The exceptional hobo: The violence of homeless exceptionalism in stolen land

Houseless-youth-workshop-POOR-Magazine-Bellingham-Washington-by-Tiny-2022, The exceptional hobo: The violence of homeless exceptionalism in stolen land, Culture Currents
Povertyskolaz houseless youth workshop in Bellingham, Wash. – Photo: Tiny Gray-Garcia

by Tiny Gray-Garcia, POOR Magazine, @povertyskola

“There are many things that I, a poverty scholar, can teach you, but, in reality, no more or less than any of the poverty skolaz you see – or more likely don’t see – every day in your cleaned-up, cleaned-out, gentrified and redeveloped cities, neighborhoods, streets and parks. Houseless families, poor youth of color, migrant workers, panhandlers, sex workers; sitting, dwelling, camping, soliciting work, convening. I am them, they are me,” states an excerpt from “Poverty Scholarship – Poor People-Led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth.

“But you are different, Tiny.” These words of homeless exceptionalism were told to me conspiratorially by an elder with race, class and formal education privilege. That comment followed her original comment about how it didn’t feel “strategic” to redistribute some of her billions of hoarded blood-stained dollars to houseless people trying to build our own solutions to homelessness.

The fetishizing, exceptionalizing, othering and silencing of poor people happens in many ways and constantly. From akkkademia to non-profiteering to politricking. The root begins by othering us into things, not humans. The “homeless problem,” the “illegals,” the criminals, the drug addicts, the bums, “those people.” And then it gets even more coded: that’s a “bad” area; that’s a “dangerous” neighborhood. Those people are dirty, messy, unsafe, scary, trash and on and on.

When me and my mama spent our lives houseless on the streets of LA, Frisco, Oakland and Berkeley, sleeping in bus shelters, park benches, shelter beds and the back seats of cars if we were lucky enough to have one, we were consistently referred to by poLice, security guards, anti-social workers, media and passers-by as mere objects, things, a problem, a burden, a mess and eyesore, equivalent to a paper cup or plastic fork. Adjectives like dirty, messy, crazy and eyesore were commonly used, talking about us without us right while we were there sharing the same bus bench, park, street or neighborhood.

People like us, who are trying to live while houseless, are so completely dehumanized that we are actually not seen. Similarly, our multitude of reasons, problems, struggles, eccentricities, needs, thoughts, issues, medical and psychological health are silenced and suppressed, because we are never considered the same as other humans. In this and other related forms of violent othering, society at large engages and enables our collective erasure, criminalization and death.

“Right now I’m staying by the river, but they have been doing daily sweeps so not sure how long i’ll last here,” said one of the lead povertyskolaz in the Pacific Northwest Turtle Island, who was part of the core group to launch their own Homefulness project in that territory. 

Once you have taken the humanity from a people, you never have to “actually” listen to them.

We povertyskolaz, working closely with new solidarity family – housed people with race and class privilege who graduate from the Decolonizaiton/gentriFIcation seminar at PeopleSkool – immediately worked on getting them and others into motels for several weeks until we ran out of redistributed resources, which is when, in a roundabout way, we ended up in the aforementioned “strategic conversation.”

Once you turn people into a thing, they/we are now monochromatic, only capable of existing in one reality, a reality which has nothing to do with our humanity. It has to do with our housing, our circumstances, our struggle, our access to enough blood-stained dollars to pay the exorbitant krapitalist lie called rent. Our depression, our ability to hold down a job, our tolerance or lack thereof of more racist and classist profiling on a daily basis, our access to decent and actual healing-care not poor people hellth-care,and on and on into all the horrors of a life lived in isolation, homelessness, criminalization and poverty. 

But contrary to your judgemental gaze, houseless people are NOT a monolith, we are not one color or age or culture or speak one language. We are not all without a roof because of the same reasons. And just like you, the housed, we are from all different parts of life, with different interests, and talents, and life-styles and struggles. And just like you, the housed, our homelessness, just like your homefulness, doesn’t define us as humans. 

But once you have taken the humanity from a people, you never have to “actually” listen to them, you can create endless surveys and studies and decisions and laws and projects and media stories and research books about us without us. 

In addition, from the perspective of the building, writing, creating and visioning of self-determined movements like Homefulness – which is in fact, led by us for us houseless peoples, with redistributed resources from wealth-hoarders and land stealers – it is absolutely necessary that our struggles with addiction, loss, depression, incarceration, violence and health not be of your concern. We are people who have suffered multiple forms of oppression and we are currently without a roof. 

What is important is that we become stabilized, with motel rooms, phones, apartments or temporary shelter while we are visioning, creating, dreaming and living into the long-term work of creating our own solutions. In other words, before we can write our homes with a poem (as I often say), and commit to a possible 10-year-long struggle for self-determined land liberation, we need to have some stability, some normalcy. We need to become homeful. 

That does not mean we no longer “qualify” to speak as houseless povertyskolaz, to work on the urgent work of liberating Mama Earth so more of our fellow in struggle peoples don’t have to deal with the krapitalist violence of homelessness and so more of Mama Earth is NEVER sold. 

But the slippery slope of homeless exceptionalism has people silencing our voices when we are in struggle and then fetishizing our poverty about us without us, then viewing us no longer a “problem” once we are sort-of housed. 

We have jumped through more hoops than an abused lion in a circus.

Our messages might not be all tied up in a politically conscious bow, said exactly right for a hashtag; our problems, trauma and decisions might not be the best or most “prudent” or strategic, but that has NOTHING to do with our vision or commitment. Just like it doesn’t with anyone, it just might not be apparent to your housed eyes. 

This is why we po folks at POOR Magazine launched the Bank of ComeUnity Reparations Po Mamaz Reparations Fund, The Homefulness Hotel Fund and Po Mamaz Hooptie Fund and more. These poverty scholarship-informed ideas and solutions of radical and immediate resource redistribution are not rooted in how well a person filled out an application or what lottery number they pulled or how many proof of income forms they completed or how consistent they are with their treatment or how on time they are with their appointments or how sober they are. 

They are based on what they need to live – even, on what they need to thrive. 

Why can’t poor people of color who have never traveled, travel? Why can’t poor people who are driving around in a hooptie that breaks down all the time have a car that actually works, a bed that’s actually comfortable, a computer that actually functions? Why can’t they have what everyone has access to? 

We have jumped through more hoops than an abused lion in a circus. How many times do we need to prove to you that we need access to basic human rights and life. 

In the end, from a poverty scholarship-informed perspective, the “judgment” about who or what really is in more dire need is just more of those violent scarcity hoops, set up to support a few people and leave the rest to become fodder for a poLice state, false borders, gentriFUKed communities, violent sweeps, eviction and carceral system of cages.

This is what we mean by poverty scholarship – which is based on a textbook of the same name we poor peoples created – but it requires people with privilege who tend to veer toward savioring and soft-judging to break-free from this belief that they have ANY knowledge that is useful about us without us, and to suspend that point of view completely. 

This is what Mama Dee and Wade Nobles teach on with the “transubstantive error” – in chapter 6 of “Poverty Scholarship” – which is rooted in Black psychology, based on the idea that middle-class wite people and even middle class POC are making decisions about our housing, our children, our lives and how much of their resources they are willing to distribute depending on how much we prove to them that we are, in fact, ready or fit for resources. 

Laure-McElroy-in-the-play-‘WelfareQUEENS-by-Tiny, The exceptional hobo: The violence of homeless exceptionalism in stolen land, Culture Currents
Laure McElroy, presente! Laure was a povertyskola and co-founder of Homefulness, in the play “WelfareQUEENS” – a POOR Magazine production by Tiny Gray-Garcia. 

This means we are still on the street and by the river, we are still being swept and evicted and harassed and most of the time the wait kills us, like it did co-founders/co-teachers of Homefulness, Laure McElroy and Kathy Galves. 

Kathy-Galvz-Homefulness-by-Tiny, The exceptional hobo: The violence of homeless exceptionalism in stolen land, Culture Currents
Kathy Galvez, houseless povertyskola and co-founder of Homefulness, rest in paradise.

Follow tiny @povertyskola on twitter or IG or go to her website at Get books and curriculum from all of the povertyskolaz at POOR Magazine at

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 or @povertyskola on Twitter. Get books and curriculum from all of the povertyskolaz at POOR Magazine at