SAN FRANCISCO – “We have no more rooms available.” The motel clerk’s voice was steel-like, hitting a crescendo of disgust with the “n” of her “no”.
My stomach muscles contracted, holding a breath that had nowhere to go as I stood with a now houseless, disabled, African descendent elder and foreclosure victim Kathy Galves, 67.
Countless moments of my own terror and loss from the 10 years of living as a houseless child with my disabled mama flooded my mind with fear.
“And,” the clerk added, “No pets are allowed.” The clerk concluded with a glance in the direction of Ms. Galves’s service dog, cowering at her leg alternatively trembling and panting.
The story of the violent crime of foreclosure and its roots in capitalist greed has been covered in mainstream and independent media. But the never-heard voices are those of thousands of families and disabled elders, majority people of color, like Ms. Galves, who have been literally thrown into the streets post-foreclosure and are now homeless.
These elders and families divorced from their homeowner status have become, like so many of us already struggling houseless and poor people, subject to, and at the mercy of, criminalizing, discriminatory anti-poor people laws, legislation and societal hate.
When I applied for and was blessed to receive the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award, I was clear that the focus of this series.
I dubbed it “Voices in Poverty Resist,” written to connect the dots between all of us poor people caught in a system which alternatively values a human based on how much material wealth and capital you have access to, versus how large your heart is or your spirit, your love and care-giving of land or elders or children is.
From this indigenous mama and daughter’s perspective, that meant focusing on the relationship between our shared struggles locally, statewide and nationally. It also meant honoring, speaking with, being with, and sharing with our generations of folk in struggle, so we could all speak for ourselves to a self-determined resistance.
The First Eviction
Kathryn Galves, a humble and strong woman with a smile that carries hope into every room she enters, who throughout her ordeal always appears draped in clothes the color of the sun, earth, and its many flowers, has always lived by the subtle “rules” demanded by the so-called ‘American Dream’.
A couple of years ago a health crisis set her back financially and she became prey to financial “bottom feeders” as she calls them, which eventually led her to the edge of foreclosure. On April 12, notwithstanding all of her and her now deceased postal worker husbands hard work, she and her sister were thrown out of their home of 40 years.
Homeless (or houseless as I call it) she began a stay in a series of spare rooms until she ended up in a motel, plagued by bedbugs on a varying nightly motel rate, suffering constant harassment from the hotel management. On Oct. 15, after over three months of residing at one motel, she was threatened with immediate eviction for no reason other than because it was tourist season.
At this point POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, a grassroots, poor people-led arts, media and education organization that me and my mama started out of our own homelessness and poverty, got busy fighting for Ms. Galves’ tenant’s rights ‒ which she has, based on California Civil Code Section 1940.1. That section states that if you have resided over 28 days in one location, you are protected by California tenant codes.
Once we were able to establish her tenant’s rights, Ms. Galves was stabilized, sort of.
In collaboration with the Bay View newspaper, the Idriss Stelly Foundation and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, we held an emergency press conference called: “From Foreclosure to Homelessness” to shed light on the tragic position that so many families and elders face. We focused on three disabled elders of color who are in the same position as Ms. Galves due to foreclosure.
Two weeks later, the owner of the motel offered Ms. Galves a lower rate and a bedbug-free room. Because she is tired and poor, trusting, and not used to the onslaught of deceit and abuse faced daily by poor people, and therefore an easy target, she took the offer and within a week he evicted her, bringing us to last week.
No Homeless Elders Allowed
After her eviction from the second motel, Ms. Galves’s and I walked into another motel in the Manilatown section of San Francisco that advertised at a weekly rate. This small piece of downtown used to be inhabited by low-income Filipino and Chinese workers. It is famous for the eviction-resistance by elderly workers against a wealthy developer from the well-known International Hotel across the street.
But now it’s home to young, mostly white people, who have just arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the rapidly expanding tech industry.
These young people, like most in the U.S., have been born and bred on what I call “the cult of independence,” a crucial part of the American culture of separation and individualism.
They are living away from their family homes, their elders, their ancestors and their communities of origin and therefore have no reference for eldership, humility or respect and instead view elders like Ms. Galves, holding 26 paper bags containing all of their worldly belongings, as just a “homeless woman” and therefore undeserving of a room in their trying-to-be-upscale motel.
Meanwhile, Ms. Galves, who has now come to be viewed merely as a “problem,” nuisance or at best to be pitied ‒ refuses to give up.
We were finally able to secure one night at the motel with the hate-filled clerk after reminding her that Ms. Galves’ dog is a “service dog” with legal rights to accompany her. But the next day, they began to report that the dog was a nuisance and were trying to kick her out again.
Meanwhile, Ms. Galves gets up every day, struggling with a breathing machine and a limp, and travels by bus all over town proactively in pursuit of an ever-decreasing affordable housing stock. Dutifully she adds her name to every three-to-five year long waiting list, and her number to every single housing lottery pool. And all along, she is still wearing and sharing that beautiful bright smile of hope with all of us weary survivors.
Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia is one of the recipients of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship Award. This story was one of several written for her Voices of Poverty Resist series.