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Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America [Paperback]

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Item description for Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America by Tiny Gray-garcia & Lisa Gray-garcia...

Eleven-year-old Lisa becomes her mother's primary support when they face the prospect of homelessness. As Dee, a single mother, struggles with the demons of her own childhood of neglect and abuse, Lisa has to quickly assume the role of an adult in an attempt to keep some stability in their lives. "Dee and Tiny" ultimately become underground celebrities in San Francisco, squatting in storefronts and performing the "art of homelessness." Their story, filled with black humor and incisive analysis, illuminates the roots of poverty, the criminalization of poor families, and their struggle for survival.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   287
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 1, 2006
Publisher   City Lights Foundation Books
ISBN  1931404070  
ISBN13  9781931404075  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Women
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Womens Studies > General

Reviews - What do customers think about Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America?

Broken System  Jun 13, 2007
I'm not sure what motivated me to pick up this book, after so many others. But I'm glad I did.

Criminal of Poverty is different because it's written by someone who lived the system. Tiny and her mother were thrust into poverty when her father (briefly described as a rich, handsome doctor) abandoned his family. Shielded by expensive lawyers, he could get on with his life, assuming that whatever happened was their own fault.

Beginning with the title,Gray-Garcia forces her readers to juxtapose crime and poverty in surprising but realistic ways. She confirms what academic researchers have already studied: survival as a poor person requires taking liberties with the law. She could have noted htat both crime and poverty tend to rise from mental illness.

Tiny writes magnificently, evoking people and scenes, keeping the pages turning -- rare for this kind of subject. She doesn't spare herself, her mom or anyone around her. She doesn't judge, even when almost anybody else would. For instance, at one point her mother decides to adopt a special needs child, a decision that predictably ended in disaster. In yet another irony, the child ends up in social services, probably to be sent to a series of foster homes, just as Tiny's mother was. But Tiny just writes that her mother believed in advocacy and helping others, so she naturally wanted to extend their family.

More than anything, Gray-Garcia shows that poverty is a spiral. Once you can't pay the rent or get medical care, you can't get a job. Or if a single mom does get a job, she can't pay child support. What would be a minor irritation to a middle class person can destroy the life of a poor family.

Tiny spends half a day getting relief for utility bills so she can get her heat and electricity turned on. She engages in creative, technically illegal manipulations to get her teeth fixed (and later getting access to a computer so she can do her writing). She spends a couple of nights in jail because she can't pay parking tickets and her car's registration was two days overdue.

For people who think, "There are places to go if you're poor," this book should be an eye opener. For years we've known that "See your local mental health association" means nothing. If The System had spent a few thousand dollars to help Tiny's mother get decent mental health care, this book would never have been written. But if Tiny had been caught shoplifting or committed a crime, the System would spend thousands of dollars keeping her incarcerated. In fact, as she says, she couldn't get legal assistance for moving violations or parking until she was arrested for unpaid parking tickets.

Both Tiny and her mother manage to carve out a lifestyle around art and freedom. At times, I couldn't help wondering why her mother didn't try for more "straight" jobs - even waitressing or working in a bookstore. But I suspect her mental illness kept her from doing anything but what she did. Tiny has the soul of a true writer and artist - finding expression under the most oppressive conditions.

Gray-Garcia's spirit bursts through this book like a bright light in a dark tunnel. Beginning with her middle school years, when most kids turn to video games, sports and half-hearted attempts at homework, she takes on the burden of her depressed, asthmatic, claustrophobic mother. She's far more patient and understanding than many people three or four times her age.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the book comes when Tiny creates a welfare-to-work program. She teaches herself a spreadsheet program and writes a proposal that actually gets accepted.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Tiny, defying and manipulating the very system that put her in poverty, has created a life that many middle class workers would envy. She has earned her living by art. She is now on a national book tour. She paid her dues on the street. Big dues. I hope she gets some pretty big payback.

Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America  Jun 6, 2007
I literally could NOT put this book down. To say that TINY (aka, Lisa Gray-Garcia)is a gifted writer somehow minimizes her incredible tenacity of spirit, dignity, and the insurmountable love and intelligence she possesses in order to have lived the life she has lived, accomplished the things that she accomplished, and still lived to tell the story with such grace, insight, humor, and depth of character for the benefit of others.

This eye-opening, lucid description about an 11-year old girl who drops out of school because she and her single-mom are homeless . . . that eventually leads to her acquiring a PhD about the criminalization of poverty in the USA, through the "school of hard knocks," is a must read for every civic leader, politician, and CEO; every McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Coordinator, superintendent, school administrator, teacher, school nurse or guidance counselor; every public, private, or non-profit family support services manager, case manager, socialworker, or child and family advocate . . . and, yes, I daresay, every voting American in this nation. Where is the creativity in OUR lives and OUR work, and in the work we do for others??
Tiny is an amazing person  May 22, 2007
Lisa "Tiny" Grey-Garcia graced our bookstore in Philadelphia with her
presence and incredible thoughts. She came off as incredibly
intelligent, very creative, and a very likable person. She is the
founder of POOR magazine, dedicated to the poor when all the other
magazines seem dedicated to people who don't need anymore dedication
(rockstars, politicians, actors, etc.). When at the Shoe, she talked
about strength through organization and treating people in that
organization like family, even when you want to butt heads with them.
She talked about strength through art and how even in a life of
constant struggle, you never give up, especially when the entire
culture is set against you (peppering her speech with phrases like
DWP, or "driving while poor", underlining her crystal clear thoughts
on our society). She had a beautiful picture of her mother, Mama Dee,
who she was close was with her entire life.

I had to read her book after listening to her speak. In
"Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America", Garcia lays out
her origins through telling the story of her grandmother who
immigrated from Ireland and had to make hard choices, her mother Dee,
her wealthy father who left them to fend for themselves, and finally
herself. Her mother could not work a job because of disability, so the
two eked a living on their own wits. The story traces Tiny and Mama
Dee growing as legends in Venice Beach, California, telling their
stories and making it by through art and selling t-shirts, and
eventually taking their "po' art" up to San Francisco. It's a story of
constantly being evicted, messed with by police, driving from one
place to the next trying to find a place to stay, and of all else,
never leaving each other behind no matter what. The "art of
homelessness" is the only way they can truly get by in an insane world
where everything that can go wrong, does.

Garcia helps found POOR magazine, and through the grit of her
teeth and really amazing talent, she is able to get POOR magazine
afloat. It becomes a project that empowers people to be great organizers and
activists in fights for survival, housing, jobs, expression, and
dignity. Her mother and many others are at her side the entire time,
and it really attests to what one can do when your back is up against
the wall. It illustrates plainly how if you are poor in America, you
basically have no rights in practice and how you are treated like an
animal by society. Tiny doesn't seek to "rise above this," she seeks
to rise everyone up and fight for real tangible gains for real people
who need them. That's what's really great about this book. You can
really tell that the author and people in POOR magazine have ability
above nothing else to fight and fight well for what's right.

I probably didn't mention that Tiny is a really gifted writer, too.
You can tell by her writing that she's been doing art for a long
time. She chooses her words really well and the book reads like stuff
that happened decades ago happened minutes before. You really won't be
disappointed if you pick this one up. Just awesome.
Required Reading for all Social Workers and Policy Makers  Apr 24, 2007
Tiny's memoir is an amazing behind the scenes look at homelessness in the United States. Activists can argue forever about what parts race-class-gender make in social problems--or they can just read the book.

I would have loved for Tiny to unleash her amazing mind on solutions to poverty and inequality. However, as a blistering critique of bureaucracy and class contempt this book is spot-on.
The Hard Struggle Upward  Apr 12, 2007
If it sounds impossible that one can be literate with a doctor father and a psychologist mother and yet be homeless for most of one's life, you can't imagine Tiny's story. Her father threatens to take custody of Tiny if mother pushes for decent child support. Her mixed-race mother was raised in a series of foster homes and has no family or savings. When government cutbacks dissolve her job, it is a short step to the streets. You can almost envy the creativity and resourcefulness Tiny learns on the streets, but it would be meaningless if she didn't finally get help in making the transition to a more stable life.

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