by Tiny, poverty skola, mama of Tiburcio, daughter of Dee
“They have shelters here …” Her voice was soft; she was looking down at her hands. Her eyes darted from me to the cement sidewalk she was sleeping on. “They aren’t bad or anything, but their rules are so strict that …”
She paused again to rub her legs. “It’s hard to be in them,” she whispered, trailing off. Her name was Sheila. She was houseless and one of our newest RoofLEssRadio reporters from the streets of Occupied Western Turtle Island the colonizers called Salt Lake City, Utah, home to the huge Mormon temple and all of their strange savior narratives and 21st century missions.
We houseless and formerly houseless indigenous youth and elders were there on our last day of what we called the Stolen Land-Hoarded Resources UnTour across occupied Western Turtle Island.
“We provide protection for the new frontier of discovery,” says a “tagline” on the wall of the Mormon temple. As we untoured and unwashed so-called Salt Lake City – so named because of its huge lake of natural salt now “owned” and commodified by CorpRape (corporate) entities, one of the many gifts of Turtle Island that lured the colonizers to steal and pillage this sacred land, we walked into the “HIStoric” Mormon complex.
There were multiple “taglines” like this one, romanticizing the violent lie of empty frontiers, protection and so-called discovery. Sculptures and images of the humble “pioneer” and the washed herstory of land theft already occupied, already inhabited everywhere. In all of these “ManUMeants” – my name for them – there was not even one mention of the Paiute, Dine, Shoshone, Arapaho, Cheyenne or Ute peoples who were already there, thriving, living, creating, building and existing before the Mormons, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans and pretty much every colonizer arrived to “save” them.
All of these pieces of colonial public relations were oddly backdropped with a Munsters-style temple that brought up horror movie daymares and signified a constant presence of colonial domination everywhere. KlanMarks, I call them, which is the subject of a new POOR press anthology we are writing and living called “KlanMarks and ManuUments, Unwashing Settler Colonial Lies Across Mama Earth – An UnTour Guide.”
“Half of my family are Mormons; they believe that you aren’t ‘human’ if you are melanated because you have been ‘marked’ by God.” Muteado Silencio, one of our POOR Magazine poverty, indigenous skolaz, prayer-bringers, co-builders and co-founders of Homefulness has direct experience with the Mormons, so it was especially strange to be there. He went on to explain that the missionary work of Mormons is all over the world and often includes “adopting” Brown children by Mormons to “save” them.
In addition to WeSearching – my name for our poor people-led research – for this new book, the points of these UnTours are to connect the dots of colonial genocide, land and culture theft, homelessness, poLice terror and Mama Earth’s destruction and to share the medicine of radical redistribution with wealth-hoarding inheritors and land-stealers so the LandBack and CultureBack movements of poor, indigenous and houseless peoples can connect to build their own movements like Homefulness and Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. Self-determined housing. Land and cultural reclamation solutions to our problems, built by us, for us.
“I’m scared to go in those places; it’s too much,” Roger, another RoofLessRadio contributor reported. The Salt Lake City shelter system was featured in a story by SF Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan as a “model” for San Francisco to follow in 2014 – and yet this poverty skola witnessed the streets of this city in 2021 filled with unhoused people, many of whom were hiding, dying of thirst or holding on by a thread, refusing to go into these amazing “shelters.”
The main issue that these RoofLess radio reporters called out were that these model shelters were filled with programs created by anti-social workers and case manglers, poltricksters and “executive directors” non-profiteers and “church” people.
The people who had, as my Mama Dee used to say, never missed a meal, or even if they did miss a meal, were bought and sold, pimped and played into a system of “non-profiteering” which is focused on “helping” us without hearing us – making money on our rehabilitation, caging, housing and fixing. Rarely, if ever, taking into account the system that led us to even be in that situation in the first place was the one they built.
Conversely, we as poverty skolaz, ourselves traumatized and trying to heal the houseless or formerly houseless, root our Homefulness projects in healing and constant LoveWork, knowing that merely “putting a roof on our trauma is just the beginning,” that our lives are actually rife with all the other remnants of krapitalist poverty, shame, racism, abuse, criminalization and violence.
“Sweeps are scheduled in this town literally three times a week and oftentimes more than that. We are working on every front to resist them, but they have increased now with the so-called opening back up, so what we are doing now is to figure out workarounds with people,” said Therese Howard from Denver Homeless Out Loud.
Youth and adult poverty skolaz Amir, Tibu, Muteado, myself and elder Elephant Council member Momii from POOR Magazine sat with Therese and Benjamin and other houseless and formerly houseless leaders and organizers with Denver Homeless Out Loud. While they spoke, we all reflected on the same violent sweeps happening in so-called Olympia, Wash., Oakland, San Francisco and Marin County – sweeps we resist, fight, scream about and stand against every day in the Bay.
Sweeps – the hygienic metaphors, like we are trash – aren’t a Bay Area thing or a California thing or West Coast thing. They are a United Snakes thing, used as the tool to eradicate, get rid and dispose of houseless people using many of the same early settler colonial laws that were used to incarcerate, silence and remove First Nations peoples from their own land.
“The next thing is the brownshirts, the private security, that the mayor has even signed onto,” added Benjamin. As Benjamin spoke, I was thinking, “From clean-teams to Cal-Trans, from Cob on Wood to Where do We Go Berkeley to the Poor People’s Army in Philly, it’s the same thing here and everywhere.” And as all of us houseless and poor people and our advocates say and have “proved” – as though it had to be proven – sweeps kill.
“Putting a roof on our trauma is just the beginning” – our lives are actually rife with all the other remnants of krapitalist poverty, shame, racism, abuse, criminalization and violence.
Denver Homeless Out Loud are warriors currently fighting a lawsuit along with comrades from the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). This killer violence against disabled, houseless elders and poor people is an epidemic and it is not just the poLice or the evil politricksters and CorpRape business interests. It’s also the so-called progressive legislators like we have in Oakland who voted unanimously for a “camping ban,” making it illegal to be anywhere in Oakland while houseless.
The Unhoused Bill of Rights
Sistar shero Cori Bush, the first congresswoman who was a houseless mama before she was voted into office, is badass and just released a bill of rights that would make it illegal to harass anyone who is sleeping outside. We know that WRAP tried to get that passed in California and it went down in a lengthy stupid poltrickster fight, so we wish her luck and love.
And, right as she was making a move to get the eviction moratorium saved in amerikkklan by sleeping on the Krapitol steps because Congress went on recess while people were facing mass homelessness, the City of Oakland went on recess too.
Instead of voting on the emergency ordinance that would have let our homeless peoples’ solution to homelessness we call Homefulness open up the four multi-family townhouses that it has taken us poor and houseless people 11 years to build because it’s so costly and hard for poor people to build our own solutions, but now sit vacant, because Oakland City Council took a vacation instead of hearing this housing emergency that so many of us are dealing with.
From colonizers to poLice
“I called 911 – I didn’t think they would kill my Sun, he was having a mental health crisis,” Lynn Eagle Feather cried as she spoke, a fierce First Nations warrior and boarding school survivor, taught and shared with us the tragic story of the murder of her Sun, Paul Castaway.
Lynn Eagle Feather first told her story to Lisa Ganser, a POOR Magazine poverty skola. Lynne made the connections with the brutality her family shared from her own violent life in the racist boarding school system to her ancestors’ murder in the Mankato Massacre of 38 Native American men ordered by the so-called good President Lincoln. She also, as an indigenous poor woman traumatized by the violence of krapitalism, was houseless in her own lands of origin for over three years and sees the ways all these issues are deeply connected and how our healing lies in our connecting up our struggles.
We held a ceremony at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in so-called Colorado – just one of so many sites of genocide in stolen Turtle Island – that we planned as one of the UnTour stops to connect the dots of washed, unSeen colonial genocide in herstory to now. It was a ceremony that could never be felt or described with mere colonial words, but was unspeakably powerFULL.
We had the blessing of Lynn Eagle Feather and another warrior, Ruby Left Hand Bull, both boarding school survivors, launching us with an altar and prayer songs in their traditions as well as support and love from members of the Denver Communists who support sistar Lynn and do so much truth work in those lands. This poverty skola also laid down prayer for all the warrior mamaz who, like Lynn and my own Mama Dee and myself, barely made it out alive of poverty, homelessness and trauma to even be here now fighting.
Gated communities that are never swept
“I’m here to share the medicine of Radical Redistribution and ComeUnity Reparations with people who have more homes than they can actually live in and more money than they can ever spend.” I stood at the entrance of a huge wrought iron automatic gate in the Cherry Hill Village area of Colorado.
Houses – if you could call them that – were larger than the eye could even see. Miles of stolen Mama Earth with nothing on them but private golf courses and driveways and stables and green manicured grass. There were only a few of these extreme wealth-hoarder mansions on every street off a road of the “gated” community of Cherry Hill, which wasn’t really gated, but they had their own poLice station, their own park, their own roads and their own signage.
“I’m here to share the medicine of Radical Redistribution and ComeUnity Reparations with people who have more homes than they can actually live in and more money than they can ever spend.”
No amount of wealth-hoarding surprises me anymore. This is the fifth year of these painful tours across Turtle Island where I share the concept of Radical Redistribution. We always get a police escort within seconds who usually realize they can’t arrest us even though they would like to. But this was up there next to Philadelphia’s Main Line, Bel Air and Tiburon in so-called Marin.
These are all colonial cities that, just like Denver, practice this violence called Sweeps: from the evil destruction of poor peoples’ boats in Marin and their peaceful encampments to the weaponized arrests of houseless people on Venice Beach last week; from the scheduled sweeps in Denver to People Cages – open air cages created for houseless people – in St. Petersburg, Fla.; from San Francisco under London Breed to the violence threatened against Cob on Wood right here in Oakland.
These wealth-hoarders are never approached to share these resources they continue to hoard. As a matter of fact, they are never even mentioned as a resource for people who have nothing.
This is why we say: It’s not a protest, it’s a sharing of a medicine to the disease of wealth-hoarding and land-stealing. Because we have all been lied to – including wealth-hoarders. But the only way we poor and houseless people were able to build Homefulness is though this medicine of Radical Redistribution and ComeUnity Reparations. We know that housed people and houseless people can actually collaborate, and my new hashtag #WeCanKeepUsHoused is real. It just takes wealth-hoarders to listen to poverty skolaz and stop the lie of “about us without us” – moves like Salt Lake City’s model that no one wants to be in.
Denver is a huge example of violent gentriFUKation. There are brand new condos and high rises springing up in every corner. There are multiplexes and strip malls and huge CorpRape malls and poLice stations and hipster bars and, just like San Francisco, in the devil-oper, starbux dream of “clean,” there really is no place for poor people.
It’s not shocking that the removal of houseless people is constant and violent and organized. But, lo and behold, just like every one of these colonial towns from Occupied Shinnecock Nation – aka the so-called Hamptons – to occupied Tongva land – aka LA – to San Francisco, there were neighborhoods hidden, places so gated you don’t even know they exist. No-one talks about them and they are never considered when discussing budget shortfalls and even so-called income inequality.
“The poLice come around here at least twice a day. And then a private mall security. We have to move all the time – we can usually sit here for maybe an hour, and then it’s arrest or harassment,” said Billie from so-called Denver.
The UnTour also included a visit to Amache, the site of a Japanese Concentration Camp. We were graciously given a tour by high school students in the area and the words and images were reminiscent of this plantation nation, full of colonial genocide, incarceration, arrest, death and removal. “My family were in this place,” said Momii Palapaz, an elder poverty skola who joined us on this UnTour and helped to steward us through this very difficult journey of tears and resistance.
“We have our own ways of healing and living and honoring our culture and Mother Earth.,” said elder medicine and prayer carrier Chief Lee Plenty Wolf to us gathered at the location of this year’s Sundance ceremony in Boulder, Colo. He was explaining how we as indigenous peoples have our own ceremonies and traditions that need to be returned to so we can heal ourselves.
This is why we do so much work on healing in all of our poor and indigenous people-led programs at POOR Magazine. It is complicated to actually MamaFest – as I call it – a poor people-led solution to poverty; it’s complicated to hold all that trauma, which doesn’t end just because you get a shelter bed or a pill or a roof.
These are the teachings we share and learn and live at Homefulness, and we’ll be inviting people into the upcoming Decolonization-DegentriFUKation Seminar at PeopleSkool on Aug. 28 and 29. It will be on Zoom and in person, for poverty skolaz and people with privileges. We are working with folks across Turtle Island to launch their own Homefulness – and, maybe, just maybe, the City of Oakland can just let us houseless people house houseless people. Homefulness.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, aka “povertyskola,” is a poet, teacher and the formerly houseless, incarcerated daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America” and “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth” and co-founder of Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness. Reach her at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com or @povertyskola on Twitter.