Dear Mr. Benioff, no matter how many times you ‘study’ me it doesn’t get me a home

Tiny’s sun Tibu and a friend from Deecolonize Academy build benches at Homefulness. While billionaire Marc Benioff is understandably proud of having built the tallest building in San Francisco, formerly unhoused people are just as proud to be building their own homes – with love. – Photo: Poor News Network

by Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia, Poor Magazine

A few months ago, you announced the launch of a $30 million study of homelessness: Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative. As you launch yet another study, we as poor and houseless people at POOR Magazine implemented a solution, a homeless and poor people’s solution to homelessness, that actually works.

A solution already being built by the people impacted first and worst by so many failed policies and politricks, which we indigenous, immigrant, criminalized, disabled and houseless people are currently building in Deep East Ohlone Lisjan land (aka Oakland) with spiritual guidance from First Nations peoples, on a small parcel of Mama Earth. A small parcel which we have “purchased” with radically redistributed resources from folks we have taught in a poor people-led school called PeopleSkool who have hoarded, inherited and/or occupied dollars and resources.

A small parcel of Mama Earth which we are working to spiritually and legally un-sell, steward and respect off of the grid of more speculation and destruction of our Mama (Earth) because if we stopped buying and selling Mama Earth homelessness would end.

And so POOR Magazine and Homefulness would like to propose to you to redistribute $1 million of that $30 million to build the second in a series of Homefulness permanent land liberation and housing and healing projects modeled after the one we are currently building .

We have already broken ground on what will ultimately become 13 units of housing. We already have the permits, the zoning and planning approval, the structures, a liberation school for homeless youth, a radio station and a “sliding scale cafe” and, in Phase 5, already house four houseless families, children and elders – myself and my sun are one of the newly housed families. And this is only in Phase 5. We only have three more phases to complete this herstoric project. We are less than $200,000 from this goal.

To keep the proposed solution within the constraints of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, we can frame it as a solution-based study, “The Impact of Housing on Homeless People,” which includes findings, recommendations and an actual solution, rather than just more talk and discourse and proposals and demonstrations and grants while unhoused people die on the streets.

This photo and caption were used by the San Jose Mercury News to illustrate their story headlined, “Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff donates $30 million to study homelessness”: “Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff speaks during the grand opening of the Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, May 22, 2018.” – Photo: Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

The Transbay Terminal eviction of houseless people nine years ago

I only saw the sheen of the multiple hefty bags strapped to his back and head from behind the thick glass doors. It was Jose F, a houseless elder who slept in the ancient marbled Transbay Terminal. Small tears trickled down his cheek mostly obscured by the corner of the plastic bag that rested on his face. Jose F didn’t speak or cry or scream or yell. He didn’t fight or demand, or even ask. He just stood there in absolute terror as the CalTrans workers hovered near shouting at him to “clear the building NOW!”

Things happened very fast and yet somehow so painfully slow that night in BlackAugust nine years ago – 50,000 watt lights bored down on the vast ground floor of the Transbay Terminal, a huge drill-crane whirred, grinding and burrowing into the marble surface in a terrifying volcano of construction and destruction. In the middle of all of this, the last 125 unhoused folks who were regular residents of the building hid in the corners of benches, behind doors, under tables and in the back of empty store fronts inside the vast ocean-like space.

At the strike of 11 p.m., the construction and CalTrans workers made their final call. Everyone must leave. I was still coaxing Jose and Jack and Annie and Miss Melissa and so many more to consider leaving before the kkkops and anti-social workers arrived on the scene to forcefully evict or incarcerate them. But most people had become so paralyzed with absolute terror that they were unable to move, much less speak or leave the building.

Nine years, scores of elders abused and killed by eviction, thousands of unhoused San Francisco residents later, not to mention hundreds of sweeps of belongings and people, tent seizures, more anti-poor people laws, and the death by police murder and exposure of hundreds of unhoused elders we have now come to what I call #StatesOfEmergency.

With all due respect, how is a $30 million study on homelessness even close to an answer? A study commissioned by you, Mr. Benioff.

You, the owner of a multi-million dollar tech firm which has engaged with Customs and Border Enforcement (CPB) that causes the detention, caging and death of houseless refugee children, you, the owner of the aforementioned Transbay Terminal, which used to provide safe, warm shelter for over a hundred unhoused people, and you, the co-sponsor of Prop C, a really excellent, poverty skola led piece of legislation.

I write this letter to you not as an advocate, activist or revolutionary, but as a child of a houseless, disabled mama who spent my childhood from 11-18 as a homeless young person and then later as an adult. And, even after all the work I have done, ended up houseless again due to the violent gentrificaiton of San Francisco, resulting in becoming houseless again with my 5-year-old sun after receiving a $700 rent increase in one month.

From the age of 11, I watched people counting, surveying and studying us and yet that would never lead to us getting housed. Not only were we studied, counted, researched and surveyed, we were also hated, police harassed, profiled, cited and later, when I became 18, incarcerated for the act of sleeping in our own car and on the street because, as I am sure you are well aware, there are and always have been multiple laws on the books to criminalize the act of being unhoused, which is why my fellow unhoused sister-mamas decided we had to bring our vision alive – a homeless, landless peoples’ self-determined solution to homelessness – a solution we call Homefulness.

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

The Homefulness family gathers – the people who are building Homefulness and living there already or hoping to soon.

This study, which, no matter how it’s described, is still just a study, has been executed by academia and government, NGOs, public health agencies and non-profits, leaving us still in a homeless crisis.

And so far, from the first public event, seems like a $30 million public relations campaign to talk about homelessness as a “problem” without talking with or hearing from unhoused, impacted people – more of what I call, about us without us. While the reality is affordable housing has never been affordable, shelters and sweeps and courts and “clean-ups” and surveys and trials, and more panels and more studies and podcasts and then more panels gets us nothing but more salaries for more pundits and talkers and poltricksters and alibis and laws and clean-ups – hygenic metaphors – of our unhoused bodies.

These solutions and work are a template for an ancient and yet new way of working, living and caring for MamaEarth and her earth’s peoples. This medicine flows from the recently released book, “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth,” and coincides with the launch of the Bank of Come-Unity Reparations and the Tech Reparations Fund, which asks tech industries like Salesforce to redistribute 10-15 percent of their profits to build the equity of unhoused Bay Area residents whose homes have been lost in the last five-10-year tech boom and help people either stay in their existent homes and neighborhoods or help to build more Homefulness projects, which provide permanent housing for themselves, their families and their families’ families.

Homefulness is one of a very few homeless, landless, indigenous people-led movements across Mama Earth reclaiming stolen and occupied land for poor and houseless people. These are already tried and true ideas gifted to us from our ancestors. We don’t need more studies to “prove” them.

Projects like MTBI from Middle Tennessee that supports the Sojourner Black land reclamation project; and IDA, a QTPOC-led land liberation project; First They Came for the Homeless in Berkeley, claiming safe ground in public that isn’t really public; the Shackdwellers Union in South Africa, built for and by houseless South African youth and elders; the Sogorea Te Land Trust in Oakland, the first Native woman-owned land trust, reclaiming land for indigenous ceremony and healing. We don’t need to study ourselves; we know what works and are manifesting it.

In the end, Mr. Benioff, perhaps you like most people think the answer is only what seems safe and understandable and maybe you like most people only believe people with letters after they names and paper claiming their “scholarship” and expertise are the ones to be listened to and believed. But those of us who have experienced the violence of homelessness and poverty, who call ourselves “poverty scholars” in one of the richest cities in the world, do actually have ideas, solutions and answers and are actually doing them.

Sincerely.

Tiny @povertyskola (Twitter)

What’s next?

Join us on Thursday, Oct. 31, for our next Stolen Land, Hoarded Resources Tour through Tech. We’ll be meeting at First and Mission at 1 p.m. in the Occupied Village of Yelamu, aka San Francisco.

To read more about Homefulness, go to www.poormagazine.org/homefulness. To contact Tiny, go to her website at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or email poormag@gmail.com.