40 acres and a What?

root - Posted on 23 July 2002

Low-income youth and families continue to struggle for housing and justice in the Bay Area

by Leroy Moore/PoorNewsNetwork and DAMO

One thing I have learned as an advocate is that you might think you won a battle in the political arena, but what happens in the political arena and what happens in our communities is two different stories. This fact struck me last week when I interviewed Patricia Webb at POOR Magazine's Newsroom. Ms. Webb, a disabled mother and resident of the Filmore district of San Francisco, contacted POOR as a call for help as she didn't know who else to turn to as she faced her own kind of housing hell.

Her son is her live-in personal caretaker but because she received a monthly disability benefit and her son has an income from being an in-home-support caretaker which he recieves from In Home Support Services (IHSS) HUD has raised her rent from $281. per month to $833. Although she lives in section-eight housing and has proved that she needs her son to be a live-in caretaker, HUD did not back down on the issue of her increase of rent because of her son's income. HUD passed her to San Francisco Housing Authority where she met with a counselor who told her the only solution was to have her son move out so the household income will be only hers. Ms. Webb's choice is to eliminate her live-in caretaker that she desperately needs especially at night not to mention to separate her from her loving son. However the housing authority made Ms. Webb produce three pieces of Ids to prove that her son has moved out. And as of now she still doesn't know if her rent will be lowered because it has to approved by a Housing authority caseworker who has still not met with Ms. Webb. I wonder if Ms. Webbs' difficulty with HUD has anything to do with Governor Gray Davis attempts to change the existant In Home Support Services (IHSS) laws so that IHSS workers will no longer be able to be family members.

From the jazz capital of the West, the Filmore district of San Francisco, to the home of the Black Panthers, West Oakland, residents are becoming tennis balls in a tennis match between city bureaucrats, local politicians, and federal policies. Although many Bay area cities have recently held many summits on homelessness, and advocates for the homeless and housing advocates i.e. The Coalition on Homelessness, Right to A Roof and Mission Anti-displacement Coalition of San Francisco, and Just Cause of Oakland etc have try to advocate for more low-income accessible housing but the city mixes with policies local and federal have been making people homeless.

In the case of Oakland, under Mayor Jerry Brown 10 K Plan which is a redevelopment of Oakland especially West Oakland that supposedly have brought and will bring economic growth and eliminate the drugs, crime, other urban realities that some times makes urban living not pleasing to many who have climb that class ladder to the middle\upper class. However like a scale, the city of Oakland, didn't balance the cost of Brown's 10K plan and because of this lack of insight many have been tinkering on the edge of homelessness. Ground zero of Brown 10K Plan is West Oakland. The Smith family of West Oakland has many things in common with a recent case of Vernolia McCullough of East Oakland that recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Both are Black families living in poverty, both homes were places of drugs and both were demolished by the out-of-control city crane that has brought their homes to the ground and left many disappearing in the huge Bay Area homeless population. After years of homelessness the young disabled David Smith have landed in a transitional housing in Berkeley and fortunately the elderly Vernolia has family where she is staying.

In this housing market it doesn't make sense why we are demolishing homes. Yes, both Smith and McCullough were supposedly a place of drug traffic but there are many proactive ways the city, Oakland, could have solved this situation without making people homeless. How about conforming the property into a group home for drug users or housing complex with built-in counseling services. However the City of Oakland has entered into a five-year contract with the feeds in which properties are seized by the federal government can be returned to the communities. However the City of Oakland answer is to have a mobile police command center at a time when the Oakland police department in court for allege abuse and brutality against residents in the same neighborhood raised questions who is benefiting in this contract between the feds and Oakland city government. This contract would make any true Black Panther flip out of their skin Uncle Sam in our neighborhoods!

Even the Oakland School Board wants a piece of land to build three new school campuses but to do this they must evict over a dozen residents who most of them own their homes in 104 Ave. of East Oakland. We all know the problems of the Oakland schools i.e. aging buildings, over crowded classrooms and a lack of community control but why is the city putting the Black community in a no win situation. Although many in this community own their homes, the city is actually saying the have right to that land. The City agree to pay each homeowner what their homes are worth. Many residents have their forty acres and a mule but the city wants it back. Can we come up a way to have our cake and eat it to? Yes Oakland needs new schools but we also need to live in our communities. Another example where the county of Alameda have sized a home and left a family on the edge of homelessness is the Sloan family of West Oakland. The County came in the Sloan home and became the legal guardianship of the elder and put her in a nursing home. To pay for her medical bills the county sold of one of Sloan houses and is threatening to raise the rent in the led poisoning house they live in now.

Some times I wonder why we, as advocates waste our time with the political arena and city bureaucrats because we know what happens in our communities doesn't look like the laws, summits and promises that blankets the reality we live in daily, that Ms. Webb and her son live and are struggling with today.



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