April 2016 meeting: Housekeys Not Handcuffs

The homelessness crisis is a hot ticket topic of discussion if you live in San Francisco and different viewpoints can often feel divisive. As it kept coming up in our bookclub discussions, we decided that we needed to do something about it. Read. Then discuss.


The book we chose Housekeys not Handcuffs: Homeless Organizing, Art, and Politics in San Francisco and Beyond by Paul Boden. Although I had not read it previously, I recommended it as I had heard some of the writers and artists speak at a community forum. I even knew some of the artists; much of the art in the book was created at the studio where I used to work, Hospitality House Community Arts Program.


Housekeys not Handcuffs is a series of essays by Paul Boden, who has been in the homeless organizing field here in SF since 1983 when he himself was homeless. There were also essays by Art Hazelwood, an artist and activist, Bob Prentice, who did a lot of early policy work surrounding homelessness, and many unnamed authors from decades of of Street Sheet, the newspaper that covers homeless issues and that people can sell to supplement their income instead of pan handling. In regards to the content of the book, more of us bookclub members were more engaged by the artwork than the text. Prints, murals, cartoons, photos, and mixed media gave a strong visual to the history of the homeless struggle. This piece by Christine Hanlon was a favorite.


"Vogue and Vagrant" by Christine Hanlon
“Vogue and Vagrant” by Christine Hanlon


What really made this Holistic Lady Bookclub a night for the records is that the author Paul Boden joined us in person, bravely crossing the threshold as a man entering into the sacred territory of an all female bookclub. He shared it was his first ever bookclub meeting as well and it was our first meeting with the author sitting in the room with us. We all were excited and a little nervous.


We started our meeting with sharing what felt like home–several women felt their parents’ house where they grew up was home, others said their husbands, kids, and pets felt like home, someone named their apartment in SOMA, someone described the moment in the drive over the Golden Gate Bridge when you can feel the fog, someone else said community and public libraries make a place feel like home. We all could easily identify that feeling of safety, of belonging, of knowing your place.


As Paul shared details of his experience, history of funding changes, inequalities that exist in our system, and advice on what a mother bear wanting to protect her den and cubs experiencing compassion fatigue should do, it became clear that every single one of us in the room was learning something new. Some shared the overwhelming need to examine previous beliefs and how they view people who are living on the street or even that this conversation might influence how they vote in the future.


Does life get much better than reading a book to learn more and having a beautiful discussion that really digs into history, life experience, and beliefs?


If you would like to purchase Housekeys not Handcuffs, Paul recommended you buy the book straight from their website www.wraphome.org  since they don’t get any cut of the Amazon sales. The Western Regional Advocacy Project website is also chocked full of resources, artwork, history, and actions about homelessness organizing.


Paul Boden with the Holistic Lady Bookclub on April 20, 2016
Paul Boden with the Holistic Lady Bookclub on April 20, 2016