Valerie Schwartz, Poverty Hero
(There will be a memorial service next Tuesday, August 13th at 2 pm at Richardson House at 365 Fulton, SF to honor Valerie Schwartz. Please join us in honoring this Poverty Hero, Valerie Schwartz, and her life.)
“I had a sense of unity to come and that the tear in the fabric of humanity is being repaired slowly, methodically, and with love and with a voice that will not allow itself to be stifled or censored any longer. "We are still here and more determined."
- Valerie Schwartz
“In retrospect, I have somehow, for reasons not yet revealed to me... survived a long and incremental suicide and today I can say that I have made a conscious decision to join the living...
I have re-found the desire to; live again, learn to live life on life's terms and the desire to become a whole person...
I'd like to be self-assured rather than arrogant, afraid, and unsure. I want to learn new things and re-learn some of the things I never truly grasped or held onto for whatever reasons... to find my voice.”
- Valerie Schwartz
“They don't even have a paupers graveyard anymore, I'm not sure what they do with the ashes of the homeless.”
- Valerie Schwartz
I miss you. I hardly knew you, but for the brief period of time we came into each others' lives, you taught me so much. I wish I could have told you that, and I am sorry that I did not. Sitting here after your passing, I am reading your stories from over ten years ago and crying. You are teaching me even after your departure from this place. I wish I had been brave enough while you were alive to get closer, to tell you that to me you were important, that you were brave and brilliant and I could feel your generosity and mentorship on the other end of the phone as we spoke.
I am struck by your fierce commitment to not give up hope on community, people, and connection even when this place and the people in your midst did not reach their arms out to you. You had been through so much. You came to POOR magazine in 1999, as a houseless, formerly incarcerated, recovering addict; and as an amazing writer and dedicated teller of truth and stories. Tiny told me that in 2003, when POOR magazine was in limbo, losing all of our grants and Mama Dee being diagnosed with heart disease, we lost track of you. But you came back into our lives in 2010 when POOR found a home at 2940 16th Street.
I met you in community newsroom in April of this year. You came to tell your story, and to ask us for our support. Speaking with you on the phone several times and writing to each other it struck me how even after everything you had been through (poverty, isolation, slander, violence, houselessness, incarceration; being outcasted, being harmed, and being alone) you still gave us, and gave me a chance. I am grateful for that chance as I sit here, realizing after knowing you my life will never be the same.
Working with you on a story, I admitted to you that this was my first time writing for POOR magazine. I remember you calling me more than once to encourage me, and to gently and firmly offer me guidance. Your wisdom about writing, about telling a story, about journalism, and about teaching deeply impacted me. Your generosity of spirit, of guidance, and of love sit on my chest and in my belly. My fingers are alight with your encouragement as I type now, looking at this document of your words I compiled so recently before you died. You called me “kiddo,” and told me I was making “a valiant effort,” and told me not to be scared if people were angered by my truthful words. You helped me learn how to edit, how to honor what needs to be honored through words, and what it means to tell stories that need to be told. Your impact on my life will unfurl with time, I am sure. Thank you for trusting me during a time when it was really hard to trust people. Thank you for trusting us enough to come to us with your stories and your fears. Your power and grace are profound and will not be forgotten.
I am reading your stories now. I am struck by your analysis, your allyship to so many, and the grace and holiness you saw and communicated from what you lived on the streets. Your honoring of Lula Bell Seymour and the way she prayed as she grilled anything she had and shared it on the streets of the tenderloin, your poignant and almost poetic ability to differentiate between the whole beauty that radiates from a person and the distracting beauty of the reflections of shattered glass that surrounds someone one as their head rests on concrete, and your unwillingness to give up on the right that everyone deserves to just treatment, including yourself, humble me. You have been an unsung poverty hero, and today and into the future you shall be sung. In a story you wrote about homeless deaths you said, “they don’t even have a pauper’s graveyard anymore, I’m not sure what they do with the ashes of the homeless.” We will honor you as we live, and scatter your teachings, your words, and your courageous love in this city that was your home. We will sing you here.
Stories written by Valerie Schwartz for Poor Magazine:
Even After all This, I Still Refuse to Hate You
We Need 10,000 Lawyers like Lynn Stewart...
IF DIRT WERE DOLLARS
The Homeless cannot Rest in Peace...
A Mama’s Love...
Open Letter to the SF Examiner aka Gavin Newsome’s Other Publicist
White Collar Time