Unhoused in the Airport - The PoLicing of Public Spaces

Tiny - Posted on 22 April 2019


(photo- The tile floor where folks sleep, if only for a few hours, in La Guardia Airport)

“Get up- you have to move along…did you hear me? - Its time to move along…’ The hard wood of the baton slammed against the soles of my already sore feet. It had been 2 hours since I tentatively laid my United Airlines issued paper-like blanket on the hard tile floor outside the Dunkin donuts in the closed La Guardia airport. I was leaning against a wall next to two other mamas and babies and a disabled elder. We were all houseless, me formerly throughout my chldhood and now because of an endless series of airport snafus, them currently. 


Above us all on the wall was a poster stating “The Port Authority has provided “services” to 4000 homeless people in one year alone.” I wondered if the services they described included wake up and removal at 4am. 


Ironically, this poverty skola was in New York to join POOR Magazine family Leroy Moore to teach on our new book Poverty Scholarship- Poor People-led Theory , Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth at an elite private college in upstate New York. Sharing the medicine of radical redistribution of inherited/stolen /hoarded resources with academics who might have access to race/ class privilege so us poor and unhoused folks could manifest a homeless  peoples solution to homelessness, aka the project we call Homefulness - which is  housing for unhoused families, children and elders and is supported entirely by redistributed resources and among other things is an example of spiritually and legally taking Mama Earth off the commodities market, cause so-called “housing justice” must include un-selling Mama Earth.


The entire trip was disturbing, rife with realizations that under Trump the (FAA) Federal Aviation Administration that is supposed to oversee the giant airline industry has been reduced to Boeing officials playing golf with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. That many of the planes currently being used are not really safe and the mechanics are the ones who have to resolve all the systemic problems on the ground all the time, causing a rise in delays, mechanical failures and cancelations of flights. But as I was forced to see the underbelly of this airline violence, I was also drawn into the growing number of another form of violence  unhoused people, mostly families, taking shelter at the airports across Mama Earth. From Newark to New York, from Phoenix to Chicago, there are literally hundreds of unhoused people carefully hiding out at airports and the numbers are rising everyday while more and more people can’t  afford to live in the commodity called “Private Property” aka bought and sold Mama Earth.


I say carefully because unhoused people in airports don’t identify themselves as unhoused, they are constantly forced to keep moving from one bench, one bathroom, one outlet, one over-priced cafe, one rug, after another, so as not to be identified by the airport poLice, the janitors, the staff, homeland insecurity or the private security firms always watching. Like in life and everything, in every one of these groups there are always subtle differences, some people know and look the other way, some people endlessly harass and some actually help. Starbux workers give free coffee, Janitors allow temporary washing and personal clean-ups and security guards don’t always call in unhoused communities in the airport, like they are supposed to.


This silent movement is similar to public library homelessness, but the airport culture is slightly less violent to unhoused folks than the library system. In San Francisco public library I have witnessed and intervened on countless violent attacks from SFPD and private security to unhoused folks struggling with mental health crises’ who take refuge in the ostensibly “public” space of the library because urinating, hand-washing, dressing and resting outside in the cold elements is just too much, which has only gotten worse under the new mayoral administration of London Breed, who has begin a policy of seizing peoples tents.


Similar to cities across the US, each airport is slightly more or slightly less violent to poor folks, For example in Newark they have put a price and a CorpoRape afilliation on everything. Just to sit down and wait, you are encouraged to “buy” food and/or pay for a charging station for your phone, or only use a charging station if you are able to buy food, In La Guardia airport, they have pretty much taken all of the benches out of the accessible areas, and all of the carpets. 


And above all most of the airports close, no longer really “open” all night, closing bathrooms, front doors, public areas, shrinking their accessible and open cafes down to one and only if you purchase something can you sit there at all. 


After 24 hours of non-stop plane stoppages, mechanical failures and weather delays I ended up in La Guardia airport in New York, an airport which had obviously implemented anti-homeless people policies. ( yes thats a thing) La Guardia not only had these weird hypocritical posters all over about how much help they provided “homeless people” but they made it clearly impossible to rest anywhere. Like the violent architecture that PNN correspondents Lisa Ganser and Laure McElroy wrote about multiple times, they have implemented multiple examples of this inside the airport. 


“Me and my family have been homeless in this airport for 30 days,” Tasha, a single mother of two children, adjusted her inconsolable 3 year old in her lap as she reported for RoofLess radio airport report. 


“ I really don’t know where else to go, shelters are full, and unsafe, at least I know we won’t be violated here, but I can’t ever really sleep, if I want them to sleep,” she concluded looking at her 12 year old sun and her baby girl, defeated. 


Tasha and her babies were “sleeping” on a hard vinyl chair in the corner outside La Guardia, while I tried the impossible task of actually curling up the cold cement ground. 


“I play it safe and never leave my wheelchair, cause if I do, poLice will take my chair and kick me out of here, keep it cool and keep it moving, thats my motto, at least I’m a little less cold than when I am outside, but these Port Authority Mofo’s are not nice to us Po folks,” said Mr Sykes, a houseless, disabled elder who was also trying to rest next to me in La Guardia. 


“I been to San Francisco, they hella mean there, took my walker, my tent and my belongings so I came back home to live with distant family in New York, but they weren’t here so I ended up houseless out here, really no better, just colder, but sometimes the airport staff looks the other way, sometimes.” said Larry, who recycled and lived houselessly in La Guardia, when h wasn’t getting harassed for being houseless in La Guardia.


This collection of harassed, airport hiding poverty skolaz were all in La Guardia airport, an airport facing a bizarre and insane amount of devil-opment. Ironically, the man of the same name, La Guardia, was responsible for some of the worst forced removal and displacement efforts of the 20th century, causing fires and “code violations” in the tenements he owned so he could turn force the diaspora of poor immigrants out of Manhattan and build luxury housing. 


My 48 hours of airport hell was deep and sad and triggering me down a memory lane of my childhood between 11-18 when me and mama slept in doorways and bus shelters and our car when we were able to acquire one, and then again as an adult with my sun before we moved to Homefulness causing a lot of trauma, that I have trouble shaking, but at the end of it, I got to go home-fulness. Tasha and her babies, Mr Sykes and Larry said goodbye to me, with those defeated eyes me and my mama used to hold. The defeat of having nowhere to go and no idea what to do. And so as I told them and tried to teach “the haves”  at the college I was supposed to go to, Homefulness is possible for all of us unhoused folks, it just takes folks with resources understanding they are responsible for us too. That while we poor people revolutionaries fight to stop the criminalization of our unhoused bodies, the owning class can un-own and radically redistribute some of the resources they don’t use to house their families, so that us folks who have no resources can be housed.  


Additionally, these public spaces need to stop sliding towards privatization, as long as these cities and towns continue to build, legislate and enable rich people development, they need to liberate and implement policies to ensure that public spaces actually stay public. That people who have nowhere to go, can at least be somewhere without being hurt, harassed, hated and criminalized. That our bodies, if unhoused are not inherently criminal, we are just houseless, and still members of the public. 

Join POOR Magazine poverty skolaz, unhoused, disabed, elder and youth poverty skolaz for the 2019 Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tour on April 23rd at 2pm in front of the Oakland /Berkeley Assoc of Realtors at 2855 Telegraph Av in Berkeley for a WeSearch release on the privately owned mama earth lots that we are asking folks to buy so poor folks can build their own solutions to poverty more info here


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