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Houseless homeowners: Will San Francisco declare them illegal?

September 21, 2012

Call the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to oppose ‘Large Vehicle Parking Restrictions,’ Item 120142 on their agenda for Tuesday, Sept. 25

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia and Maggie Williams

“We are homeowners and we are part of our local neighborhood watch.” One after the other, residents of the Sunset district of San Francisco stood up in front of the Land Use Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to voice support for a racist, classist, anti-poor people measure proposed by Carmen Chu which would make it doubly illegal (it’s already illegal) to park “large” vehicles (translation: RVs and campers where houseless people sleep) on the streets in the Sunset.

Police close in on RV at night in Venice, California, where an ordinance similar to the one now before the board in San Francisco was passed over strong protest in 2010. The photo was taken on Thanksgiving of that year – no Happy Holidays for these folks.
“We used to be homeowners.” One after the other disabled elder war veterans ages 82-94, stood in front of the War Memorial at a rally for veterans who are losing their homes or have already lost their homes to foreclosure by banks like Chase and Wells Fargo. According to AARP’s recent report “Nightmare on Main Street,” in the last five years more than 1.5 million seniors have lost their homes as a result of the mortgage crisis.

On Monday, Sept. 17, PNN co-editor and poverty skolar supported and reported on both of these events that happened within one block of each other. Billed and organized as completely different events, a common occurrence in our conveniently splintered capitalist reality, they are actually different parts of the same systemic violence to poor folks so common in our society, only interested in humans as long as they are producing an income or own some capital.

Residents of the Sunset district of San Francisco stood up in front of the Land Use Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to voice support for a racist, classist, anti-poor people measure proposed by Carmen Chu which would make it doubly illegal (it’s already illegal) to park “large” vehicles (translation: RVs and campers where houseless people sleep) on the streets in the Sunset.

“I have nowhere else to go.” After a several year long struggle, African descendent elder and home owner of 40 years Kathy Galves called me last week to explain that she was now in a motel about one night’s rent away from sleeping on the street.

“I lived in my house in the Bayview for 32 years and then they sold the building and I was evicted. I am disabled and live on Social Security. I have no money to pay for rent in the Bay Area. That’s why I live in my car.” Maggie Williams, African descendent, 72, living in her neatly kept RV, parks on Lincoln Street in the Sunset when she isn’t being harassed by racist and classist Neighborhood Watch and self-proclaimed homeowners in the Sunset. Now she will be charged with an infraction and, if cited enough times, could do jail time – for being houseless in Amerikkka.

When me and mama were houseless for over 10 years of my childhood ‘cause my mama was a poor single mama of color who was disabled and could no longer afford rent, we only had our car to sleep in many nights. It was after receiving over 200 citations for sleeping in our vehicle that I was eventually incarcerated in jail for over three months.

The incarceration did not “help” us or make us less houseless, but what it did do is traumatize me and my mama even more to the point that I tried to commit suicide and my mama was hospitalized.

Maggie Williams, African descendent, 72, living in her neatly kept RV, parks on Lincoln Street in the Sunset when she isn’t being harassed by racist and classist Neighborhood Watch and self-proclaimed homeowners in the Sunset. Now she will be charged with an infraction and, if cited enough times, could do jail time – for being houseless in Amerikkka.

How is it that when large corporate event promoters like Outside Lands and Bay to Breakers fill the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods with so many cars that there is no more room for the residents to park their cars, they don’t pass legislation against those. Perhaps it’s because those corporations pay large sums to the city for permits and fees and off-duty police officers and lawyers and politrickster favors and so no one can really say anything even if the neighbors don’t like it.

Unsightly, trash, blight, mess, dirty, crazy, dangerous, unsafe – the coded language flew around the Supervisors’ Chambers. Poor people crimes like sit-lie, gang injunctions, and stop and frisk are always raced and classed. If you are too poor to own or rent the stolen indigenous land you are driving or sleeping on, it seems to give the world carte blanche access to judge the “look” of you, your belongings, what you do with your money and your actions. Throw covert racism into the mix and suddenly the labels “dangerous” and “unsafe” are slapped on and the crime is sealed.

After heartfelt testimony from POOR Magazine poverty skolaz and tireless advocates at the Coalition on Homelessness and Western Regional Advocacy Project, the measure was passed unanimously by board supervisors Malia Cohen, Scott Wiener and what made me the saddest of all, Eric Mar, a legislator who seemed to bury his conscious heart in the sand for this vote.

“I just wonder where these people think people like us are supposed to go: jail, I guess,” Miss Williams concluded after the vote.

If people want to speak back to this disgusting legislation, the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be voting on it on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Prior to the vote, call board members David Chiu at (415) 554-7450, Malia Cohen at (415) 554-7670 and Eric Mar at (415) 554-7410. For more information and updates, call the Coalition on Homelessness at (415) 346-3740.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.

 

4 thoughts on “Houseless homeowners: Will San Francisco declare them illegal?

  1. sebra leaves

    Part of the I've got mine mentality that is seeping into San Francisco attitudes. I was told by someone in Noe Valley that we need parking meters because owning a car is a privilege. If sleeping in your car means you are more privileged than sleeping on the sidewalk then I guess everyone deserves that privilege.

    Reply
  2. John Mulligan

    If some guy parked his RV right in front of my living room for weeks, I would not be cool with it. Suddenly someone is right outside your house? I have no idea who this person is? It's unacceptable. Parking in the city is scarce enough as it is without RVs taking it all, so I think these people complaining have a point. On the other hand, I think the City could look into providing space for an RV park somewhere. My question though, why are these people insisting on staying in the City? There are far nicer RV parks outside the city, why do you have to park in a residential area?

    Reply
    1. aaa

      I live in my vehicle in SF because I work in SF. I don't park in residential areas, don't use public property as a toilet or garbage can, don't deal drugs and don't bother anybody. Nonetheless, I get harassed by police all the time just because I live in my vehicle. I don't make enough money for one of SF's over-priced apartments. What do you suggest I do? Jump of the Golden Gate Bridge?

      Reply
  3. Ann C. Barrera

    Most of the displaced families now rent an RV to live on. This is a reminiscent of the forced eviction and foreclosed homes. There has been resolution for a temporary RV park to settle in.

    Reply

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