Throughout my childhood, when Mama and I were sleeping in our car, we were regularly arrested, cited, and eventually incarcerated for doing so. It is illegal to be houseless in this country, and it is, in fact, a punishable offense. So is sitting, lying, or sleeping on a public street and/or convening on a corner or on a public sidewalk if you are a young person of color, im/migrant, indigenous person in diaspora seeking day labor, or someone who “looks homeless.” All of these are what I call “crimes of poverty”: overtly raced and classed “crimes” pinned on poor people and people of color, resulting in our ongoing police harassment, profiling, removal, incarceration, and, often, state-sponsored murder.
Sometimes I and my disabled mama of color (she was African-Taino-Roma—although I look like my white father, the descendent of colonizers) would save up enough money from the tireless hours of extremely hard work we were always doing in our street-based micro-business to rent a motel room or a tiny apartment. Because of my mother’s disability and my young age (between eleven and twenty-one during this time), we were surviving on only what we made by selling handmade art on the street without a license. But there were times, albeit rare, when we would get “inside.” During these times, we had many “landlords,” and at least four of them were observant Jews. They treated us no differently than other landlords did. They went to synagogue, observed Shabbat, and celebrated sacred Jewish holidays. I know this much about them because those holidays were the few times they wouldn’t be calling us, sending us notices, or pounding on our shabby doors in the single room occupancy hotels or the overpriced and uninhabitable apartments they owned that we barely resided in, asking for their rent money. Every single one of these landlords evicted my mama and me for unpaid or late rent.
Each time we were evicted, my young heart would jump out of my chest, filled with terror about returning to the street or the back seat of our current broke-down “hooptie” (car), which was constantly being towed for the “sleeping in vehicle” citations we were always receiving; or even worse, the cardboard motels (as my mama called them) in doorways or alleys or parks.
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