by Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio
Dog Betty’s eyes watched the cooking show on TV, quivering each time the tall wite lady with the strange voice dropped a pat of butter into the sizzling pan. As Betty’s eyes darted back and forth across the screen, her large regal spine bunched up against the motel bed frame inching further and further into the off-white walls.
Betty was a service dog. She and her elder, disabled Afrikan descendent companion, Kathy Galves, were houseless. They were covered in bed bug bites. They had been foreclosed on from their San Francisco home of 40 years and were running out of money to even pay for a motel room.
When I saw Dog Betty, I knew there was something odd about her. I was convinced there was a revolutionary ancestor, albeit disgruntled, trapped in her large, yellow-furred body. She would growl at everyone and each time a motel slumlord would illegally evict or forcibly move Ms. Galves, Betty would have a bowel movement on their parking lot asphalt or lobby floor to express her disgust. Betty was an Australian dingo dog, a pure-breed, and all in all was not OK with this whole situation.
Ms. Galves came to our family at POOR Magazine in the way that most folks do, through family, friends or street-based referrals, in a position of fear and desperation. She was already foreclosed on by the bank gangsters known as Wells Fargo out of her family home. She was spending her meager social security check and pension and pawning all of her worldly goods to pay for nightly motel rates that would often soar up to $130 per night.
Like with all the families, youth and elders who come through our family, we had to help her with legal advocacy and housing advocacy and to navigate a complex world of case managers, non-profit housing devil-opers and sleazy scamlords. We are not non-profiteers and have no grant that “guide(lines) our movements in the world or who or how we help folks.
We have no Western, Eurocentric-crafted “boundaries” about how we speak with or be with our folks in trouble. We have no Hypocritical Oath, proof of income forms or ID requirements. Instead we are po’ folk led by one another, hand in hand, heart to heart, collaborating, dreaming, thinking, activating, infiltrating and fighting, always fighting whomever and whatever keeps us outside, on the street, hungry, sick, criminalized, incarcerated or falsely adjudicated on.
In Ms. Galves’ case we needed to ramp up our Revolutionary Legal Advocacy Project – “jailhouse-lawyers-outside-of-jail-without-a-degree” – which was launched by Marlon Crump and myself in 2007 to write legalese-filled letters to stave off the constant scamlord attacks. We had to put on our Revolutionary Case Manager hats, launched first by my powerFUL Mama Dee, OG poverty skola, and then taken up by me, Tiny, and Mama Jewnbug, Mama Viv and Mama Laure, to name a few.
As Revolutionary Case Managers we talk, counsel, advocate, phone call and apply for endless possible “affordable” housing spots – which aren’t really affordable – do on-spot talk therapy, drive people places, pick folks up, argue with systems and system social workers, plantation workers and non-profiteers fighting to attain the meager crumbs of housing, hellthcare, food and/or services we all need just to survive.
Additionally, as a poor people-led, indigenous people-led family at POOR, we have taught people with race, class and/or education privilege the notion of community reparations, a frame of sharing and/or redistributing stolen wealth, land, resources, unequally acquired education, services or access among victims of that theft and/or unequal distribution. These folks have become our revolutionary donors and solidarity family. In this time, like so many others, we needed to activate and solicit cash from them so we could help her pay for a few more nights of motel rent and most of all we just needed to help her, by any means necessary, not end up on the actual street.
Ms. Galves came to our family at POOR Magazine in the way that most folks do, through family, friends or street-based referrals, in a position of fear and desperation. She was already foreclosed on by the bankgangsters known as Wells Fargo out of her family home.
Ultimately we needed to come up with an emergency plan. Ms. Galves, like so many folks in poverty, was caught in a vortex of almosts. Her income was $50 too much to qualify for the most dire City-based support services and yet nowhere near enough to pay rent on a gentriFuK-inflated apartment. Her age, disability and service dog made her an “unattractive” prospect for a subjective roommate/shared housing situation and her seriously ill health and disability required her close proximity to her multiple doctors and therefore prevented us from moving her completely out of San Francisco.
And so the Underground SRO (single room occupancy hotel) Railroad was launched. As a family of poverty skolaz at POOR Magazine, unhinged from the intense constraints of most of the plantation-esque non-profit organizations, we looked to each other to provide whatever we could from our houseless and almost-housed lives of subsistence, from our substandard SROs, over-priced motels, “affordable-4-sum” family housing, shelter beds, storage rooms and squats, we could always – worst case scenario – open our one rooms up to each other.
The first stop on the railroad was one week in a miniscule room in The North Beach Motel, secured with some cash and credit card help from our Revolutionary Donors and with the hands and arms of several of our poverty skolaz bodies and the not-hooptie-anymore POOR Magazine family van, transporting the dozens of paper and hefty bags filled with all of Ms. Galves wordly belongings.
Tragically, the first time seven of us poverty skolaz of color accompanied by 52 paper and plastic bags and a large dog, walked through the front door of the trying-to-be-booshie North Beach Hotel, the desk clerk took an immediate dislike to us all and, in turn, caused an anxiety reaction from Betty, who proceeded to alternately shed hair and pee urine in the room, causing the North Beach Hotel to last only a week for Ms. Galves and Betty.
On top of all of that, the previous motel scam-lord illegally took all of Ms. Galves social security check, leaving her with literally no money at all. Now there was little time to get her out and the situation was an emergency. POOR Magazine cultural worker, houseless, poverty skola and revolutionary NPIC instigator Charles Pitts and Joe Bolden moved all of Ms. Galves belongings from the North Beach Motel to temporary storage at POOR Magazine and to Joe’s one room in one day with only a shopping cart and a cab, paid for by POOR Magazine solidarity family cash help. This happened because the POOR Magazine van was being used in another crisis that day.
The next stop on the railroad was our Uncle Joseph Bolden. Joe is a founding member of POOR, PNN reporter, POOR Press published author and teacher who is also a disabled, formerly houseless African descendent elder who has been living, barely, in one tiny room with no bathroom or kitchen in the San Cristina Hotel (SRO) in the heart of the Tenderloin district of San Francisco for over 16 years. Due to the way that all of us po’ folk are treated in all of these plantation housing units, Betty and Ms. Galves were required to show IDs coming in and out of the building and always had to be accompanied by Joe, who had no cell phone, to go into the room to sleep at night.
This resulted in Ms. Galves and Betty having to wander aimlessly on the very busy and loud Market Street sometimes for hours in the cold night until Joe returned home. Suffice it to say, a room barely large enough for one man was not nearly large enough for two disabled elders and a large dog, and the whole experience was difficult at best for Joe, who had no bed as he graciously gave it up to accommodate his guests, and Ms. Galves, who got bronchitis from the cold nights outside, and most of all Betty, who tended to pee every time she left the hotel due to anxiety.
The next stop was more complicated because it required several more steps and acts of deep revolutionary advocacy from all of us poverty skolaz, but to keep the train on the railroad, it had to be done. Our Uncle Bruce, an elder, disabled and formerly houseless poverty skola, was a very powerFUL revolutionary, PNN reporter and organizer, and like so many of us poverty skolaz suffered from serious trauma from his years as a veteran of the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, being seriously discriminated and hated on for his learning disability, and living po’ in this capitalist society, which values “productivity” and financial success above all things.
So although he was now housed in a fairly decent one room SRO with a kitchen – which is truly luxury from us po’ folks perspective – he was unable to keep it clean. Due to the ever-changing requirements, budget cuts and hoops of the so-called government crumbs like in-home support services (IHSS), he was no longer being helped to take care of himself or his home. From the kitchen to the bathrooms, there was mess, dirt, food and the remnants of a depressed elder who was also physically ill.
There was no one to call, no social service agency who could “help,” no government crumb or slice of government cheese to be applied for. There was just us, his fellow poor people, his family of over-tired, always working-but-never-giving-up poverty skolaz who lead with our hearts and move with our hands and feet, inter-dependently, in a society that teaches you that you only must worry about your own personal success.
The first thing was to acquire some cleanser, a toilet brush, compostable trash bags, sponges, gloves, face masks and a vacuum. Thanks to cash and a vacuum from solidarity sisters and brothers as well as a car and time from Solidarity Sister Sandra we launched into the Community Clean. With revolutionary worker and son of a janitor, poet, PNN-TV and Manilatown nephew Tony Robles leading the bathroom project, myself, Tiny, youth skola Tiburcio and Joseph Bolden launched into the rest of the house.
The second day we had the help of Solidarity Sister and Diasporic Daughter Sandra, and within two days and six tons of elbow grease we did it. The toilet and walls were sparkling, the bathtub was returned to its original soap-white, the floors were clean, the old pee-stained bed was discarded and a new bed was brought in. Clothes were cleaned, closets were emptied and endless piles of trash and papers and photos were sorted and stacked and the kitchen was not only cleaned but the sink was fixed because the maintenance men could get to it.
The next day with more cash help from solidarity family for POOR Magazine van gas and the hands and backs and time of us poverty skolaz, we moved all of Ms. Galves belongings into the newly spotless, stop on the Underground, off-plantation, SRO Railroad.
And so the Underground SRO (single room occupancy hotel) Railroad was launched.
I have called it the Underground SRO Railroad to honor the powerFUL revolutionary Harriet Tubman, who led the by any means necessary movement of the Underground Railroad to free enslaved Afrikan warriors and families from the bondage of chattel slavery. I am not being so bold as to say that there is a comparison to chattel slavery to describe the position of post-foreclosed, bank-gangstered, real estate snakkked, disabled Afrikan elders like Ms. Galves.
But I will venture to say that there is a comparison with the by any means necessary resistance to non-profiteerism, poverty pimpologists, akkkademiks and most journalists, who would say, “There is nothing we can do” to a disabled elder like Ms. Galves when she is about to start sleeping on the street, when perhaps their NPIC has no rooms at the inn, yet they, the NPIC workers who profit off of our misery, are receiving a pay check, which they could simply share, or they, the NPIC workers, have a car which they could simply use to transport and/or move an elder’s belongings, or they, the government or NPIC workers, have a bed and/or a roof which they could simply offer.
And there is a comparison I am making in the way that our elders and families are being destroyed by this capitalism, this gangsterism, this separation and these non-profiteering industries that use us for grant guidelines, for research studies, for science experiments and big pharma treatment, for interesting stories and photo essays but do nothing to actually, physically, financially, emotionally share with, be with, love with, live with us, po’ folks in crisis.
Now calmly esconsced albeit in too small a space for three, with Bruce graciously sleeping on an air mattress on the kitchen floor to free up the one bed in the house for Ms. Galves, who struggles with kidney failure, the three of them live.
Daily, just like before, Ms. Galves wakes up early and walks across the city of San Francisco attempting to get on every housing wait list there is that will accept her. She also makes fresh food for her friend and roommate, Bruce Allison. The last time I was there to do a small clean-up day with Tiburcio, Dog Betty greeted me with a characteristic growl. Her eyes met mine, and for a second they flashed anxiety, assuming I was there to broker another move of her tired body. But then Uncle Bruce walked over and without even looking up, dog Betty calmly licked his hand and went to sleep.
This is but one example of many acts of interdependence, love and revolution achieved by our family of poor and indigenous peoples at POOR Magazine. It is how we walk, live, struggle, dream, activate and revolutionize. It is what launched Homefulness, it is what started POOR Magazine and it is what kept me and my po’ Black-Indian Mama Dee alive. I hope it could be an example for how we all can dismantle these 21st century plantations and walk softly to self-determined liberation. Ase-O- Ometeotl!
This essay is an excerpt from Tiny’s upcoming book, “Poverty SkolaShip 101: A People’s Text.” 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.