Emergency Financial Support to Travel to Standing Rock

Osiyo Readers,

As many of you know I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a journalist. I’ve never used my blog in this way, but my Native community is under attack and we need help. I’m reaching out to you for emergency financial support to travel to the Standing Rock Reservation in Cannonball, ND to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline and to report the news from the ground.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is a 1,172 mile pipeline that stretches from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois and crosses the Missouri River (MO) and the Oglala Aquifer which is the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The DAPL was originally planned to cross the MO River near Bismarck, but it was deemed a too heavily populated area to risk the water supply so it was rerouted to the reservation. This act of environmental racism and genocide led to the creation of the Sacred Stone Camp and many other camps near the DAPL construction site near the reservation. Since Sacred Stone was created in July 2016, over 4,000 people of over 300 tribal nations have traveled there to protect the water, Native lives, and our way of life. Since then, the ND government and the DAPL have unleashed extreme violence against our people through the use of the National Guard, drones, attack dogs, mace, helicopters, assault weapons, brutality, harassment, LRAD, cutting off the water supply, and many of those arrested have been sexually assaulted by law enforcement through the use of unnecessary strip searches.

The purpose of my trip to Standing Rock is to stand in solidarity with our people there, to help protect the water, but also to provide further Native created media content for primarily non-Native media sources. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been covered well in Native media, but has had little attention in mainstream media, as well as in this year’s election cycle. The coverage that has occurred, has been primarily by non-Native journalists and has been racist or misconstrued. It is crucial that Native People are able to tell our stories to the world in our own voices, especially for Native Women and LGBTQ Two Spirit Natives.

This request is coming on the heels of yet another attack of the people at Standing Rock. On Saturday, the paramilitary outfitted law enforcement of North Dakota maced and used brutal force on the peaceful Water Protectors. Eighty-three people were arrested, including journalists, and one was sent to the hospital due to the police brutality. They threw one of our peaceful girls to the ground with her face buried in the mud. The police have been confiscating people’s phones for weeks so that they cannot share videos and photos of the abuses there. The ND government has not only arrested journalists, but has attempted to charge them with trespassing and rioting and one documentary filmmaker now faces up to 45 years in prison. Native People at the camps are calling for more warriors to come and help protect the water.

As a Native Woman it is my duty to be there to stand with my relations to protect the water and lives of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, as well as those that will impacted by the devastation of the Missouri river, but also to further report the news. Our realities must be told to the world and they must be told by us.

Because I’m a freelance writer I do not have the financial support that some journalists may have. I’m asking the greater community to help me make the trip to Standing Rock, by making donations and purchasing the items on my Standing Rock Amazon Wish List. The majority of the supplies on the wish list will be left with the people at the camps. By helping me you’re also creating further resources for those at the camps, specifically for those with mobility impairments who require accommodations such as cots and chairs.

Any amount you are able to give is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to making this a reality. You can read some of my published work on Wear Your Voice, The Establishment, and Autostraddle.

My fundraising campaign is on YouCaring. I’ll soon have my Amazon Wish List ready to post. Please share my fundraising campaign in your networks. I’ve included my campaign link here, but you can also find me with youcaring.com/jendeerinwaterdapl

Wado!

Jen Deerinwater

Trump, Warren, and the Dehumanization of Native Women

I’m incredibly busy with fast approaching deadlines and article pitches, but I wanted to share one of my recently published articles that I’m immensely proud.

I spent countless hours on the research, writing, and editing process. My PTSD was triggered throughout this piece and I was constantly in fear that I would let my ancestors, Indigenous women, and people down by the work that I produced. Through the help of many amazing friends and an incredible editor (I now know why writers thank their Editors) Kelley Calkins, I made it through the other side. I was honored with the privilege to interview Madonna Thunder Hawk and Rebecca Nagle for which I will always be humbled and thankful.

With that said, I give you Trump, Warren, and the Dehumanization of Native Women

http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/08/08/trump-warren-and-the-dehumanization-of-native-women/

Antithesis of a (Queer) Beautiful Moment

On the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Peter Thiel, Co-Founder of PayPal and an openly gay man, endorsed Donald Trump for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Thiel is only the second openly gay man to speak at a Republican National Convention and the first to address issues related to the Queer community.

Thiel, whose net worth is $2.7 billion dollars, spoke of a need to “rebuild America”. He spoke of how his parents were immigrants and brought him to Cleveland at the tender age of 1. In his parents’ time America was a place “where opportunity was everywhere” and “all of America was high tech.” For his white, settler family it was a land of milk and honey.

He soon launched into a list of the defense based technological problems that plague the US. “Our nuclear bases still use floppy discs. Our latest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government software works poorly because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all.”

Thiel waxed nostalgic for a time ”when I was a kid the great debate was how to defeat the Soviet Union and we won. Now we are told the great debate is who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from the real problems. Who cares? Of course every American has an unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican.” Thiel then went on to say that the Republican’s “fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline.” As his speech came to an end, Thiel received much applause from the red, white, and blue adorned and bedazzled audience. In the post speech commentary Van Jones stated that this was a “beautiful moment” essentially because the Republicans didn’t boo an openly gay man off the stage.

I was watching this speech waiting for Trump to take the stage for an article I was writing otherwise I would have saved myself the Tums and Maalox and read a book instead. I became so enraged from Jones’ response that I had to sit down and write this. I know not to expect much from CNN or any other major media outlet, but to have someone, a person of color no less, state that because a person from a marginalized community that has experienced violence and oppression wasn’t booed off a stage was a “beautiful moment” is just too much for me to stay silent. The fact that a gay man would get up on a Republican stage and sell out his Queer family in the way that Thiel did is too much for me to remain silent.

I won’t begin to speculate on what the circumstances were that brought Thiel and his family here or how hard they worked to achieve the “American dream.” I have no doubt that they, like many others, have struggled and put in countless hours of labor to gain what they have in life. However, they had this “America” to come to because my people had our land stolen, our lives taken, and were relegated to reservations. Our continual loss was their gain. The irony is not lost on me that the very city Thiel and his family immigrated to, and that this year’s RNC was held in, uses my people as a sports mascot-Chief Wahoo for the Cleveland Indians’ baseball team.

Much of Thiel’s speech extolled the virtues of capitalism at all costs, including those of bodies of color in the U.S. and across the globe. He bragged of the U.S. accomplishment in the Manhattan Project which was responsible for creating the first nuclear weapons during WWII. The American government later dropped those bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Much of the development and testing of these nuclear weapons occurred, and has continued to occur, on Native lands and in the Marshall Islands which has led to devastating rates of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, sterility, a litany of other serious health ailments, and loss of water and food supplies which have only added to our high rates of food insecurity and starvation.

Sadly, I find none of this money at all cost attitude surprising from a Republican. Even out of the mouths of many Democrats they will still justify oppression if it benefits the bottom line of those in power. What I find the most egregious about Thiel’s speech is that he claimed the Republicans have been waging a “fake culture war.” I ask you what’s fake about the multiple atrocities that people throughout the U.S. face every day at the hands of the Republican Party? What’s fake about women’s bodies being policed to the point that they’re incarcerated for having a miscarriage? Purvi Patel was serving a 30 year sentence for the charge of feticide and felony child neglect in the state of Indiana for having a miscarriage. Trump’s Vice Presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R), signed fetal rights laws into place which gave more rights to a fetus than a woman. The court of appeals overturned the feticide charge on July 22nd, but Patel is still in prison for “neglect of a dependent.” What’s fake about the epidemic proportions of violence that Native women face in the U.S. at the hands of non-Native men? More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaskan Native women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime and more than 1 in 3 will be a victim of violence in the last year. Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly made racist and misogynistic comments about Native women that have done unmitigated harm to us. In 2013 72% of hate crime homicides were Transgendered women. 2016 is on the way to being a record year for highest rate of murders of Trans women who have been predominately Black. Despite this Republicans felt that the real danger lie in where Trans people use the bathroom.

I could go on and on about the horrifying brutalities and discrimination that Women, Immigrants, People of Color, Queer, Disabled, Poor, and Indigenous people experience every day in the U.S. I’ll never discount my voice and the power that it has, but I have no where near the kind of privilege and clout that Peter Thiel has. He has so much privilege that he was able to stand on the stage at a major U.S. political party’s convention to endorse a candidate, and only moments before the candidate took the stage no less. People with the privilege that Thiel has, have a responsibility to their community to use that privilege to fight like hell for those whose voices are trampled upon by the government, whether it be by the Republican or Democratic Parties, or Trump or Hillary. Thiel took a very clear stand when he took that stage. He told his fellow Republicans and Queer community members that his bank account was worth more than doing right by people. For that Thiel should hang his head in shame and for the rest of us, we have much more work to do.

*You can read this article and soon others here https://medium.com/@JenDeerinwater

Fuck this privilege!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately much of which I’ve been submitting for publication. To my surprise my writing has been well received. I’ve already had 4 stories picked up out of the very few submissions I’ve sent out. Granted, I’m not being paid very much at all, but still, I haven’t been at this even a month and if I were to take a guess at the amount of pitches and completed stories I’ve sent out versus what’s been bought thus far I’d say I’m 70/30 in my favor right now. I’m also sending out some of my poetry which I don’t have high hopes for being published, let alone being paid for, but the fact that my voice and the communities I represent are valued so much that I’m being paid for any of my writing at all is awe inspiring and the fuel to the fire that I’ve really needed to keep me going in this dumpster fire of a life I’ve been living.

With all of that said though I am seriously enraged that it took 5 1/2 years of undergraduate and 3 years of graduate education for my voice to be important. That was $250,000 worth of student loan debt. Thankfully, I say ironically, because of my debilitating disability my federal student loan debt has been wiped away now. However, my private student loan debt is forever there until the federal government decides in their infinite wisdom to get off their asses and give private student loan debt relief to those of us who need it-unlike those motherfucking asshole banker dickheads they gave that shyte to. In the meantime there isn’t a fucking thing I can do about it. The mafia would be kinder in their interest rates and payment plans than these motherfucking private student loan lenders. Yet it took all of that education and debt for my voice to matter. Without it I highly doubt anyone would have taken me seriously. Scratch that. I can say with absolute certainty no one would have taken me seriously. As a Tsalagi (Cherokee)-member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Bisexual, Disabled, Poor Woman I had to work 1,000 times harder than every white, able bodied, straight, American, woman, and man I encountered. That sadly even includes some  Gay men, Lesbians, and other People Of Color because of the Biphobia and Colonialism that we Bisexuals and Natives experience at the hands of Gay men, Lesbians, and other People Of Color is fucking intense and holds us down at all turns. I’ve lost out on jobs and have been denied healthcare because I’m Bi, Disabled, and Native and it hasn’t always been white, able bodied, and het people doing the discriminating. I guess my long winded point is that education is a right for one and all, not a privilege and not one that should weigh down and ruin our futures.

 

I was also thinking earlier about the oppressions and privileges I’ve had throughout my life from childhood until now. One of those privileges as a child was that while I didn’t grow up with an “educated” family with money who could guide me through my higher education and career, I also never had to worry about being evicted from our home, where we’d sleep next, the lights going out, or going to bed hungry. That’s some fucked up shit right there! Those aren’t privileges, those are basic, bare bones human rights! What kind of a fucked up, oppressive, hate fueled, capitalistic world do we live in that a child of abuse who has grown up to be a Native, Bi, Disabled, Poor Woman who’s legally homeless, living below the poverty line, and has spent almost her entire life being abused and yet she can  say she’s “privileged” because she didn’t go to bed hungry at night as a child? Seriously? This is the best we can do in the so called “land of the free?” This is it? The land of milk and honey where Trump and Hillary are our saviors to right the wrongs that so many of us suffer from? That’s some just fucking straight up laughable shit!

I say this as someone who worked for roughly a decade in liberal, mainstream (white) Feminist, and Democratic Party politics. By 2014 I was on my way to being a so called party insider, but I had seen and experienced too much. The racism, colonialism, sexism, ableism, saneism, ageism, elitism, bi/trans/homophobia, and so much more that I experienced first hand or saw others experience working in that environment was too much. I couldn’t keep going in that world. I left for a reason. Once upon a time, even though I ultimately felt that the system should be torn apart and built anew by those of us who have been oppressed by it, I still thought some good could come from working in it. A decade later and I knew different. I didn’t become this far left Radical out of nowhere. My revolutionary beliefs didn’t spring up overnight.

Sadly, we’re (currently) stuck with this colonizing, hate mongering system that has me thinking about how I was privileged to not go to bed hungry as a child, but it doesn’t always have to be this way. We can change this system. It won’t come through Trump, Hillary, Jill Stein, or any other white, able bodied, hetero, wealthy, cisgendered, American, colonizer or settler privileged, status quo candidate. Change comes with us standing up and challenging this corrupt system now! Remember this when you get beaten down and worn down by the system: Privilege isn’t having $250k in student loan debt so maybe people will take you seriously! And Privilege isn’t going to bed hungry!

 

Erasure, Hatred, & Data for the Masses/But We Live On

I’ve finally begun pursuing publication for my writing and lo and behold I’m actually finding success. I’ve already had one article published on Autostraddle and am currently working on another for The Establishment. Yay for finally getting off my (disabled) ass and sending my work around! Really it’s that I now have enough stamina to work for a couple of hours most days hence why I’m now able to pursue my dreams of being a published author. It is rather overwhelming though on many fronts. Presently, my current writing project is really draining me psychically, emotionally, and physically.

Without giving away the details of the article I’m writing I’ll just say that I’m digging into a lot of very heavy data on violence against Native women in the US. Most of it isn’t new to me. I’ve read, and shared publicly many times, the studies and statistics. I don’t know a single Indigenous woman that hasn’t suffered multiple forms of violence throughout the course of her life, usually at the hands of a white man. I’m no exception to this. Most sexual assault is intraracial-the predator is the same race as the victim-but we Natives are the exception. Even our men have horrifically high rates of sexual abuse and it’s also predominantly interracial. This should come as no surprise given our history of boarding school abuses and the current abuses our children, women, and men suffer in the foster care and criminal injustice systems.

In the last hour alone I’ve read that more than 1 million  Native women have experienced sexual violence in our lifetime. According to the 2015 US census we only comprise 5.4 million of the total US population. This is including those that self-identified as mixed race and Native. While I don’t believe blood quantum and tribal enrollment are the signs of a true Native (these are the tools of the colonizer after all), but there aren’t 5.4 million federally enrolled tribal members in the US. According to the National Congress of the American Indian we comprise 2.9 million, 0r .9%, of the total US population. If we’re only 2.9 million people and more than 1 million of our women have been victims of sexual violence that basically means that almost all Indigenous women in the US have been assaulted in some fashion at least once in our lifetimes. From what I’ve experienced and the stories I’ve heard, from many Native women, one time in a YEAR is a miracle. If you’re Two Spirit, Queer, Bi, or a Disabled Native woman then your likelihood and occurrences of abuse only increase.

I’ve had to sit for days with this heavy data and the extremely hateful and racist rhetoric of some of our Amerikkkan leaders and try to dissect it in a way that is intelligent, understandable, and gives a heartfelt and impassioned cry to the overwhelming non-Native readers that will see this article so they will hopefully get off their privileged settler asses and be our allies and fight for our rights. Needless to say, it’s eating at me. Last night I went to the anti-police brutality march in Roxbury, MA in solidarity for the Black lives that are being slaughtered by the police, but I also used it as my PTSD wellness break from my work. It says a lot about the state of Amerikkka when a Disabled, Bi, Native woman with chronic pain who can’t stand for long or walk great distances and feels panicky in crowds and near the police goes to a protest and march that has 1,000 plus people and is littered with police so she can get a break from her research. But hey, it’s the land of the free, right?

I can understand how it would be easy for many in America, and abroad, to write off some of what I’ll bring up in my soon-to-be published article. It’s easy to brush aside the hateful and ignorant comments of some people because they behave like jackasses so why would anyone take them seriously? But the thing is, when it comes to us Natives, people do take them seriously and it’s never just one jackass in the spotlight. It’s Victoria’s Secret hypersexualizing Native women and culturally appropriating war bonnets which are sacred to some Plains’ tribes. It’s the white hipsters at music festivals that also wear headdresses or Pharrell Williams, a Black man, who posed with a headdress for British Elle. It’s the Colonial Bros and Nava-hos frat party. It’s me as the only Native in a room full of so called Massachusetts’ progressives who repeatedly ironically ask “You’re Indian? That’s so neat! Will you speak at my child’s school for Thanksgiving?” Meanwhile, I’m Tsalagi. That’s Cherokee to you colonizers. I’m a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. When the pilgrims came, my people were in the Southeast nowhere near present day Massachusetts. It’s the Wampanoags that had to deal with those British wankers.

It’s me at the Boston LGBT health center with me feet literally in stirrups waiting for my Woman Of Color (WOC) doctor to replace my IUD, which I’ve already told her is incredibly painful, and she asks me “So your last name, are you Native American?” It’s the resident at my chronic pain management clinic, who I assume is Southeast Asian, asking me as I’m writhing in pain on the table after having several very large needles stuck in my spine “So you’re Native American? What tribe are you? Tell me all about it!” as if it’s any of his business, my job to teach him my history, or that he’s not taking advantage of his power in that situation and making me feel unsafe, and that it wouldn’t cause him pain and rage when people force their racist and colonizing microaggressions upon him.

And the one that’s really sticking in my craw right now is this: It’s me on a date with a white man who calls me “exoctic” and “Pocahontas” without the slightest irony that he’s the exoctic one because this is our land and that the story of Pocahontas as he knows her is a myth. Pocahontas’ real name was Matoaka. She was approximately 10-12 years old when she had the misfortune of encountering John Smith. She was soon taken captive by the British and “married” to John Rolfe, forced into Christianity, and then dragged across the Atlantic to England where she was paraded around as the so called noble savage until she died at the age of 22. Despite all of this I’m supposed to be turned on, bat my pretty exoctic eyelashes, and be ready to open my red legs when some asshole, racist, colonizing, misogynistic, rape culture loving white man calls me “Pocahontas.”

I could really go on for months, possibly years, about all of this because sadly our abuse and injustices run that deep, but despite all of the colonizer’s best attempts to wipe us out, we’re still here. I’m still here. I, a Bisexual, Disabled, Poor, Fat, Native Woman am still here. We’re hurting, and I’m most definitely hurting, but we’re still here. I may need a lot of PTSD breaks and I may not produce the same amount of work as the colonizer does, but I’ll keep writing. I live on through my ancestors. Our voices are strong and we will be heard. I will be heard.

 

Finger on the Pulse

49 dead 
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters 

It's the Muslims!
It's the crazies!
It's the homophobes!
It's the automatic guns!
It's the man not the gun!
It's the Christian Right! 

This was the largest mass shooting in American history
Correction:
This was the largest mass shooting with a semi-automatic gun

A nation born in blood 
The blood of Native and Black people
A nation built on the blood of 
Latin@, Asian, and Middle Eastern people 
will continue to 
run red 
with the blood 
of the 
Oppressed 

In a nation where we give out 
guns 
like candy on Halloween 
In a nation where we 
slaughter
W/POC
and 
Queer people 
like they're nothing but flies 
fucking up white, het folks
sunny day picnic @ the park 
Should we really be surprised? 
In the grand scheme of things
49 
is a minor blip 
on the US 
death tally 

49 dead 
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters 

He was a closet case! 
The hets scream 
loud enough 
to further drown out 
the queer cries 
only to assuage their 
hetero guilt and complacency

This attack was motivated by homophobia 
they say condescendingly 
Yes, yes it was
But it was Latin night
And I assure you 
there were 
Bi and Trans folks
up in that club
Erasing their existence and struggle 
is a 
Slap in the face 
to all who suffer from 
Racism
Biphobia
and 
Transphobia

49 dead
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters 

He was crazy!
Mental illness is the real culprit!
More than 1/2 of all gun deaths are suicide
1/2 of 1% of gun deaths are mass shootings
Those with mental illness 
are more likely to hurt 
themselves 
or be 
hurt by others 
Orlando is proof of that
Even the faux revolutionary 
Bernie
likes to get in on the fun 
claiming 
he'd 
ban gun sales 
to the mentally ill 
as if we're the 
pro-blem

49 dead 
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters

We need blood!
Give blood!
But not a queer man's blood
But it's those 
Muslims
that are homophobic

Prayers! Prayers! Prayers!
Get 'em right here!
Plenty of empty 
right wing 
well wishes to go around 
w/ your side of 
free chick fil-a
queer bashing nuggets
to munch on 
during one more 
meaningless 
moment of silence
b/c 
we care

49 dead 
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters 

Automatic weapons are the problem! 
It's the damn NRA! 
Gun control now! 
Since 1966 
There have been 
869
victims 
of mass shootings
in America
(excluding gang shootings because Mother Jones doesn't care about black and brown bodies) 
All of the shooters
minus 3
were men

Something smells foul in America
& it's the 
toxic masculinity factory 
spewing it's poison 
telling our boys & men 
that in order to 
prove their manhood
their worth
they better come 
locked & loaded 
w/ 
guns a blazin' 
or they're just another 
fag

49 dead
53 injured 
Countless souls in tatters

ISIS! 
Hezbollah! 
al-Qaeda!
Bomb them all! 
Because if 12,000 + airstrikes 
hasn't worked yet
What's one more? 

Fight them there so we don't have to fight them here 
goes the US imperialistic 
blood lust logic 

"I appreciate the congrats on being right"
he smugly tweeted out
from the comfort of the 
ivory, trump tower
Surveil the mosques
And ban the Muslims
Ignore the Christians though
as we all KKKnow 
there's never been an act of 
terrorism 
committed by a 
Christian

49 dead
53 injured
Countless souls in tatters

Patience, everyone
there's plenty of 
Blame 
to go around and 
time to prove that 
no one 
has their 
finger 
on 
the 
Pulse 


*I've included hyperlinks throughout this piece to the sources I used for data.

 

Pride, Dignity, & the Failing of Section 8

*I apologize for the bad formatting, but WordPress refuses to properly post this and I refuse to wait for this program, or any other, to give me the space to express myself through grammatical correctness.

I’ve had a lot of questions and suggestions lately regarding my housing search with my Section 8 voucher. I thought I’d take the time here to explain how this program works, or rather how it doesn’t work.

There are a variety of housing vouchers and public housing options with continuously changing program stipulations that are impossible to keep up with. I have a Section 8 voucher which means I can, in theory, move where ever I’d like. I pay 30%, or up to 40%, of my income in rent and the housing authority pays the rest. I can’t go above 40% of my income in my portion of the rent because then I’d be rent burdened and Section 8 is supposed to help eliminate that.
The housing authority that issues a person their voucher is dependent upon what city they live in. There are a set number of vouchers available for disabled people, the elderly, families, and single, able bodied people. The wait lists vary a great deal based on which of those labels are applicable to you and on what city you live in. Brookline has a 10+ year wait for a voucher. Somerville had Section 8 vouchers available only to disabled people. It took me approximately 3 years to get this.
Now on to the rental details of this ineffective and soul crushing program. Everyone is issued a Section 8 voucher for a specific number of bedrooms, not a monetary value for rent. My voucher is for an one bedroom apartment. All voucher holders have to adhere to what is referred to as “payment standards” that are set by each municipal housing authority. This is essentially a cap on how much rent and utilities are allowed. The payment standard for an one bedroom in Boston is $1387 and for Somerville is $1261. Anyone who lives in Massachusetts knows that rent costs a great deal more then this and salaries don’t come close to covering it. That’s why you have so many adults living with roommates in this area. Given that we’re currently facing a serious housing crisis in Boston the unrealistically low Section 8 payment standards create an even larger barrier to safe and affordable housing for disenfranchised people.
So you can’t spend over $1387 in rent and utilities for an apartment in Boston so get a roommate. Makes sense, right? Except you can’t. Anyone who lives in the apartment is considered additional household income and then that counts against me and the services I receive. Why don’t you lie to get around this? Because you can’t. The voucher can only cover the set amount of bedrooms in an apartment that it’s issued for. I can only use my voucher for an one bedroom apartment. I still can’t have said apartment go over the payment standards. You still can’t lie to get around this? How will the housing authority know? Because they inspect the apartment before the voucher holder moves in and they receive a copy of the lease. Having a roommate doesn’t help me in finding a place they’ll approve of, nor does it impact how much I’ll directly pay in rent. It merely increases the likelihood that I’ll lose my voucher for not following the program rules.
Coincidentally, I’m only allowed a guest to stay a total of 22 nights in a year. That’s isn’t 22 nights per person. It’s for the entire year. Let’s say I’m dating someone and we want them to sleepover 1 night a week at my place. They can’t because I’d then risk loosing my voucher. I could also risk loosing my voucher for using medical marijuana in the apartment because while it’s legal in Massachusetts it’s still illegal on a federal level and Section 8 is funded through the federal government. I can use oxy (with a prescription) until my heart’s content, but I can’t use weed which helps my pain a great deal and has far less side effects then narcotics. These are two great examples as to how Section 8 further polices the bodies of the poor and plays the role of the institutional Daddy that is there to make sure we do right because we can’t possibly be trusted to make the best decisions given our situations for ourselves.
Moving along to the inspection. In theory, the inspection makes sense. It’s to ensure that Section 8 voucher recipients are living in safe homes that meet health and sanitation codes. However, it takes one to two weeks to have the inspection completed and the apartment must be empty when inspected. This means that the property owner is going without rent for part of a month in the hopes that they’ll pass inspection and they can rent to the voucher holder. They also have to fill out and submit a great deal of paperwork including some of their financial records. How many landlords have you had that would do this? I haven’t had a single one in Massachusetts that would go through this. When going to see apartments there’s almost always someone living in the apartment at the time of viewing and they usually move out the day before the new tenant moves in. Landlords here don’t even take a day to clean, make necessary repairs, and paint. The inspection then creates one more barrier to finding an apartment with Section 8. There is also of course the discrimination that voucher holders experience, but I’ll leave that for a later discussion.
Don’t some buildings have low income units? Yes, buildings that receive certain tax subsidies do have to put a set number of low and moderate income units in their buildings. The problem is that they don’t have to put in many of these units. In Boston, and many other large American cities, the only housing being built are high rise condo and apartment buildings for the obscenely wealthy. Many of these units begin at million and go up in cost. The developers become wealthier on the tax payers’ dime while creating a greater housing disparity that creates housing instability, higher rates of homelessness, over crowding in housing, and rent burden. The government of course plays their part in allowing this to occur.
I have a list of approximately 500 buildings in Boston that currently have these low to moderate income units. Can’t you apply for one of these units? How does this work you ask? It’s a long, tedious, time consuming, and soul crushing endeavor. The list shows 20 to 30 property management companies that manage most of these properties. It makes sense that you’d call the management company to find out about the units they have in all their properties, right? In case you haven’t figured this out yet this system doesn’t work on common sense and a stream lined approach to housing. You have to call each individual property to find out if they have units available. They’re also primarily open only Monday to Friday from 9 to 4. If you can’t make the multiple hours worth of phone calls in that time period then too bad. You’re simply out of luck. To add to this frustrating and draining process many of these sites don’t answer the phone and only have an option to leave a voice message, but they never return phone calls.
Isn’t there a website you can go to to submit an application or inquire about availability? No, there isn’t. When I have been able to get someone on the phone I’ve often been told they’d email or mail me applications, but that more often then not hasn’t occurred. Some properties require applicants to send self-addressed stamped envelopes for an application or to apply in person. Not every voucher holder has the means to apply in person due to a variety of factors such as disability. work schedule, and cost of transportation. Poor people also don’t have the money to buy numerous stamps and hope that the applications will be sent to them. Many of these applications are also 10 pages long so one stamp on a letter size envelope won’t work.
If these units exist why are you complaining about how difficult it is to find housing with your Section 8 voucher? Because the units are always taken and the wait lists, if they’re even open, are 1 to 10+ years long for an unit. I called one property last week that has had their wait list closed for 9 years because they have such a backlog of people in need of an affordable unit. One property management company that I’ve spoken to has a company policy not to tell Section 8 inquirers how long their wait lists are. I suspect that this is an attempt to appear as if they’re helping the community while really they are only pillaging.
10 years is a long time, but isn’t it better to just get yourself on these lists and try to wait it out? Think again. Waiting out a dire situation of poverty and rent burden leads to homelessness, abuse, and the growth of personal health issues and disability, as well as public health concerns. It’s also inhumane, elitist, and an unrealistic option to tell people to wait it out. To add to the emotionally, physically, and mentally crippling problems that poverty leads to for so many of us there is also the issue that vouchers expire. A Section 8 voucher holder has 60 days from the date of issue to find an apartment and sign a lease. If after 60 days you don’t have an apartment then you can file for a 30 day extension. If after those 30 days are up you can file for one more 30 day extension. In total, voucher holders have 120 days to find an apartment that meets the completely unrealistic demands of the Section 8 program.
I’ve opted to fill out applications for buildings in the Boston area that have a wait list of a year or less while hoping that I can find something in the now 3 months I have left on my voucher. Let me tell you about some of the questions that are asked on these preliminary applications. I’ve been asked my gender, age, race, eye color, height, weight, and if I have a criminal history and if so the details of said record. But discrimination in housing is illegal you say. Ha! I say to you. Even before I began my housing search with my voucher and I was employed full time I was told by landlords that because I’m a single woman they won’t rent to me if my father doesn’t co-sign the lease. As we all know we women can’t possibly handle our finances ourselves without a man involved and we all have fathers to fall back on. I’ve had landlords ask about my sexual orientation and dating practices. I’ve had landlords make racist comments about the fact that I’m Native. And on and on and on. While this is all illegal that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occur and the applications that most affordable housing units use are full of bigoted questions that can lead to housing discrimination, as well as the complete breakdown of one’s self-worth which is already difficult to maintain in the face of poverty and oppression.
Let’s move along to a possible happy outcome. You found an apartment! Let’s celebrate! No my friend, not yet. Now you have to come up with the financial resources to secure the apartment. The housing authority only pays the first month’s rent and the last month’s rent is only paid in your last month in the apartment. They don’t help with deposit nor do they put a cap on what the property owner may ask for. There’s also the matter of the non-refundable one month realtor fee because so many landlords in the Boston area use realtors to advertise their property. This is also not regulated by the housing authority. Even with a Section 8 voucher I could still be looking at anywhere from $3-5,000 that I have to put upfront to move into an apartment. I have Section 8 because I’m poor so I don’t have that kind of money.
Aren’t there other government programs or charities that can help with moving expenses? In theory, yes there are, but like the Section 8 program itself these programs are few and far between and have many stipulations that most people don’t meet, even if you’re poor and disabled. Because I’m disabled I have a much higher cost of living due to my health and life needs and I don’t have the luxury of moving with a Uhaul and some friends. I have to hire movers which increases the amount of money I need to get into a new apartment. Thankfully I can pack myself so I don’t have to hire packers, but that’s still incredibly painful and difficult for me to do so it’s a slow moving process that keeps me from taking care of other issues in my life, such as maintaining my health, applying to jobs, or writing. I might also mention that many of the charities that do supposedly help poor people are incredibly misogynistic and bi/trans/homophobic such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. I finally swallowed my pride today and called both for help, but was told that Catholic Charities had no money to give-because the Catholic Church is so hard up for cash-and no one answered the phone at Salvation Army.
Let’s say that by some small miracle I was able to save the amount of money that I need to move into a new apartment. Here’s where the system really fails me and countless others. The fact that we’d have that money is counted against us in the services we receive. Any money that I save means that my food stamps, disability, health care services, and Section 8 can be drastically cut or eliminated all together. Even if I were able to save money, which I’m not because I’m given so little that I can barely even live, I would have to keep it in my sock drawer or a coffee can because I can’t have it anywhere that the government can see. This is one more way that the system keeps poor people from being able to save and invest in order to get out and stay out of poverty.
Just to add to the ridiculously out of touch nature of government based social services student loans are not considered in your cost of living breakdown. As we all know us poor people are uneducated, lazy, and stupid. We couldn’t possibly have pursued, or hope to pursue, a higher education. (Full time students are not allowed to live in many affordable housing units). I can’t file bankruptcy to eliminate my student loans and because I have private loans I can’t even have the interest rates or payments lowered or deferred. Every time I apply for a service or fill out any of the countless forms that keep my current services in place they don’t count the nearly $600 monthly student loan payment that HAS TO BE PAID as one of my living expenses. If my mom didn’t co-sign those loans then I wouldn’t have been able to get my education which has proven to be utterly useless and detrimental to my financial health. As many know my relationship with my family is tenuous at best and outright toxic and abusive at its worst. I believe that if my mom wasn’t financially obligated to pay my loans  then she wouldn’t help me in paying them. As a result I would default and the government would most likely take that money out of my monthly disability check to make the payments.I then would be without a doubt homeless. Thankfully she is obligated and able to pay them so this is a concern that I’m able to put on the back burner for the time being. Of course having excessive student loan debt doesn’t help my credit score so it does impact my current state.
There you have it. This is a basic breakdown of Section 8 and its many failings. I’ve come to the conclusion that pride and dignity are privileges only reserved for those with some measure of financial stability and mine are being chipped away more and more with each passing day. I currently am at a rent burden rate of about 80%, live in an unsafe house where I’ve hurt myself twice on the property due to my landlord’s negligence, and am unable to have many of my health care and life needs met and am without the resources to climb out of poverty. My depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are only growing worse throughout this housing search process. I honestly don’t believe that I’ll continue to fight if I lose my voucher. If this occurs I’ll mostly likely be one more statistic of an Indigenous, bisexual, disabled, woman that’s a rape and abuse survivor that found the system and society to be nothing more then a serious of humiliations and abuses that were too much to bear.
After years of studying and working in politics and now being on the receiving end of so many government services I can confidently say that the system is not working to help people survive or thrive and move into a place independence; it is set up to keep the oppressed down so that we can never rise up and take what’s rightfully ours.