Reprinted from POOR Magazine https://www.poormagazine.org/post/decolonizing-homelessness
“A lot of us elders, disabled elders, who have been here for decades have been evicted and are now homeless,” said Jim Ayer one of many life-long 1st Nations residents of the Winnemucca Indian Colony which was established by the US settler government in 1917 for ‘homeless indians.’
The Winnemucca tragedy, which ended in the eviction of scores of long-time elder indigenous residents, is sickeningly ironic as the so-called colony is on land already stolen from First Nations peoples to make them ‘homeless’ in the first place, and now in the 21st century, indigenous peoples from Turtle Island in many settler towns make up the majority of the unhoused population in their community.
“Two hundred years ago, before colonization, there wasn’t even a concept of homelessness,” said Corrina Gould, talking chief and spokesperson of the confederated villages of Lisjan Ohlone and co-founder of the Sogorea Te Land Trust, at a powerful shellmound to shellmound walk from the over 5,000 year old shellmound in West Berkeley to the centuries old shellmound in Emeryville which the settlers and CorpRapeshuns turned into a mall.
Poverty has been a consumer product of krapitalism since the settlers first came here. As a matter of fact, poverty and disability was a crime in all the countries the settlers came from.
SO WHERE DID HOMELESSNESS COME FROM?
The origins of homelessness are not because of lack of rent control, redlining, violence, trauma or profiling, ableism, racism, eviction and gentriFUKation, as many 21st century researchers will tell you. Those are most definitely what has catapulted homelessness to terrifying epidemic levels. But these are not its roots, and homelessness as we now experience it could not have taken hold had it not been for the original theft of Turtle Island, implementation of the deep Settler lie of private property to launch the real eSnake speculative industry, and a multitude of extractive industries set up because of that original theft for profit, extraction and colonization.
“I’ve been staying under the 101 offramp on and off for the last five years and then one day, they came and took all my belongings and threatened me with with guns if I didn’t leave,” said Rogelio G, an elder migrante houseless relative from Michoacan, Mexico, now residing houseless in San Francisco.
Clearly describing the colonial origins of homelessness enables us to clarify what we are fighting against and fighting for, while we recognize the violence of homelessness, including death from exposure, sweeps and poLice terror. The criminal acts—called sweeps—against houseless people’s bodies are increasing from Seattle to San Francisco and they are directly tied to the commodification and decolonization of Mama Earth.
Settler politricksters want us to be confused so we don’t question, upset and resist the original crime. So we don’t all recognize our deep connections to each other’s struggles as houseless people, Black, Brown, Indigenous, migrante and even po’ Wites—people I call broken settlers.
Instead, we demand land from systems put in place by the settler government that will never give us land because it was taken for the sole purpose of profit. We demand actual affordable housing, which will never happen because then no one would make money off that housing. We demand to not be poLiced and incarcerated for sitting, standing, walking, sleeping on Mama Earth without paying ground rent, which will never happen because we are taking up space without paying for it, and therefore no one is making any money on the spaces we inhabit—not to mention our mere presence “lowering property values” as we poor people are told by scamlords, realEsnakes and racist, classist neighbors all the time.
So as we resist the onslaught of violent criminalization and sweeps against our unhoused bodies all across this occupied land, we need to incorporate the larger demand of decolonization. It’s not enough to fight against criminalization, we need to fight against the settler lie of ownership of mama earth itself.
OWNERSHIP OF MAMA EARTH IS A LIE
Well technically it’s not a lie, because ownership of mama earth happens everyday, everywhere, and in occupied Turtle Island (aka the U.S.) it is the most “solid” krapitalist investment there is, as reported by ekkkonomists constantly. But all indigenous peoples and ancestors across Mama Earth will tell you Mama Earth has never been, is not now, and never will be for sale. Selling, renting, profiting and extracting from her and off of her is the roots of most colonial terror we deal with today, including poLice terror, gentriFUKation, displacement and eviction violence, and of course the endless laws created to criminalize poor and disabled people from being alive on her without paying money to someone, AKA rent.
The settler colonial narrative of ownership began way back with the feudal societies creating papers and documents asserting that they owned indigenous people’s lands of origin in Europe, launching the idea of the landed gentry—the roots of gentriFUkation— and then suddenly charging people rent for the lands they had peacefully stewarded for centuries. This led to massive evictions and huge and deadly exoduses by displaced people.
Centuries later, this genocidal style of land removal and land theft was being carried out across the ocean as the same wealthy slave and land-owner class came here to suddenly “own” Turtle Island.
It was also continuing back in Europe. One of the most famous examples was the wrongly named potato famine. It should have been called the scamlord famine because what is rarely talked about is it led to the eviction of literally hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples from their lands. At those times, just like now, it mattered not if you were an elder, disabled, sick or a child, if you were in the way of profiting off of rent you were evicted. Period. Thrown on the street with the clear knowledge you might die. Historians and others have long debated the exact number of people who were evicted during these famine years, with some estimates suggesting between 250,000 and 500,000 families were removed.
The famine evictions were actually part of the second wave of deadly evictions—preceded by Pauper laws, which of course were the precursor for the anti-poor people and anti-houseless people laws we have today in the United Snakes. Famine era evictions occurred in four great waves. Firstly, following the introduction of the Irish Poor Law Act in 1838, landlords began to remove tenants, ushering them to the newly created workhouse system where they were somebody else’s problem.
And then of course all these lies—I mean laws—led to the Ugly Laws and the criminalization of being disabled and poor in public, which was just another way to profit off of poor people’s bodies by throwing them in jail or settlement houses—early forms of shelters which were supported by the settler governments again.
THE PUBLIC RELATIONS PROJECT CALLED PARKS
At the turn of the century, as concerns about the impacts of development grew and illegal land use by corporations expanded, a new idea emerged. A number of leaders including President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and Gifford Pinchot, the fourth first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, began to advocate for some of the lands in the public domain to be set aside for the use and enjoyment of all people.
These settler heroes rode in with the idea of National Parkkks, the Forest Service, and the equally CONfusing lie of public land to wash their genocide, land theft, slaughter and extraction with a veneer
of public good. They organized to grab massive areas of land, supposedly for the public good, but this was actually a strategy to steal even more land from indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, denying them access to their homelands and banning them from hunting, fishing, and gathering on these settlements.
The funny not funny thing about parks in today’s reality is that some houseless folks hide and sleep and live in parks like me and my mama used to do, but god forbid don’t get caught by the park poLice who will not only tell you to move but also call the cops, CPS, DPW, CalTrans and any other acronym state agencies on you to sweep us like we are trash.
Similarly, our comrades at the Self-Help Hunger program (SHHP) transformed a pocket park, supposed public land, into a food giveaway, love and healing space. But they were then constantly harassed for using public land for the public good as founder Auntie Frances often beautifully says.
THE VIOLENCE OF HOMELESSNESS ITSELF AND ITS CONNECTION TO COLONIZATION
Strangely, there is a misconception that movements for Black Land, First Nations Land Back, and homelessness are separate. They are actually entwined in more ways than one. In many settler towns across Turtle Island, like so- called Bellingham and Seattle, the largest population of houseless people are in fact First Nations peoples of that land. In Oakland, like in so many settler cities, the largest population of unhoused peoples are Black. And in many cities, the broken settlers—poor wite people—are also huge populations of houseless people. Our lives intersect on the street, with all of our messiness, trauma and struggle. And that is why the roots of this krapitalist disease called “ownership” must be dissected and seen and decolonized.
“Do you see that houseless mama and daughter sleeping in a tent, that’s cause we don’t have money for the rent?” – Povertyskola
There are many reasons we got here—not the least of which is systemic racism, wite supremacy, fake-ass skool profiling, poLice terror, abuse, domestic violence and more trauma than can fill a settler dam—but the thing in this society that brings us all together and democratizes our struggle is the inability to function within a system that puts a price tag on the Mama Earth below our feet—or our tent, to be exact. It is our inability to pay rent. Even if we lose our places because we had to flee an abusive partner, lost our job, got in a struggle with addiction, can’t take the pain inside our heads, we are never able to get back in.
Supervisor Matt Haney of San Francisco just proposed new legislation that I thought was interesting. He proposed we cap the security deposit that scamlords charge at the equivalent of one month’s rent. As it is now, scamlords can charge prospective tenants 3 or more month’s rent just to get inside. Not to mention the credit score check and job requirements that no one low to no-income or houseless can ever attain. But the oddest thing to me was that the example given in the report was a $5,000 per month
2 bedroom apartment. Who can afford $5,000 per month in the first place, even if we only have to pay one month’s rent deposit?
Back in the day when me and mama were houseless, she would insist that my 12-year-old self would don the rent starter suit and leverage my skin privilege to lie to scamlords about my job, credit, age and ability to pay exorbitant rents. Racism is alive and well in the United Snakkkes so they would often believe me instead of my single, disabled mama of color, when I said I made ridiculous sums of money and had all kinds of credit. The sad part is within months no matter how hard we worked we couldn’t keep up the rent. We worked really hard all the time at a micro-business, and the rent at that time was between $800-1100 per month for studios and one bedrooms in Oakland and San Francisco.
In the end, we always landed outside. Again.
OWNERSHIP IS NOT YOUR TICKET OUT OF POVERTY
In the process of decolonizing our minds from ownership, there remains the reality that ownership is told and sold to poor people as the way to make it out of grinding poverty. We are sent to workshops and bombarded with ads about how buying is surviving. I know this is true and I ain’t hating no one that got their little piece of Mama Earth. But I also know that the system is set up to steal poor peoples land and homes. This is the story of Brokin Cloud, an afro- indigenous elder who was on the street for 15 years after his aunty lost the house she worked her whole life to buy, behind an unpaid tax lien. His and his aunty’s spirits were destroyed by all that and he was called service resistant by anti-social workers and case manglers. He is now finally home-FULL, in his rent-free home at Homefulness.
Not to mention that thousands of elders are coldly and violently evicted, due to the viciousness of gentriFUKation, to their death, as POOR Magazine has reported for years. Eviction is Elder Abuse was a campaign POOR Magazine launched and was supported by many other organizations but was shot down by then District Attorney George Gascon.
Finally, our homelessness and our homefulness is absolutely connected to our collective liberation and Mama Earth’s decolonization, and this story is a plea to other povertyskolaz and badass organizers to join POOR Magazine in recognizing that homelessness is much deeper than we have been fighting for and so our fight and resistance must be rooted in Mama Earth’s beautiful soil. Our guides and our leaders must be First Nations and Indigenous ancestors and their descendents from Huchuin to Palestine from West Papua to Puerto Rico. Together we can UnSell and Unsettle Mama Earth for her and all of us.
Tiny is the daughter of Dee, povertyskola co-founder /visionary of POOR Magazine and Homefulness.