Swept Away: Disappearing and Criminalization of the Homeless Continues

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In California, Caltrans, the Department of Public Works, along with city boards and police departments across the state all share a hand in the oft quiet decisions to move in and sweep out homeless populations. They remove what corporate America sees as the eyesore of camps that are built by those who have lost their homes. Independent journalist Lisa ‘Tiny” Gray-Garcia, writing for the San Francisco Bay View, highlights the fact that capitalism and greed have driven the housing market into an untouchable realm for so many people that the numbers of those without housing are rapidly proliferating. These human beings, Gray-Garcia reports, are being criminalized for not being able to make ends meet in a country of low-paying jobs and sky-high rents.

City and government officials repeatedly destroy these people’s lives and the few belongings that they have left in this world in effort to “clean up” public spaces. They uproot the self-built shelters and inhabitants’ belongings, leaving people with little means to meet their basic human needs and nowhere else to go. Authorities have caused the deaths of many people during these sweeps as many just want the problem to disappear without addressing or changing the root causes.

“The homeless have shown up at town hall hearings and stood, marched, and rallied with fellow poverty scholars from San Francisco to Berkeley, saying no, we will not be swept, no, we will not leave, and still they come.” The homeless are forming groups/unions and standing up for themselves and their rights. This issue gained more corporate media attention when a group called Moms4Housing in Oakland, CA intentionally moved in and occupied vacant homes to bring awareness to this often-ignored social justice issue. Systemic racism and broken policies have played a major role and must be addressed. People are being forced into homelessness with no options and no way out. The homeless community wants what most people want, to be able to live and be a part of the communities that they are from, but many have been priced.

They are fighting for “homefulness.” Gray-Garcia writes the demands from homeless activists are simple:

  1. Open public restrooms 24 hours a day.
  2. Stop sweeps immediately and indefinitely. We are people, not trash.
  3. Stop criminalizing, ticketing, and finding us for situations we don’t control because we have nowhere to go. (like trespassing, loitering, using shopping carts, tying ropes to trees and just surviving).
  4. Stop police harassment of those serving food or handing out clothing.
  5. Set aside safe parking spaces.
  6. Stop taking survival gear.
  7. Provide emergency services to those in need and treat crimes against homeless people like all other crimes.

Corporate media coverage of homelessness shows such stories are a dime a dozen, from The New York Times to the East Bay Times. The problem is that the lens they report through is one of annoyance, seeing this as a societal problem, an eyesore for those with homes and jobs rather than a human rights tragedy. Corporate media rarely put a human face on homelessness. A much more significant portion of our society is living one paycheck away from homelessness at any given time, directly because of corporate greed and neoliberal policies that have gutted many social safety nets, which the corporate press rarely investigate let alone acknowledge. Cable news outlets focus on how homeless camps are a blight and inconvenience to the communities, citing millennial tech-bros and affluent urbanites growing impatience with the problem. They do not report on how the problem of “houselessness” begins. Nor do they report how the high-tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area and other major US cities are driving up home prices to unreachable levels, further exacerbating the challenge for an increasing number of people.

Source: Lisa ‘Tiny” Gray-Garcia, “Swept to Death,” San Francisco Bay View, December 1, 2019, https://sfbayview.com/2019/12/swept-to-death/.

Student Researcher: Keri Aronson (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)