March 24, 2016
Today, I got confirmation that Matt Day, A.K.A. Mad Matt, died alone on the streets. His body was found at Fisherman’s Wharf in November. It took so long to find out because when homeless people die on the streets, it’s not news. Usually there is no mention. A life lost while homeless is not equal to a life lost when housed.
I first saw Matt at the Occupy encampment at JHP. (Justin Herman Plaza) Matt was running around yelling at no one and everyone. He was angry. At what, who knew? He was just another mentally disabled person at the protest. He had a beaver tail dread in his hair as big as a pillow. He was filthy. He looked like a wild man. I stayed away. I could not get past what I was seeing and hearing. I did not give him a chance.
After the police raided and destroyed the protest, the occupiers scattered. Most of us went to the federal reserve where we still had a presence. The cops then raided and destroyed that a week later. Now, the occupiers had no place to go. Over 100 protesters had everything they owned destroyed. No blankets, warm clothing or shelter. Christmas was coming. The weather was getting colder. The city did not care.
The occupiers fled to Main St. We set up the “main st. squat” This is where we slept. A wide sidewalk one block from the fed. We did not return to the fed that year. Instead, we fell back beaten and bloodied. The system crushed Occupy nationally.
So, after a couple of months of being chased and harassed by cops and DPW, we made our move. It started with six of us. On Feb. 28, 2012, six homeless people returned to the Federal Reserve. Pirate Mike led the way. Jesse, Rob, Styx, Matt, and me joined him. Little did any of us know what we were starting.
It was war. Us against them. Six homeless against the city that hates the homeless. They threw everything they had at us. Constant police harassment, with arrests for lodging for sitting on cardboard or having a blanket. Sleep deprivation by SFPD with visits every few minutes to make us stand up, or to perform welfare checks. All day, all night. In conjunction with the cops, the city sent in DPW to clean the sidewalks. This also occurred several times a night. For months we held out against this. Our numbers would grow, and the attacks would drive some away. We didn’t grow above a dozen. We couldn’t.
During this time, Matt would continue his rants. He would chase the bankers down the sidewalk. He would go off on anyone who looked at him wrong. He did not like “the look.” All homeless know the look. That’s when housed look down on the homeless. It is an insult. And homeless don’t like it.
So he rants. He walks away during his rants, down the sidewalk. He was loud. Loud enough for us to finally hear his rants. And guess what? He was not as crazy as I thought. He was just sick of being abused. So, I started listening. And I started caring.
Matt heard voices. We knew he did because of some of the things he did. And how he would react to the voices that we couldn’t hear. He got angry because he thought it was us talking about him. We weren’t. Instead of being dismissive of Matt’s ways, we welcomed them. We excepted him. And that is when Matt became Matty.
Matt was now excepted by the homeless, but not the housed. The housed partly blamed Matt’s behavior for discrediting Occupysf. They all saw how he was, without understanding who he was. Matt won them over with a single piece of art. During a GA, we showed Matt’s artwork. No one knew Matt’s history. It turns out this mentally disabled man was a contributor to the mural at the Moscone Center. It also turns out that he had a Masters Degree in documentary film making, as well as an arts degree.
When the housed members saw his drawing of the hand, they gasped. Silence followed. Then the applause started. I will never forget the look on Matt’s face. He was shocked. He had been so abused that he never exposed his true self to the people. He did not know how to react. So he smiled. His eyes lit up. He was excited. And he healed. Right then and there, the schizophrenic homeless man became a brother. He became a member of the occupiers.
That expectance led to this There was a period of heavy rain that lasted two weeks. Our numbers went from over a dozen to just Matt and I. On the last night of rain, I was sitting in a chair and Matt was curled up on the sidewalk. We were completely soaked, and had been for days. All the other occupiers were downstairs in the Bart station, trying to stay dry. Our 24 hour continuous presence was in jeopardy. We were miserable. Cold and wet. Nothing was dry. Clothing, bedding, and all our gear had been soaked. We could have left. We didn’t. Matt gave me the strength to hold it down. He was not moving. He was shivering. I was shivering. We looked at each other with rain pouring down our faces. And we laughed. We laughed because at that point, we knew neither one of us was moving. No matter what. The rain ended that night. It did not come back for months.
Matt continued to heal. He continued his art. He continued giving the bankers hell. And then this happened. One day, a federal reserve employee gave me “the look.” I was asleep at the time. What woke me up was Matt chasing the guy down the block yelling “do I look at your family that way?” This, I will remember forever. Matty, wherever you are, know that there will never be another like you. You taught me a very valuable lesson. I was wrong for judging you. I was just like every housed person. I was looking with my eyes and hearing with my ears. You showed me my heart. You motivated me. You are one of the reasons First They Came For The Homeless happened.
You are our biggest success. What we did for each other is how humanity is supposed to be. We did it without money, food, clothing, blankets, or shelter. We did it together. We did it as family. And we pulled off the longest Federal Reserve occupation in this country.
I have cried several times while writing this. I have had to pause to wipe my eyes. Matty, my brother, rest in peace.