The Landless Poor

Tiny - Posted on 06 January 2011

Rivers of icy wind swirled at my feet. The wet night snuck in through unseen crevasses of our old car and circled up my body, each gust, a laugh of hate against me and my mama who’d been living in and out of our car since I was 11. Those memories flooded  through my mind as the soft voice of Myron Standing Bear, a member of the Oglala Sioux Nation explained how he, a hard-working advocate in the community for 17 years, suffering with congestive heart failure was living in his car with his two teenage sons.


Through a story told by Myron, riddled with racial discrimination and un-justice by the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) that lasted several hours into that night, our revolutionary crew of legal and poverty scholar journalists began the lengthy process of documenting his case to transform into our special blend of change–making media and in your face advocacy.


“We don’t work with Indians,” Myron had begun his story with the first in a series of discriminatory and unlawful sentences said to him by SFHA when they rescinded his place on the Section 8 wait list. The injustice began in August of 2009, when the family was informed of their approved Section 8 Voucher, a list they had been on for 11 years. Upon finding a home, however, they were told by their SFHA worker that they were immediately being taken off of the Section 8 housing list where they had reached rank #1 and being put on the Public Housing list where they were placed at number 564. Following this horrible beginning there was an onslaught of discriminatory statements said to the Standing Bear family while they tried to get housing justice.


After our first meeting with Myron at POOR Magazine’s indigenous news-making circle in September, we wrote an article detailing Myron’s plight which was published in POOR/PNN and the Bay View Newspaper. POOR Magazine’s Revolutionary Legal Advocacy Project (RLAP) began a correspondence with officials at Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who were embarrassed by the light shed on this situation which eventually resulted in HUD re-opening an investigation about the wrong-ness with SFHA in October of 2010.


“Myron and his family are outside, in the winter, in a car, with a fatal heart condition,” Lisa Gray-Garcia and Marlon Crump from POOR said to HUD agents many times via phone and email correspondence following a meeting with HUD to re-launch the investigation. Several documents were demanded by HUD and produced, most of which were already in possession by a case started by Myron and his family several months prior.


Weeks turned into months. Myron’s condition worsened, he and his boys were still in their car and we realized we had no choice but to give HUD an ultimatum, “If Myron doesn’t get his Section 8 voucher by December 1st, we will have no choice but to seek legal action.


On November 23rd we got the email, Myron would get his rightful section 8 voucher. Myron, Mark Anquoe, a friend of Myron’s and tireless advocate from American Indian Movement West (AIM-WEST) and Marlon from RLAP at POOR all went to HUD on a beautiful day in the first week of December. The bright sun shone on their backs as they entered the lifeless building. Hope was alive for the Standing Bear family.


Which brings me to back to mama. There were so many uncanny similarities between Myron’s family and my own. My mama, an indigenous Taino Boricua elder, had congestive heart failure.  She was a tireless advocate for the community.  We spent most of my teenage years living in our broke-down hooptie.  When we finally got on the SFHA wait list for a section 8 voucher for years and almost gave up hope, my ghetto scholar mama fought the stagnant injustices of HUD and won, resulting in us finally getting a Section 8 certificate.


Which is also why I am scared for Myron and his family.  We couldn’t get a landlord to rent us an apartment to save our lives. Landlords often don’t want to touch section 8 certificates with a ten foot pole, between the racist and classist stereotypes about “those kinds of tenants” said more than once to me about section 8, to the paperwork required of landlords, it was impossible for us to get a place in the 90 day window they gave us to find a place.


We looked every day, petitioned for a 90 day extension for the voucher, but still nothing.   After our years together through endless poverty and houselessness this was just another little murder of the soul, as my mama used to call it and we gave up, remaining in increasingly unstable market rate housing, in and out of eviction until the day my mama passed on her spirit journey in March of 2006.


Sadly, Myron’s family is not the exception, but rather, the far too common norm for countless poor families caught up in the struggle to get affordable housing from a broken and dismantled system built on an Amerikkkka scarcity model that is not meant to house everyone and barely meant to house some. Families like me and my mama and Vivian and jewnbug and Laure and Ingrid at POOR Magazine and so many other poor families in the US is the reason POOR is launching the revolutionary Homefulness project – a sweat equity co-housing model for landless poor families in the US and beyond.


In the mean-time Myron and his family must be housed, which is where readers and conscious landlords come in. You can make a difference. If you have a 3 bedroom apartment or house available in San Francisco preferably or the greater Bay Area please email POOR Magazine  @ or call us and leave a message at (415) 863-6306.


Those wet, cold winter winds currently remain Myron's family reality as it was for my po mama and me. Let's act as a community to change this piece of devastating herstory before it kills another landless poor family



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