by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Homeless people are already invisible in a capitalist society, because we are programmed to see homelessness as being a result of personal failure instead of systematic tyranny and neglect. But there is an uncounted Black homeless population that is living in cars, hotels, and hopping from couch to couch – negative head nods, a missed check and a towed car away from sleeping outside.
Speech after speech, night after night, politicians are all over the news talking about a new multi-million dollar proposition to defeat homelessness in one of the major epicenters of this national crisis, the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile the epidemic is spreading at a phenomenal rate, reflecting the economic downturn in the economy in recent years.
Alongside the Westfield Mall closing in downtown San Francisco, Old Navy, AmazonGo, Saks Off Fifth, Anthropologie and Office Depot have announced that they will be closing their storefronts in the area. The Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Parc 55, major hotels in the city, are scheduled to also close their doors for good soon, taking with them 3,000 hotel rooms and placing the blame on the slow recovery of tourism after the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown. Tourist dollars are a major staple in the local San Francisco economy.
With all of that real estate and economic decline on the horizon, housing in San Francisco and all over the Bay is still scarce. Where does the average Black man go to get help with affordable housing, who is not a youth, is not in recovery, isn’t fresh out of prison, and isn’t gay? I named those categories because from my observation those are the groups that can get the most help through non-profit programs at this given time. Where are all the Black landlords who are willing to rent to Black men who are willing to pay?
I, JR Valrey, have been experiencing housing instability in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation, for five years. I lived in my car in the Fillmore for a year back in 2018-2019. All of this happened because I was unfairly evicted by a landlord who claimed that he did not receive my rent check, although I gave it to him on time.
I believe his real motivation for unfairly evicting me was that he wanted to raise the rent, and, because of how long I lived in the apartment, I was protected from significant rent increases. The landlord had to find a way to get me out so that he could get the ever increasing market rate for his apartment without all of the legalities of dealing with Oakland’s rent control policy that allowed rent increases of 2% at that time.
I took the landlord to court and lost. For anyone who has been to or witnessed eviction court, the court seems to be lined up to protect the landlord.
In 2019, my ailing grandfather told me to come stay with him while I was dealing with the eviction on my record and not being able to get an apartment in my name. I lived with him off and on until he passed in April of this year. Since then, I have lived in and out of motels.
Although apartments have “for rent” signs outside on the lawns, when I call the number, either no one responds to my message or someone takes the message and no one calls back to let me know how I can apply for the apartment. I can’t imagine that all of these corporate realtors renting apartments are looking my name up and seeing an eviction on my record before they initially answer my call. At the same time, I do not know if this is a personal issue, a race issue, a class issue or a mixture of the three.
Now I need to stress that this isn’t an issue of money. I have a great job as the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View, yet neither status nor money matters when you are a Black man with a proverbial strike looking for housing, which in my case is my eviction. How many Black men are in my same position dealing with housing instability but continuing to struggle to survive in the Bay because this is where their families are based and this is where they make a living?
At least half of the Black men that I know living in San Francisco, Oakland and Vallejo are facing housing instability. Where is the clarion call in the Black community to help Black men? Where are the non-profits that are getting millions of dollars in the Bay Area to work on the homeless issue?
If you are out there, we desperately need you. Contact me through email so that we can do a story and share the information.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.