The First Annual Tenant Convention: Voices of Poverty Scholars


root - Posted on 28 May 2007

Community and poverty scholars join to discuss tenant rights, police brutality and the criminalization of poverty at the first tenant convention

Marlon Crump Poverty Scholar POOR News Network
Wednesday, December 20, 2006;

'It is literally a crime to be poor in this country, the United States of America.' Rene Saucedo's words reverberated across the auditorium, at the First Annual Tenant Convention, held in November at the Luna Sea Theater. Saucedo's words are all too familiar for those of us who are living poor in this country.

One of the most important goals, for tenants, like myself, was to be heard. Many issues were raised at the Convention including issues around tenant rights, senior and disabled rights, and the criminalization of poverty.

I had been a tenant at the All Star Hotel only a little over a month when my room was invaded and intruded by twelve armed police officers. The All Star is a Single Room Occupancy Hotel (SRO) or as Tiny from POOR Magazine calls them, Poor People Housing. In October of 2005 a group of armed police, coercing a key from management, came through my door in the middle of the night with guns aimed to fire. The police officers wrongly accused me of a robbery I did not commit. I am still reeling from the aftershock of this event, and trying to bring these officers to court. This horrible encounter with the SFPD has led me on a struggle to fight injustice personally, as well as on a greater level within the community of San Francisco.

As I walked towards the Luna Sea Theater I thought about the many Police Commission hearings I have attended. I thought about my involvement in the Idriss Stelley Foundation (ISF), and the role ISF’s Director, Mesha Monge-Irrizary, has had in my life. Mesha Monge-Irrizary has been an important part of my life as my friend, collaborator, and strong supporter of my work and my mental well being. I thought about the hard work myself, Tony Robles, Christina Olauge, and Susan Marsh of the Mission SRO Collaborative have done to make this day come together.

As I entered the auditorium, Matt Gonzalez was just beginning his speech. He said, "The Green Party has never been given the political clout or even the opportunity to serve the needs of the United States Citizens by taking majority in Congress. If they were ever given the chance, the party would surely make some changes in the economy beneficial towards those that struggle." As Gonzalez stepped down from the podium he was greeted by a thunderous applause.

One tenant, who spoke during the first panel titled "Know Your Rights," said, "Landlords seem to hate the fact that a tenant can run to advocate organizations" and they really hate it when members and advocates come onto the premises making inquiries about a violation of their tenant's rights."

Mario Odema from the Department of Public Health brought up the issue of bedbugs. Bedbug infestation is a major health issue in San Francisco. Bedbugs live in nearly every low-income residential hotel and even in expensive hotels. I myself have been unfortunately acquainted with bedbugs. For two days I felt those bedbugs biting my body as I tried to sleep. On the third day I informed my landlord of the problem. He immediately got involved and brought pest control. It took two insect bombing applications to rid them and stop them from reproducing and populating my room. I look back jokingly and think thankfully my blood was only spilled by bedbugs and not by bugs dressed in blue.

Renee Saucedo opened the panel I facilitated, which was called, "The Criminalization of Poverty" Saucedo captured everyone's attention with the vibrant velocity and passion in her voice. Saucedo touched upon some of the current legislation in Congress and explained how there are direct acts of aggression against those who live in poverty, and particularly against undocumented immigrants.

Petra DeJesus from the San Francisco Police Commission said the SFPD has been prohibited from engaging in the debate around illegal immigration. DeJesus and the rest of the San Francisco Police Commission are working towards making major changes in the way that the SFPD interact with the larger San Francisco community. DeJesus also stated the Police Commission's willingness to work in conjunction with the community and community organizations in resolving problems within San Francisco's neighborhoods.

Bruce Allison, who is a former SRO tenant, asked, "Why can't an SRO tenant get involved in the training of a police cadet, including trainings at the sensitivity levels?"

Many of us agreed that more citizens should be able to take part in the training of law enforcement from a moral and mental health perspective. Police officers should know the people of San Francisco; especially those of us who are living in poverty, are the same people the SFPD so easily and quickly respond to with violence and abuse.

Myself, along with many of the other tenants who attended the convention have experienced or witnessed abuse by police officers and landlords.

One tenant brought up the issue of police being brought in too often and too quickly when any conflict occurs in low-income buildings or SROs, especially when it concerns evictions. Christina Olague, from the Mission SRO Collaborative recalled an incident at the El Captain Hotel, where a dispute occurred between the landlord and a tenant.

The landlord tried to prevent the tenant from having an overnight guest. The landlord allowed the overnight guest to stay and then proceeded to call the police to have the guest removed from the premises.

My experience in October of last year of having twelve armed police officers barging into my room has sent me on a path searching to expose and stop the criminalization of poverty. Since November of last year I have rarely missed a Police Commission meeting. The mere fact of showing up at the Commission is one way to start to bring police accountability.

One of the other speakers was Lisa "Tiny" Gray-Garcia. Tiny has greatly helped me resurface my confidence as a writer, journalist, and creative person. She continues to be a source of much support. Tiny is forever an inspiration to keep doing good work and to keep resisting. Tiny and her mom, Mama Dee founded POOR News Network. For over a decade POOR has been working towards educating people living in poverty, and giving the voice of Poverty Scholars an outlet.

Tiny spoke at the convention. Her voice demanded the attention of everyone present. She said, "Listen to the Tenant Scholars, the Poverty Scholars. They are the ones who need to guide the Police Commissions, and policy proposals." Tiny's voice echoed through the building. The hope of the convention was, as Tiny called for, to bring our voice, as Poverty Scholars and Tenant Scholars out into the open.

As Poverty Scholars and Tenant Scholars we all have powerful voices and are all witnesses to the criminalization of poverty. It is time we speak out.

In the words of one Poverty Hero and Poverty Scholar, "Mama" Dee, "We have used what little resources we have to reach out and help other people like ourselves. Some say that just "surviving" is a form of resistance, but while it is occurring it does not feel like resistance inside. The Western culture in which we have been raised and it's Euro-centric values, in our opinion do not translate well for poor people."-------- Dee "Mama" Gray

Resource List

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:

As tenants, and as residents of the city of San Francisco we have rights, Constitutional Rights, and rights we deserve. As myself and many other tenants have experienced and seen, we must not only be aware of our rights, but we must demand them. As residents and tenants we must see to it that action is taken on our behalf.

-Tenants have the right to object when they feel their rights are being violated.

-Tenants should bring all health violations to the attention of the landlords and if need be directly to the Department of Health

-Retaliation by police officers or landlords to those making complaints is illegal and thus subject for court appeal.

-Under the Uniform Visitor Hotel Policy every SRO tenant has the right to at least eight overnight guests a month.

Resources: Organizations and Speakers

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco (HRC),
Sara Shortt,
427 South Van Ness, SF, CA
Phone: (415) 703-8644,
email: info@hrcsf.org_,
URL: www.hrcsf.org

Department of Public Health (DPH)
Mario Odema,
URL: dphsf.ca.us

Saint Peter's Housing Committee
Lupe Arriola,
474 Valencia St., Suite 156, SF, CA 94103,
Phone: (415) 487-9203

La Raza Centro Legal
Renee Saucedo,
474 Valencia St., Suite 295, SF, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 575-3500

Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC)
Kevin Allen,
480 2nd Street, #100, SF, Ca 94107,
Phone: (415) 597-7711
URL: www.sfgov.org/site/occ

Senior Action Network (SAN)
Lotchana Souriuong,
Phone: 415-546-2088,
URL: www.senioractionnetwork.org/

SAN's new program: Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program(HICAP). HICAP is supposed to assist and provide people with supplemental insurance, as a partial solution to the problems of Medicare. HICAP also provides assistance for those that run into problems accessing Medicare.

Mission SRO Collaborative
(415) 553-6284
514 South Van Ness

Police Commission
Petra DeJesus, David Campos
Thomas J. Cahill Hall of Justice
850 Bryant St # 505, SF, 94103
(415) 553-1667
Meetings Every Wednesday, location and times vary.
Email: sfpd.commission@sfgov.org

Public Defender, Clean Slate Program
Demarris Evans,
URL:www.ci.sf.ca.us/site/pd_index.asp?id=143,
email: cleanslate@sfgov.org

Walk-In Clean Slate Clinic Times and Locations:

Every Monday, 2pm-4pm, 1850 Mission Street (Arriba Juntos Office)
Every Tuesday, 9am-11am: Public Defenders Office, 555 7th St (near Bryant)
1st and 3rd Wednesdays, 2pm-4pm, 1075 Fillmore St., (Up from Darkness Office)
4th Wednesdays, 2pm-4pm, 1099 Sunnydale Ave. (The Village Community Center)
Every Thursday, 9am-noon, 1800 Oakdale Ave. (Southeast Community Center)

Check Out:

California Tenant Law: http://www.caltenantlaw.com/

California Tenant Handbook: http://www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook/index.html

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