment Ban, LA Municipal Code 41:18, and Prop 1, and that’s just the current ones. These lies (laws) were all written on the backs of hundreds of years of settler colonial hate for poor people, that creates the criminalization of the so-called public space, as well as the racist, classist codes for the public.

It’s not illegal for people in a park who don’t look houseless to sleep on the grass or for luxury RV’s to park in paid parking lots, private beaches, and luxury campgrounds across the US. 

From Aetna Street Solidarity in LA:

The Grants Pass decision will mean what it has always meant for poor people, houseless people living in every city and town in the United States: we do not belong in in your world. Aetna Street Solidarity is committed to fighting for a world where everyone belongs. We were born out of resistance to LA Municipal code 41.18 which banned sitting, lying, sleeping on public sidewalks. The Grants Pass decision is an extension of an ideology rooted in white supremacy and capitalism that leads to 6 unhoused people dying a day on the streets of LA. When LA passed an amended version of LAMC 41.18, we saw unprecedented loss of people living on the streets coupled by state-sanctioned raids led by our city’s sanitation, police, and housing authority. The only services that were offered were permanent fences, the threat of arrest and nothing else beyond a temporary shelter bed.

We are criminalized in our bodies for being poor outside, for living without a roof, sleeping in our car, in doorways, in parks, on streets and in tents. What is never mentioned is we are in these doorways and cars because of a system that commodifies Mama Earth and profits off of our poverty and the incarceration of our bodies.  

According to Paul Boden of Western Regional Advocacy Project, “Criminalizing poverty and homelessness not only fails to address systemic causes of mass homelessness, it also exacerbates both the underlying structures of oppression that continue to plague our society, racism and classism.” 

“Man over Mama Earth. Is the Supreme Court going to pay my rent, or should we be knocking on your door> Move over we are moving in,” said Leroy Moore, Formerly houseless, disabled povertyskola with POOR Magazine, Homefulness and Founder of Krip Hop Nation

Homefulness—a homeless peoples solution to homelessness created by houseless peoples at POOR Magazine—which just welcomed their 21st houseless family into rent-free forever housing stands together with fellow houseless peoples, advocates and allies Wood Street Commons, Reclaiming Our Homes, Krip Hop Nation, Self-Help Hunger Program, and Aetna Street Solidarity. We resist and refuse this recent legal decision on Grants Pass that will allow, enable, condone, and promote the ongoing violent criminalization of our bodies and our lives and instead we demand reparations for the land theft, ableism, classism, border terrorism and violent police terror.  

I took Aunty SF General that day. But we were houseless too so there was really nowhere for her to be safe. After they took Aunti’s dolls she was never okay. She used to whisper and cry softly most days, checking every dumpster she could.

 One day, without saying anything to anyone she wandered onto the I-80 Freeway, never to be seen again.. 

See Testimonials from formerly houseless residents of Homefulness by clicking here 

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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