Interview with Paul Boden
Jeremy Loos aka ďFesterĒ Oct 19, 2007
A Roaddawgz Reporter had a sit down with long-time activist against homelessness
1 of 1
and Director of WRAP, Paul Boden. Here's what they had to say
Part 1 (Part 2 Below)
FESTER: What was the main reason you got involved with homeless reform?
PAUL BODEN: I was homeless. So I ended up homeless as a kid, like around 16, and had done some bouncing around from friendís couches, and hiding in peopleís basements so their parents wouldnít know I was there, and that kind of shit, and got lucky and ended up over in Europe for a little bit because I met this woman and saw the squats that was going on in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and saw what young kids there were doing when their government wasnít providing them with housing opportunities was they were taking what was there and I thought it was an amazing empowering experience that we donít have to play victim and ask our government to do the right thing we can actually demand our government to do the right thing and came back here and didnít really see that same kind of universally anyway I saw people doing different little kind of things but there wasnít really a squatterís movement per say and started seeing all these kids and young kids and their parents and seeing these old people that were getting royally screwed that were sleeping in the streets in the Tenderloin and started working at Hospitality house trying to at least help these folks out then after about seven years of doing the direct service helping individuals and still doing some organizing with my homeless friends but really just decided that the way I wanted to go personally was full time organizing to kick the shit out of the system because too many people were asking and not enough of us were demanding and I thought the way to go was to really show that if we all get together and demand our government change the way theyíre doing shit that in fact we can change the way our government is doing shit but until we demand it power donít give you nothing you got to earn it and you got to take it and thatís the journey Iím on is trying to earn and then take the power to force our government to see the needs of human beings as a higher priority then the prophets of corporations.
F: What was the state of Homelessness, in SF, when the Coalition On Homelessness was organized in 1987?
PB: Exactly the same as it is now that housing is a commodity and health care is a commodity and education is a commodity and if you donít got no money you donít got no rights to any of those three things and thatís just bull shit and it was the same in the early eighties it was the same in eighty seven when the coalition started and unfortunately it is still the same today.
F: What were the biggest obstacles you faced when the Coalition On Homelessness was first organized?
PB: Actually the biggest obstacles werenít when we first organized, the biggest obstacles were once we started having a voice, cuz when we were first coming together it was cute and the foundations and the city and others thought, ďOh wow, look these homeless people have banded together with these service providers to try and create programs.Ē It really wasnít until we started doing the civil rights work and started doing the Street Sheet that all of a sudden they realized that we werenít gonna be nice and polite. ďOh well so as long as we are in a meeting and we can do whatever we want,Ē but we were going to go to the meetings and we were going to say what we thought. We were going to do outreach to homeless people and we were going to get their input and we werenít gonna shut up and be happy that the mayor allowed us into a meeting. Our attitude is and was, ďif you were gonna talk about us we were sure as hell gonna be thereĒ and the fact that weíre there doesnít mean that you can buy us out. It doesnít mean that we are going to agree with you and we donít think that you are doing us a big favor by letting us be in the room. Weíre demanding to be in the room cuz your talking about us and we will say what we know to be the truth and what we feel is real. We wonít tell you and we wonít compromise what we say to other people. We will go out to homeless people and say ďHey theyíre saying they want to do care not cash what do you think?Ē And when the homeless people said to us ďWe think thatís really freakin stupid,Ē then thatís what we did. Thatís the attitude we have, and thatís how we move forward. Win or lose isnít the issue, and anyone that is actually gonna work on poverty issues and work on homelessness issues oughta god damn well understand that the first fifteen years youíre not gonna win. You know there isnít a solid base set up of poor people and poor peopleís organizations that demands that poor people have a voice and poor peopleís priorities are what the government implements, instead we get this rich white guy who claims he had an epiphany and we see it with the Bush administration and their guy Phil Migano and we see it with Gavin Newsom. Those two guys are two guys off of the same tree and they both claim that theyíre doing it because they had an epiphany. Well history tells us that when rich white people have epiphanies about the lives of poor people, and mainly people of color, it ainít always in the best interest of those poor people and the fact that we allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking that the problem of homelessness and the problem of poverty is separate than classism and racism is bullshit. Until we address the underlying root causes of why so many people are in the street, why so many people are living in poverty, 37 million people in this country will continue to live in poverty. Do you think it is all because theyíre dysfunctional and because they donít have the life skills training to make it in the great country of America? No! Bullshit, you have to look at the 52 billion dollars a year that we have cut from affordable housing when you look at why people are homeless. You have to look at the massive cuts to mental health treatment, when you look at why so many mentally ill people are in jail. You gotta look at racism, when you look at how we approach young black men and young people of color and label them as gang members and kick them out of neighborhoods. Because sure as hell if those were programs being geared towards middle class white people, they wouldnít be flying.
F: What do you think is the main cause of homelessness in San Francisco?
PB: The same as everywhere else in the country, affordable housing cuts. Cuz when we had the affordable housing through the seventies we didnít have all these homeless people. Between Ď79 and Ď83 we eliminated 83 billion dollars a year and a little of that has been restored but itís still 52 billion dollars a year less than we spent in the seventies, and we got shelters all over the country. They all opened up right around the same time and the time that they opened up in late í82, early Ď83 exactly coincides with when the housing cuts were at their deepest. So you look at cause and effect, you have affordable housing funding to the tune of 83 billion dollars a year, and you donít have all these people sleeping on the street. You cut that down to 20 billion dollars a year and you have all these people sleeping on the streets. It doesnít take a freakiní rocket scientist to figure it out and it is why the federal government keeps wanting local communities like SF to write five year plans and now theyíre having to write ten year plans and they have separate commissions. The local homeless coordinating board oversees the McKinney money and the five year plans and Angela Aliotoís ten year planning commission oversees the ten year plan. So you have one community with two separate commissions writing two different plans to the same federal government. Neither plan has any connection or correlation to increasing funding for affordable housing, and we wonder why homelessness is still with us. Itís an absolute, what you call a Process Fuck. Itís when the government wants to address the issue and forces you to establish all this process bullshit to sit there and do planning on how to address the issue that they have absolutely no intention of finding the actual resolution to. And now Bush is six years into his administration, so we are six years into writing 10 year plans and the number of homeless kids in this country is higher than it has ever been. 904 thousand children in the United States go to public school every day so weíre not talking about all the homeless kids, just the ones that are in public school. 904 thousand of those kids donít have a home, thatís criminal, and thatís negligent, and thatís our federal government, and I donít care how many 10 year plans or how many five year plans the feds require us to write, we ainít gonna address that for shit until we restore the funding to affordable housing so that those kids can go home at night after theyíre done with school.
F: What do you think the correlation is between addiction and homelessness?
PB: I think addiction was here before homelessness since homelessness started in 1983. I think pretty sure people were addicted to drugs prior to 1983 and I think without the proper access to treatment, addiction is going to be here when we end homelessness. I know that when I was homeless and my teeth were all fucked up I was walking around with a bottle of Jack Daniels in my back pocket every day. And I would be suckin on that bottle all day long, you could say ďOh! Heís homeless because heís got a bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket,Ē or you could say that ďHeís got a bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket because he canít afford to go to a freakiní dentist and his mouth is killing him, and besides heís got nothing to live for anyway he donít give a shit. Heís given up now.Ē Now did that cause my homelessness? No, my mother dying did. Did it impact my life while I was homeless? Absolutely! What got me out of it was starting to work at hospitality house. I started helping families and I started working with mentally ill people and I started getting seniors into housing. I had a reason to get up in the
morning. Whether I had a place to live or not. And I became a part of a community. Then all of a sudden I started seeing options open up before me because I wasnít just this 23 year old freakiní out about his shit. I was a member of a community called the Tenderloin. I was a part of that community I just happened to be a member of it that didnít have a place to live. Low and behold I started getting some skills. I used to refuse to carry a notebook I used to refuse to carry a date book but then when I started fucking over my clients because I couldnít remember that I had an appointment, I started carrying a date book and started learning how those tools worked. Thatís education man. Every single day I want to learn at least one new thing and I know I didnít waste my day. Thatís a big part of it and its hard to do when your wasted out of your mind. That desire to say ďYou know what it is more important to learn something today and do something worth while, then it is for me to sit around and get fucked up.Ē Thatís how you can start dealing with substance abuse but the issue that substance abuse creates homelessness is bullshit. Substance abuse existed before all these shelters did, before anyone even knew that what life skills training even was, we had some people suffering from substance abuse issues. So I just donít see the correlation that others do. I think home-less-ness is being in a state of being without a home. Until you restore the home a person is homeless. So they may be a clean and sober homeless person or they might be a junkie-ass homeless person, but theyíre still homeless. I say restore the funding to affordable housing, make goddamn sure that treatment isnít based on how much money or what kind of insurance you got. Making sure that the treatment providers arenít in it for the money, and single payer health or any other type of health plan we can come up with that says ďHereís a human being, their in need of mental health treatment, or their in need of substance abuse treatment, so lets make sure they have that. Weíre the richest country in the fuckiní world, we can afford it!Ē In our report we show it costs less than one submarine. Not all the submarines in our fleet. One fuckiní submarine, would triple the amount of money we spend on homeless programs in America today. We would still have the most powerful submarine fleet in the world, we just have one less of them. I donít see the correlation. I donít think that substance abuse creates homelessness. I think that substance abuse is a much more intractable disease that we need to address as a disease, and make damn sure that when the persons ready, when theyíre motivated, that they have the support they need to get clean.
TO BE CONTINUED, check back next week!
F: What are your views when it comes to services offered by the city (CAAP, food stamps, Care Not Cash, etc)?
PB: Care not cash I think was a joke. CAAP (County Adult Assistance Programs), I think is degrading and dehumanizing. I think that if people are fit enough to sweep streets or to work in the laundry room at General Hospital or clean buses that should be called a job not welfare since theyíre working for it. They should be called employees and not welfare recipients since they are working for the money that they are getting and then to take that money and give them a shelter bed because cash is not good for poor people is about as hypocritical statement as a capitalist government could ever make. ďCare Not CashĒ but you live in a capitalist society and the economy of that society is cash and your sweeping streets to get that cash but because you happen to be homeless youíre not going to get that cash and weíre going to dump your ass in a shelter instead. Itís bullshit and itís a PR campaign itís got nothing to do with a local government that is saying until the feds get off their ass and start funding these resources that we need Iím going to make sure that my people are being taken care of humanely. Itís kicking a bunch of poor people out of a hotel building turning those buildings into care not cash buildings and moving in another group of poor people and having a whole bunch of homeless people living in a shelter paying for a shelter bed because you donít trust them to have cash. Only a rich fuck could come up with that mind-set you donít see Gavin Newsom taking his paycheck from the city in the form of care, heís getting cash. This is America and America thrives on cash but for poor people somehow cash is considered harmful because we donít trust what youíre going to do with it. Thatís paternalistic, hypocritical, and its bullshit itís insulting.
F: What types of services do you feel would benefit the homeless population?
PB: Jobs, treatment, education, and first and foremost housing. All the other stuff is window dressing. If people have access to treatment, a good education, and theyíre healthy, chances are they can find a job. If they find a job, the chances are they will find a place to live. If people have a decent place to live and theyíre healthy and they go to school chances are they will find a freakin job. So everything that is not education, treatment, jobs, and housing is bullshit. We donít need it, itís charity, charity sucks! Compassion, yes, charity, no. I donít need you to look down on me because I am poor, I need access to a classroom so I can learn the skills to get a decent job. Or I need access to treatment because my teeth are falling out of my mouth. I donít need your charity, and the more charity that you try to bestow upon me, the more I am in debt to you. It is the only way they can justify people and the 29 billion dollars that we spend on affordable housing. There is a big drive to screen out the bad poor people from that housing, check Ďem for felony arrests, check them for warrants. Is that really your kid? Itís this massive drive to find out if youíre worthy to live in affordable housing. They want you to do community service work to make up for the fact that youíre living in subsidized housing. 122 billion dollars goes to homeownership programs and tax payer programs where corporations and individuals in the higher end are buying shit, and for that 122 billion we donít screen for anything. We donít demand any community service. So the overwhelming share of the money goes to capitalist endeavors around housing which drives up the cost of housing for everyone else. That is called economic stimulus itís called good for America that these rich people are getting subsidies for their housing but when poor people get subsidies itís called charity. Itís bullshit! And we have to stop accepting it! We have to stop saying thank you and say it is about time you start doing your job!
F: What are your views on our Mayor Gavin Newsom?
PB: I have no views on Gavin Newsom, I donít know him on a personal level, I find his policies to be paternalistic and insulting and I donít think he understands that poverty is a systemic issue. Itís not about fucked up individuals and heís really bought into the rich boyís mind set that the only reason anybody in this country could possibly be poor or addicted or mentally ill was if there is something wrong with them. Itís that rich mother fuckerís attitude, fox news mentality, that Americaís great because all these rich white people say itís great and if anyone isnít seeing it that way then there must be something wrong with them not with the system; because the system was created by rich white men and it seems to be working really well for rich white men and therefore the system is fine. I find Gavin to be way too much into that mind set and of the opinion that he is a leader and therefore he knows whatís best for the people in this community as opposed to he was elected mayor to work for the people in this community. I donít think he sees himself as working for us. I think he sees himself as being our leader. The people that he goes to to give him his advice came from the same school he did and I donít think that is the school that the vast majority of us were allowed past the gate to get into.
F: Do you feel that by Gavin Newsom opening up a community court specifically for the Tenderloin; it will help clean up the Tenderloin?
PB: Hell no! I donít think that issues of drug addiction, issues of homelessness, issues of the fact that crime seems to be predominantly in poor neighborhoods, issues of disillusionment that lead to violence when people say ďWell fuck it, everyone hates my guts anyway, they follow me around the stores I donít give a shitĒ, I donít think that that is a criminal justice court issue. We see it with substance abuse, we see it with mental health, now we are seeing it with homeless court, community court, that the issues of poverty and racism, and classism, and lack of access to health care are court system issues. Since when is the social welfare of a community the issue of the courts? So if we could just figure out how to be punitive in a different way then people would stop having drug addiction issues. People would stop feeling like shit about themselves and therefore act shitty like everyone else, people would stop trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents if we can just figure out how these courts can better deal with these people, thatís not the answer. Itís funny, during the new deal the last time we had homelessness like we do now, they built schools, clinics, they built hospitals, they built sidewalks, they made murals, they built libraries. They didnít build barely any fucking jails and they built housing but they didnít build jails because they were really trying to address a social systemic issue which was, we had millions of people in this country with no homes with no jobs with no money and literally killing each other and starving to death. Well thatís pretty much what weíve got right now but we stopped building schools, in fact we are closing down schools, we stopped and closed our residential mental health treatment facilities, we stopped building and we closed our community clinics, and our community libraries but we are building jails like they are going out of fucking style. Weíre filling them quicker than we can get them built. And now we are going to use mental health court, substance abuse courts, and community courts, to address our social needs as a society. Thatís not good for poor people and rich people tend to have access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and housing so they donít get caught up in these court systems. These court systems are specifically about well we have been locking all you mother fuckers up so now we are going to lock you up nicely and we are going to do it like good little liberals and have a social worker in the courtroom.
F: Thank you for doing this interview with me, it was very nice talking to you.
PB: I think the other thing I would like to say is I think that Roaddawgz, Street Sheet and Poor News Network need to start bringing our media and our voices together. Iím not saying to have one paper, or have a conglomerate, but we should really start sharing our stories with each other and start reading each others shit like using a website or a blog where people can read all of our papers and it isnít just the homeless people doing the Street Sheet or the kids doing Roaddawgz or Tiny and them doing Poor News Network and Street Spirit in the East Bay. All of us have the same social justice and social justice commitment and I would like to see us bring our voices together more and do more shit together, some spoken word stuff and some artwork and do some writing using the websites and blogs to really get our messages out that it is a ďweĒ thing itís not an ďIĒ thing because that is the only thing they are fucking scared of. When it comes to poor people they know we arenít going to buy them out the only thing they can do is keep us separated from each other so that ďIĒ lost my home, as opposed to ďweĒ lost our homes because as soon as we start understanding that it is we, thereís 3 million of us in the country every year that are without housing at some point, and as soon as we realize that that is us that are getting fucked with then we will have the power to start changing the shit. Thatís something that we all need to be really conscious of, creating a we out of a whole bunch of separate little ďIís.Ē
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