Sometimes the violence in the world around me doesn’t keep itself to the streets. Sometimes the violence in the world around me doesn’t keep itself at arms reach. Sometimes it comes howling through the corridors of the shelter, with it’s flashing neon sign and murals that haven’t been changed since sometime in the late seventies, and launches itself at me screaming retribution for some crime I failed to commit. I am not above those people around me that are also inhabiting the shelter. I am not better than them, I am not different to them: we are all down here on the bottom of the heap, at the largesse of the city, trying not to get denial-of-service or warnings, not starve because of cooking being banned and inadequate meals provided. I have celiac disease, no I cannot eat around the wheat, not unless I want stomach cancer, uncontrollable diarrhea and to sit crying as I vomit. I cannot just pick off the breading, nor can I survive on boiled eggs, shelled by hands that have been touching gluten, and lettuce that is smothered in dressing that I do not know is edible to me. I spent months before smuggling in a rice cooker in desperation, risking a d-o-s, just eating salad and gluten free crackers. I was wasting away. No one cared who could do anything about it.
That is why I am just like ‘them’ – the other people in the shelter. Nobody who can do shit does shit. It is a shame that America is so divided, so in pain, so split by the actions of Trump and the inadequate healing provided by the current administration, that the little people, people like me, turn in on themselves and each other in a flurry of pain that comes from a point of oppression and fear. I guard myself against this as best I can. That is not to say I don’t hate – I hate the agents of fear and oppression, of pain and domination, of authoritarian right-wing jackboot on the neck of the artists, the freaks, and the ordinary guy and gal trying to survive. I find plenty of fury for them, but some guy, fucked up on poverty, deprivation, and misdirected fury, nah…I just can’t find it in me. That is not to say I am not occasionally scared out of my tiny little brain. I am. I am frequently scared, always second-guessing myself, and quite often reduced to tears.
I ran back to my room, half limping (why do men always have to make me run), knocked on my door to be let back in, desperate for the Boy to hurry up and open up, and fell into the room, locking it behind me. Fuck the rules. The deadbolt is going on, and I will unbolt it only if I have to, and here I sit. My heart in my mouth. Outside I hear screams, I hear disruption. I hear the sirens in the distance, and they don’t make me feel safe either. When you are undocumented the help is not helpful, it is potential life-ruining danger. Nothing to do apart from sit here and wait it out, wondering how to make any of this better.
I am not anyone’s enemy who is on the side of liberty, freedom, social justice and fair play. I am not the enemy of the man shooting smack on the corner, or any guy in the shelter, nor the yellow-blanket man with cardboard boots, but society won’t just let me be. I am not allowed to live and let live. I have to wonder if it all has to be so hard, but then again, nothing worth fighting for was ever easy. There is a solution for SF, and it’s not this new push for greater policing in the Tenderloin I am reading about. There needs to be more psych ward beds, a city wide compassionate drug policy that gives the addicts what they need for free, so addicts are freed from the cycles of offending in order to do what they are going to do anyway. Shelters like this one are an amazing resource, and help many families, but the little stuff is leant on heavy, while larger offenses are ignored. Trust me, if I hit someone in the corridor, I would be out of here. If I tried to hit someone, I would rightly be out of here. If my rice cooker gets found, I am out of here. I can guarantee that rule is not universally applied to the men as well as the women of the shelter.
Police and community ambassadors are not going to fix people’s pain. A few more people might go to jail, and how will that help anyone? People need housing, food, compassionate addiction services with safe injection sites. People need counselling, there are so many heavily traumatized humans on the streets, who are living a war in a country where the haves can sleep safely, and the have-nots live in terror in their neighborhoods. The real offenders, the real bad guys they are left to roam, while the low hanging fruit, the easier to arrest and victimize are going to be picked up for what? Smoking crack in public? Smoking weed within 15 feet of an entrance or window? Prostitution? This shit is playing at fixing the city, it is papering over the cracks and not fixing the foundations, and the whole fucking lot is going to come down. Fixing the city starts with fixing the people within it. Ignoring the problems and hoping it all just works out is not helping. A knee jerk reaction of greater policing is not going to help any more than it ever has. This society focuses on shaming and punishment, instead of helping people live better lives. It would be cheaper to help people than to pay for the results of the current inhumane policy.
..and besides…fuck it, I need some peace and quiet, and if I do so does every other homeless person trying to raise their kids in shelters safely. Some humanity will make us all sleep a little safer in our beds. When will those that can wake up to reality? I fear only when it is far far too late for too many of us who are living the sharp edge of the consequences of failing policies and political posturing.