How did sweeping humans become the new normal?

Join the anti-sweeps rally Tuesday, March 11, 11:30 a.m., on the SF City Hall steps and a special hearing at 12:00 p.m.

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia

“No matter how many times you ‘sweep’ me, arrest me or study me, it doesn’t give me a home.” – Tiny from “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth”

In 1984, when I was 11 and me and my disabled mama were living on and off the street, in doorways, bus benches, staying in hoopties we scavenged, shelter beds we case mangled, motel rooms and apartments we would temporarily wrangle, the City of San Francisco had just began to “see” homelessness as a “problem.” Coincidentally, the federal agency known as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and Housing Authorities across the U.S. were concurrently launching a slow bleed to the public housing budget, aka housing for the poorest of the poor, like me and my mama.

In all of this silent violence, this quiet war ON the poor, an anti-poor people public relations campaign was also being crafted which resulted in the launching of a series of hygienic metaphors used to describe unhoused people’s bodies on the street. Exposed for all to see.

“We need to clean up the homeless problem.”

“We need to clean up the neighborhood,” referring in coded language to poor, working class folks and communities of color.

“Homeless people are crazy, lazy, dirty, messy.”

“The mess on Market Street” – refers to an entire part of Market Street in the Tenderloin as a “mess.”

“My houseless body was ‘power-washed’ several times when I was unhoused,” said Bruce Allison, elder and disability poverty skola with POOR Magazine.

“I was power-washed as a pregnant houseless woman several times in San Francisco,” added Juliana Cheng, single mama and poverty skola.

The reason this “exposure” of unhoused bodies, communities and peoples was and continues to be such a problem in the U.S. is we have a globally perpetuated myth that we are ALL doing ok. That “real” poverty only exists in the Global South. That we live in a “classless” society and we all have a chance to “make it.”

This myth is necessary for many exploitation reasons, not the least of which is to fuel a stream of poor workers daring to risk crossing dangerous, killer borders to get here only to find the amerikkklan dream only exists in your sleep.

“People always think our family is doing good because they live in the U.S. When we tell them about Luis being homeless and killed by police, they don’t believe us,” said Roxanna, who lives in Teabo, Yucatan, Mexico, and is the daughter of Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat, killed by San Francisco police for being Brown and houseless in the gentrified streets of San Francisco’s Mission District.

Fast forward to the late ‘90s, the advent of (NO) Hope VI, meaning the demolition of several thousand public housing projects and passing out of useless Section 8 vouchers (see WRAPhome.org for more on this as well as POOR Magazine’s Volume 1, the Homefulness issue) and suddenly a new colonization project in the Bay Area known as the dot-com-boom fueled even more anti-poor people hate along with a dangerous housing and commercial space shortage, followed by a poison cocktail of aristoKRAZY corporate media, false politrickster promises from Jerry Brown to Willie Brown, wealthy tech industry pandering, and police-DPW intervention.

And just as quickly, without even a blink of the societal eye, the concept of “sweeps” was launched. A concept of equating unhoused human beings’ bodies and our life-long belongings with trash to be swept, seized, discarded and/or absconded by the same state agency that picks up trash off the road, the Department of Public Works, followed up with a punitive gun-toting agency such as the police or sheriff to enforce the de-humanizing of unhoused, un-roofed humans.

“I was power-washed as a pregnant houseless woman several times in San Francisco”

The notion of “sweeps” and equating humans with trash is nothing new under the settler colonizer sun. The original stealing fathers (my affectionate name for the Founding Fathers) imported anti-poor people laws when they first stole this indigenous territory – like the “Ugly Laws” that make it “illegal” to be “unsightly” aka disabled, houseless in public. These laws incarcerate poor people for being poor under the guise of “helping” us or “taking care of poor people,” which ties in perfectly to the Savior Industrial Complex and the cult of rehabilitation.

And while all of this scarcity model krapitalism and poor people hate and non-profiteering unfolds, popular culture is fed a terrifying collective understanding that equates the lack of humans in a landscape with “cleanliness” aka the Starbuckization of the world – that somehow because people didn’t have the money to pay rent, they were not worthy of being seen as human.

Now this wasn’t really a hard sell in bootstrap krapitalism. People already were sold a whole gaggle of lies about poor people. We were receiving “free money”: We get welfare – and we all work in menial sub-minimum wage work to “earn” that poverty crumb – and food stamps, which hardly cover the cost of food and certainly not healthy food.

So you have the poisoning of a massive population of poor people because of agri-business and corporate GMOs. Not to mention the entire basis of a capitalist culture itself that relies on everything being a commodity, from Mama Earth to care-workers. And that there must be poor people for rich people to even exist.

Meanwhile the nonprofit industrial complex, philanthro-pimps and the poltricksters begin to use homelessness as a profit-making venture and a campaign slogan.

“In my administration, I will solve the homeless problem,” said Gavin Newsom, as San Francisco mayor and author of Care Not Cash, one of the most deadly programs implemented against homeless and very poor people in SF.

Sweeping humans wasn’t met with the proper shock, disgust or even empathy. It was just accepted as the new normal.

Sadly, “sweeping” humans like we are trash, became more and more normalized. It became something constantly said, by everyone from poltricksters to tech workers. Suddenly, it seemed perfectly OK to de-humanize people just because we were on the street, culminating in a deadly group of sweeps from former SF Mayor Ed Lee, to “get ready for the Stupid Bowl (Super Bowl) and the corporate backers of said Stupid Bowl were fine with it.

Everyone, except us poor people. POOR Magazine, the Coalition on Homelessness, Coffee Not Cops and many more groups stood in front of the DPW trucks in 2015. POOR Magazine launched our RoofLESS Radio WeSearch project, which continues today, determined to not let the City harass, criminalize and arrest every poor person they got in these violent sweeps, which included crushing disabled people’s wheelchairs and walkers, their lives and their bodies.

To fight back, lawsuits were filed by revolutionary attorneys and POOR Magazine’s WeSearch (poor and homeless people-led research) which documented the hundreds of thousands of dollars in belongings stolen and seized from unhoused folks that were lost or crushed or never returned,

After Ed Lee passed away, an interim mayor, Mark O’Farrell, was put into office and one of the first things he did was launch a whole new gaggle of – you guessed it – sweeps.

And don’t get it twisted. SF is not the only one doing these violent moves against unhoused people. Oakland and Berkeley and pretty much the whole entire United Snakes is about these sweeps. It became so deadly, we had RoofLESS radio elder reporters on both sides of the Bay reporting that if they even sat down to rest for five minutes the police and DPW would drive by and harass them, tell them to stand up, and then, if they didn’t take all of their belongings, throw them away.

It got so horrible for us as WeSearchers and poverty skolaz both housed and unhoused at POOR Magazine that we launched our own “sweep” – this time of the poltricksters themselves on both sides of the Bay. We called it “Sweeping the Poltricksters,” which actually helped slow down the sweeps a little just ‘cause of the shame factor. And then we got Mayor London Breed in SF, who has taken the “unwritten homeless policy” aka “sweeps” to a whole new level.

Invasion of the Tent Snatchers II: SF mayor steals 405 tents as an unwritten ‘homeless policy

Since Black August 2018, under the administration of Mayor London Breed, over 405 tents were stolen (seized) from 210 unhoused SF residents. Because of the unwritten violent policy of daily tent and belonging seizure in the rain, cold and harsh weather of the last several months, already physically fragile unhoused people have died and others have lost their medicine and basic necessities, we Poverty Skolaz at the RoofLESS radio project realized we needed to do a public release of our findings, which we did twice, asking the SF community of housed people to demand that London Breed stop stealing our tents.

To date not only has she not stopped, she has increased this policy, which brings us to Thursday’s special hearing on sweeps at City Hall called by United to Fight Displacement, POOR Magazine, Coalition on Homelessness and Democratic Socialists Alliance.

Since Black August 2018, under the administration of Mayor London Breed, over 405 tents were stolen (seized) from 210 unhoused SF residents.

Empathing us – the ‘swept’ instead of sympathing more sweeps

To implement empathy instead of more charity industrial complex “sympathy,” I often tell people to imagine if someone came into your home and snatched the roof off your bedroom, dorm room or home, leaving you exposed, over-seen, no longer covered. In other words, no longer “safe” to be messy, unorganized, unclean or just human, because now you no longer were living with what housed people live with every day and take completely for granted, the privilege of privacy. Something we have none of when we are unhoused. Something I and other poverty skolaz teach in the recently released “Poverty Scholarship Textbook.”

You see, just because we are outside, without a roof, without shelter, it doesn’t mean we have no precious mementos, belongings pictures, things or lives. It also doesn’t mean we are inherently unclean or messy or dis-organized. As a matter of fact, people who survive outside are some of the hardest working, most organized people I know.

In the end we are not asking for more politrickster fueled solutions, incarceration or navigation centers, we are asking, demanding, suggesting that we as poor peoples, landless peoples, homeless peoples be given the chance to build our own solutions to homelessness, communities like First We Came for the Homeless in Berkeley, Right2Survive in Oregon, like Homefulness in East Oakland. Because as I always say, change won’t come from a savior, a pimp or an institution. Change will only come from a poor people-led solution.

There will be a rally tomorrow, Tuesday, March 7, 11:30 a.m., on the steps of San Francisco City Hall and a special hearing at 12:00 p.m. on these violent sweeps of our unhoused bodies. Join us if you can.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is the author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights, and co-author of “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth,” just released on poorpress.net. To reach Tiny, go to her website, www.lisatinygraygarcia.com.