Swept to death

Written by on 12/01/2019

Where Do We Go Berkeley is an alliance of unhoused and housed advocates who are standing up to Caltrans to stop the sweeps. – Photo: PNN

From San Francisco to
San Bernardino, unhoused, criminalized communities are dying from ‘sweeps’ and
criminalization and resisting with our own solutions.

by Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia

“We know Caltrans and DPW have two trucks, one for the stuff
they think they can sell, one for the stuff they throw away,” said Rosa C while
trying to stuff her child’s baby pictures in a broken plastic bag. While we
tried our best to get all of her most important things in that bag, she watched
a home she had built out of nothing be destroyed and her beloved RV be hooked
up and dragged away. The police cars, tow trucks and Caltrans trucks swarmed
like hungry bees nearby in yet another violent “sweep” of unhoused folks in

Right next to us, an elder just stood, unmoving, paralyzed
by the impossibility of it all, as his only tent and broke-down car he would
sleep in were towed. Huge metal jaws, tow trucks, bulldozers and “trash” trucks
moving steadfastly in an odd form of robotic violence. As though there was
nothing wrong. As though people’s lives weren’t being completely dismantled,
destroyed. People whose lives were already dismantled. On this, like so many
other days throughout the year, a sweep was unfolding, un-mantling, removing
unhoused humans and our humanity.

Our small crew of RoofLESS Radio reporters, all houseless
or formerly houseless ourselves, were in West Oakland trying to support folks who
were going through the violence of these sweeps. Tomorrow we would be in East
Oakland serving food, conducting our street-writing
so folks can get their own stories out about homelessness and
passing out emergency supplies to folks who just had their small self-made
homes demolished. And Monday we would be back in San Francisco, providing tents
to folks whose tents were taken by a mayor who believes you can get rid of people
by getting rid of their only safe enclosures.

As I stood with Rosa, all my own childhood trauma of homelessness, endless sweeps and tows
came flooding back to me like it always does. I watched her little girl’s eyes
register the same desperate sorrow and stopped being able to speak. There are
only so many times you can watch your life scooped up in a giant machine before
you stop caring – you stop caring about your things, your safety and, even
worse, you.

On Halloween, unhoused and formerly unhoused POOR Magazine people moved into the lobby of Salesforce in honor of the literally thousands of houseless people who die on San Francisco’s streets and face violent sweeps and belonging theft for the sole act of being houseless while the tech industry doles out charity crumbs and launches million dollar studies of our lives in collaboration with academics and non-profiteers. – Photo: Poor News Network

A son loses his mama
to sweeps

“We, the officers and members of the Santa Cruz Homeless
Union and the California Homeless Union Statewide Organizing Council, hold the
City of Santa Cruz, its City Council majority and the offices of the City
Manager and the Chief of Police fully responsible for the tragic death of
Deseire Quintero, founder of the Ross Camp Council who became an officer of the
Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Homeless Union,” the Nov. 13 statement
read in part.

A houseless revolutionary poverty skola and community
caregiver, Deseire died because a tree fell on her. For folks to understand why
this is related to sweeps, you must understand that the Ross Camp, an
encampment in Santa Cruz, California, was closed by a “sweep” and so the
unhoused community, who, just because the camp closed, didn’t suddenly
disappear, moved further into the woods into places that aren’t really safe for
people to be. And then there is the tragic story of Sharon Marie Bigley, which
I reported on last year, a 33-year-young unhoused woman literally killed by the
“front loader” in yet another Kiltrans sweep of an encampment in Modesto.

From Yuba City to Sacramento, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,
the violence of criminalizing people for not having a roof and the state’s
answer known as “sweeps” are literally killing us houseless people.

Sometimes it’s Department of Public Works (DPW), sometimes
its Caltrans (or Kiltrans, as I call them) and sometimes it’s the local police
and sheriffs, private security guards or “homeless task forces,” and these
moves are often triggered by politricksters and just local anti-poor people hatred
of unhoused people and their police calls and calls to the mayor’s office. And always
there’s the ongoing anti-poor people corporate media.

All of these moves are based on the three basic lies the US
functions on:

  • the Savior Industrial Complex – if you can’t be saved,
    then you should be jailed, killed or removed from sight;
  • the Cult of Rehabilitation – everything and
    everyone has to be fixed (which is a loop back to aforementioned savior
    complex); and
  • the Corporate Cleanliness Model of Starbucks and
    other modern architecture – an aesthetic of how much isn’t there – clean lines
    and earth-tones with all the color and chaos and confusion of people and things
    absent, an “order” which has its vague roots in Nazi-dreamscapes of nothingness
    and has been implemented in intentional harmful and hurtful architecture.

POOR Magazine has done endless actions on this, like the
epic 2018 Sweep the Politricksters action at the homes of Oakland Mayor Libby
Shaaf and interim SF Mayor Mark Farrell, in which we literally rented a sweeper
and “swept” their houses, and countless WeSearch projects (poor people-led
research of our own stories and lives) such as “Invasion of the Tent Snatchers
I & II” and “Rally of the Housed for the Unhoused” and the Stolen
Land/Hoarded Resources Tour through SF Tech for the Ancestors.

As well, I have written countless stories about the violence
of this sweeping of our unhoused bodies – up to four tents stolen from the same
person in one week. I have begged people to actually listen to the scholarship
of poor people, instead of more politricks. We have shown up at town hall
hearings and stood, marched, rallied with fellow poverty skolaz from San
Francisco to Berkeley, saying, “No, we will not be swept! No, we will not leave!”
And still they come.

ACCE organized a big march for housing in Oakland on Saturday, Nov 23. – Photo: PNN

Many of POOR Magazine’s trusted comrades at the Coalition on
Homelessness, First They Came for the Homeless, Where Will We Go Berkeley, East
Oakland Collective, Stolen Belongings, Homeless Union, Poor Peoples Economic
Human Rights Campaign, Poor Peoples Army and many more have fought this fight
over and over again and yet the sweeps, the theft of our belongings, and the violence
continue. People make the clear connection to the dismantling of our poor
people housing, violent and abusive gentrification and neverending
displacement. But I clearly want to bring up the connection to what I
affectionally call krapitalism.

We are “taught” – drilled into early on – that the way to “make
it” is to accumulate excessive amounts of blood-stained dollars and Mama Earth
and to be alone, to be independent and to leave all that we are made of and
that made us. This might work for a while when you are strong and able to stay
on the hamster wheel which endlessly promotes the colonial lie of independence
as normalcy. Elder and child ghettos are built and Mama Earth is endlessly
destroyed by the buying and selling, pimping and playing, until we hit a snag,
a PTSD or just bad luck as reported by many of our RoofLESS Radio reporters and
my Mama Dee: “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

But through all this
sad pain, there is resistance, refusal and liberation

“Caltrans will come as they do weekly and steal all our
belongings but this time we are not leaving,” said Mama Bear, one of the many
powerful disabled elder unhoused warriors who stay under and right above the 80
freeway overpass in Berkeley, which, just like San Francisco, is considered one
of the most “progressive” cities in the world and in fact is just as filled
with countless anti-poor people laws and politricksters as a so-called “un-progressive”

But in this beautiful resistance movement whose members have
dubbed themselves “Where Do We Go Berkeley,” co-led by houseless poverty skola
residents of the encampment and housed warriors like Andrea Henson and Barbara
Brust from Consider the Homeless and Osha Neuman from East Bay Community Law
Center, they
refused to leave and launched a focused resistance to Kiltrans itself,
resulted in a meeting being called by the director and a temporary truce of
sorts. But what is equally important is the self-determined moves of Where Do
We Go Berkeley, like raising money to rent their own porta potties and a
beautiful school, raising money so they could haul their own trash.

“We refuse to be terrorized by this violence anymore,” says
Andrea Henson.

Meanwhile, last week a group of unhoused mamas took over a
real esnakkked stolen home in West Oakland, vowing to refuse to leave. Calling
themselves Moms4Housng, they have moved in to an intentionally hoarded
and vacant home, which was left that way so they could wait for the profit to
rise. That’s something us youth and family houseless poverty skolaz at POOR
Magazine discovered in a recent WeSearch project called Hoarded Mama Earth, in
which we released a report of literally thousands of vacant properties left
that way intentionally so more Mama Earth profiteering could occur, while
people literally die on the streets.

Systemic racism and broken policies have dismantled our
society. People are being forced into homelessness with no option or way out.
We are neighbors, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. We hurt, bleed and
struggle just to survive. We want what most of you want, to be able to live and
to be part of our communities that we are from. We are condemned to struggle
and have asked for help to help ourselves.

The Sacramento Homeless Union, spun off from the original Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign in Philadelphia, has been working with unhoused Californians to list their demands and solutions. Challenged by officials turning a deaf ear to them, they take advantage of gatherings like this of wealthy decision-makers to demand, “No decisions about us without us!” – Photo: PNN

Once you become homeless, there is no realistic way up, no
services. We watch the money that our government entities have raised for
homelessness. We see none of it – not through services, aid or affordable
housing. What we do see is high priced events, meetings, panels and lunches to
make policies about us without us. Never a single impacted voice.

It stops now. Your policies are pitting society against each
other. You are causing the next revolution and class war. The time is now to
have those conversations with us.

Crystal Rose Sanchez from Sacramento Homeless Union, along
with many more unhoused and formerly unhoused folks across the state, has been
releasing the demands coming out of each encampment to the cities who are “sweeping,”
criminalizing and killing them. The Homeless Union was launched by some of the
members of the original Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign out of
Philadelphia and is a group of homeless and formerly homeless poverty skolaz
(as I would call them) who are co-creating our own demands to stop the violent
criminalization of unhoused California residents.

The Halloween visit of POOR to Salesforce brought the ghosts of the elders evicted from the Transbay Terminal back home to the Salesforce tower that replaced it. Billionaire CEO Marc Benioff has donated $30 million for homelessness research. – Photo: PNN

Excerpt of the
state-wide demands created by unhoused leaders in the Sacramento Homeless Union:

  • Open public restrooms 24 hours a day.
  • Stop sweeps immediately AND indefinitely. We are
    people, not trash.
  • Stop criminalizing, ticketing and fining us for
    situations we don’t control because we have nowhere to go … like trespassing,
    loitering, using shopping carts, tying ropes to trees and just surviving.
  • Stop police harassment of those serving food or handing
    out clothing.
  • Set aside safe parking spaces.
  • Stop taking survival gear.
  • Provide emergency services to those in need and
    treat crimes against homeless people like all other crimes.

The full list of demands is available here: https://www.poorpress.net/product-page/poverty-scholarship-poor-people-led-theory-art-words-tears-across-mama-earth.

Locally, the East Oakland Collective, First They Came for
the Homeless and The Village set up a tent city at Oscar Grant Plaza with
demands for sanctuary land for unhoused people. Instead of listening to their
demands or acting on them, 22 activists were arrested and their perfectly good
tents were thrown away.

On Halloween, unhoused and formerly unhoused youth, adults
and elders in POOR Magazine, following a multi-nationed prayer ceremony for the
125 unhoused, neuro-divergent elders who were evicted and dragged out of the
Transbay Terminal in 2009 to make way for the leaning tower of Penus (I mean the
new, shiny, useless “Salesforce” Transbay Terminal) moved into the lobby of
Salesforce in honor of the literally thousands of houseless people who die on
San Francisco’s streets and face violent sweeps and belonging theft for the
sole act of being houseless while the tech industry doles out charity crumbs
and launches million dollar studies of our lives in collaboration with
academics and non-profiteers.

We had a simple ask: Give us $1 million of the $30 million study launched by UCSF and
so we can build a second iteration of our own self-determined
homeless peoples solution to homelessness we call Homefulness,
which we are currently building in Deep East Oakland.

“I’m not the type of homeless person who is an encampment. I’m
the type of homeless person who is staying on your couch if I’m lucky enough to
be have the option, who goes to work every day homeless and acts like
everything is OK,” explained an unhoused youth speaking at a big march for
housing organized by ACCE in Oakland on Saturday, Nov 23.

Wood Street
Encampment demands:

  • An increase in the number of portable toilets
  • Improved trash service that includes a dumpster
  • Electricity
  • Access to clean water
  • Increased shower and laundry services
Homefulness is a poor people’s solution to poverty and homelessness. This housing is being built by unhoused and formerly unhoused people with no government or corporate assistance. – Photo: PNN

The corporate
definition of clean

Since the move away from interdependence and the deep
structures of most of the indigenous, people of color and immigrant cultures
who make up the US, and in the slide to be “normal” amerikkklan “citizens” in
this occupied land, the post-colonizer human eye is always being trained to
appreciate a vast landscape of emptiness, aka “clean.”

Is it possible as we fight for decolonization to re-vision
public space as actually inclusive of all of us “public” –  to overstand and understand that we poor and
houseless people don’t need to be saved, swept or jailed. We just need to be
listened to, to be seen as experts in our own struggles and solutions.

making hurtful, violent decisions you call solutions to our struggles – about
us without us. This is one of the many reasons POOR Magazine wrote the “Poverty Scholarship” textbook and why we do PeopleSkool
every year for folks with different forms of race, class and/or formal
education privilege.

there are so many reasons why us poor and working class youth, adults and
families are unhoused. But those back-stories, that trauma porn should not be
your inspiration to listen to us. We are you, but without a roof and we have
been evicted, removed, displaced, hospitalized and traumatized by krapitalism
and its many violent forms of exclusion and destruction.

thanks-taking time, we are not asking for a friggin’ one day of charity; we are
asking for liberated land, de-criminalization and our own self-determiNATION.
We are demanding these things so we can solve our own problems and build
movements and long-term solutions like Homefulness,
The Sogorea Te Land Trust, the Poor People’s Army, and First They Came for the
Homeless. We are clear. We will not continue to be swept to death.

Lisa “Tiny”
Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless,
incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of
Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor
People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of
Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to Homelessness. Reach her at
or @povertyskola on Twitter.

Source: San Francisco Bay View

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