by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia
Voices in Poverty Resist series, San Francisco
“We have no more rooms available!” The motel clerk’s voice was steel-like, hitting a crescendo of disgust with the “n” of her “no.” My stomach muscles contracted, holding a breath that had nowhere to go as I stood with now houseless, disabled African descendent elder and foreclosure victim Kathy Galves, 67.
The story of the violent crime of foreclosure and its roots in capitalist greed has been covered, albeit rarely, in mainstream and independent media. But the never heard voices are those of the thousands of families and disabled elders – majority people of color, like Ms. Galves – who have been literally thrown into the streets post-foreclosure and are now homeless. These elders and families divorced from their home-owner status have become like so many of us already struggling houseless and poor peoples, subject to, and at the mercy of, criminalizing, discriminatory anti-poor people laws and societal hate.
When I applied for and was blessed to receive the Marguerite Casey Foundation Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award, I was clear that the focus of this series, which I dubbed “Voices in Poverty Resist,” would be to connect the dots between all of us poor people caught in a system which alternatively values a person based on how much material wealth and capital you have access to versus how large your heart or your spirit, your love and care-giving of land or elders or children is.
But the never heard voices are those of the thousands of families and disabled elders – majority people of color, like Ms. Galves – who have been literally thrown into the streets post-foreclosure and are now homeless.
From this indigenous mama and daughter’s perspective, that meant focusing on the relationship between our shared struggles locally, statewide and nationally. It also meant honoring, speaking with, being with and sharing with our generations of folk in struggle. So we could all speak for ourselves to a self-determined resistance.
The first eviction
Kathryn Galves, a humble and strong woman with a smile that carries hope into every room she enters, who throughout her ordeal always appears draped in clothes the color of the sun, earth and its many flowers, had always lived by the subtle “rules” demanded by the so-called American Dream. A couple of years ago a health crisis set her back financially and she became prey to financial “bottom feeders,” as she called them, which eventually led her to the edge of foreclosure.
Once homeless – or houseless as I call it – she began a stay in a series of people’s spare rooms until she ended up in a motel plagued by bedbugs, on a varying nightly motel rate, suffering constant harassment from the hotel management. On Oct. 15, after over three months of residing at one motel, Ms. Galves was threatened with immediate eviction for no reason other than because it was tourist season.
At this point POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, a grassroots, poor people-led arts, media and education organization me and my mama started out of our own homelessness and poverty, got busy fighting for Ms. Galves’ “tenant’s rights” which she had based on California Civil Code Section 1940.1, which states that if you have resided over 28 days in one location, you are protected by California rent control codes. Once we were able to establish her tenant’s rights, Ms. Galves was stabilized, sort of.
In collaboration with the Bay View newspaper, the Idriss Stelly Foundation and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, we held an emergency press conference entitled From Foreclosure to Homelessness to shed light on this tragic position that so many of our families and elders face, focusing on three disabled elders of color we were advocating for who are in the same position due to foreclosure.
Two weeks later, the owner of the motel offered Ms. Galves a “lower rate” and a bedbug-free room. Because she is tired and poor, trusting and not used to the onslaught of deceit and abuse faced daily by poor people who are seen as “unprotected” in this cut-throat society, and therefore seen as an easy target, she took the offer and within a week he evicted her, bringing us to last week.
No homeless elders allowed
After her eviction from the second motel, Ms. Galves and I walked into another motel in the Manilatown section of San Francisco that advertised a weekly rate. This small piece of downtown used to be inhabited by low-income Filipino and Chinese workers and is infamous for the well-known eviction resistance of elder workers against a wealthy developer from the famous International Hotel across the street, but now it’s home to young, mostly white people who have just arrived in the Bay Area to work in the rapidly expanding tech industry.
These young people, like most in the U.S., have been born and bred on what I call “the cult of independence,” a crucial part of the U.S. culture of separation and individualism. They are living away from their family homes, their elders, their ancestors and their communities of origin and therefore have no reference for eldership, humility or respect and instead view elders like Ms. Galves, holding 26 paper bags containing all of their worldly belongings, as nothing more than a “homeless woman” and therefore undeserving of a room in their trying-to-be-upscale motel.
Meanwhile, Ms. Galves, viewed now merely as a “problem,” nuisance or at best to be pitied by motel management, service providers and bank-gangsters, refuses to give up.
We were finally able to secure one night with the hate-filled clerk after reminding her that Ms. Galves’ dog is a “service dog” with legal rights to accompany her. But the next day, they began to report that the dog was a “nuisance” and were trying to kick her out again from this hotel.
Meanwhile, Ms. Galves, viewed now merely as a “problem,” nuisance or at best to be pitied by motel management, service providers and bank-gangsters, refuses to give up. Like all us poor folks in pursuit of just a little peace and quiet that comes with being housed, she gets up every day, struggling with a breathing machine and a limp, and travels by bus all over town proactively in pursuit of an ever decreasing affordable housing stock, dutifully getting her name on every single three-five year long waitlist, her number in every single housing lottery pool and all along, still wearing and sharing that beautiful bright smile of hope with all of us weary survivors.
The following story was one of several written for the Voices of Poverty Resist series in workshops led by Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia. The workshops were held at LA CAN and CADRE in LA, HOMEFULNESS in Oakland and POOR Magazine in San Francisco. The series was launched by Lisa when she received the Marguerite Casey Foundation Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award focused on the criminalization of families and communities in poverty. Because Lisa leads with her indigenous values of inter-dependence and collaboration and has struggled with poverty and houselessness for most of her childhood with her disabled single mother of color and the grant allowed for looking at the way that language, culture and race influence public attitudes about peoples in poverty, she created this collective journalism process where all of our voices in poverty are speaking for ourselves to achieve a collective and truly inclusive challenge to the “otherizing” that usually happens by corporate and independent media producers when “covering” poverty issues or speaking for all of us poor peoples of color.
Moving to Skid Row: Voices of Poverty Resist!
by Karl Scott, 57
Moving to California caused me to really face the reality of the “social” aspect of life. After losing my job, home, furniture and car, I came to the LA area knowing I could get unemployment until I found a job. Well, unemployment made me fight to get in, and jobs were hard to find.
With no money and no place to go, I was forced to deal with a system that I knew nothing about. But the people assigned to help me had attitudes like everyone “stinks.” I refused to give in and let my spirit be wiped away by mere humans. This caused me to reevaluate my thoughts by asking and being honest with myself. Was I like that? Did I think like that? Do I react like that?
With no money and no place to go, I was forced to deal with a system that I knew nothing about.
With determination, I found housing in “America’s most homeless capital” area. This helped me to deal with and understand what people go through in life by being stereotyped in the “Skid Row” group. I was introduced to LA CAN and became impressed by an organization in Skid Row that was friendly, honest and willing to help people without funding. So now my life is full of new meaning and much deeper respect for every human.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.