Even though I am out of here on Monday, I was very distressed to read that 25 SIP hotels in San Francisco are scheduled to close, leaving 2000 people that are housed in them to have to find alternate options. For most of these people, the vast majority, there is no other options. I read a lot of complaints about ‘homeless’ in San Francisco, and even an taxi driver today was bitching about the homeless, not realizing I am one of the unhomed people he had so much vitriol for. The powers that be will make sure that the people they want to throw out will leave the places that they have called home for the last year or so, since the start of the pandemic. I read the last remaining homeless resident of the Diva Hotel was arrested on an outstanding warrant. I wonder how many of the residents ended up back on the streets.
In weekly community shelter meetings we have been warned for the last few months that the pandemic is ‘over’ and that although this shelter has funding to continue until the end of the year that we shouldn’t make ourselves too comfortable. We are also told if we don’t like the rules here then there is a tent in the alleyway outside for us and our children. Of course this serves to unsettle and upset the people who rely on the SIP hotel in order to stay off the street. Make no mistake there are families with children living on the streets of San Francisco. I have seen a mother in the gutter trying to wash her child’s clothes, as a sad little face stares grubbily out from the tent they live in. That alleyway saw a murder over this summer, and is the scene of much violence, homosexual and straight prostitution and open IV drug use. It is where you go if you want a blow job or a rock, a fight or a fuck. It is not where you try and raise a child amongst the human excrement and danger. It is not the mother’s fault, and I know there will be people reading who jump to that conclusion, that she is somehow to blame. I tell you now, the fact that rent is so expensive, that there are barriers to getting into the limited domestic violence shelters and the homeless shelters, and yes, the challenges of surviving addiction make that homeless mother’s situation almost impossible. I guarantee you she is doing the best she can. The only difference between me and her is that I play the game and I know how to advocate for myself.
A room in a SIP hotel means the difference between success and failure for families, and individuals on the street. There is no way anyone can get clean while they are sleeping outside. Getting drunk and high is the only way to deal with being homeless. The indignities, the dangers, the hopelessness the dirt and the discomfort pervade your every waking moment, and forget sleeping. Sleeping has to be done during daylight hours and somewhere as open as possible, you sleep with one eye open. Once people are in rooms with water and electric and a bathroom, they can begin to heal up. My health has improved dramatically. I was not going to last another winter outside. My son has stopped sneezing and wheezing. I still have issues, and have not been able to secure healthcare, but I clean, and I have been able to stay sober. The shelter saved us.
As hard as it is in a shelter, as tough as life has been in here: the noise, the occasional violent behavior, intimidation and the partying, the inability to cook meals, and the petty rules that make people feel less human than they should, as difficult as all of that is, make no mistake, the San Francisco SIP (Shelter In Place) hotel program saved my life and saved the Boy’s future. It is not only us, there are so many families here who have been able to move out of cars under the Oakland underpass, out from tents, and buses, and other inadequate accommodation, and start to rebuild productive healthy lives. My mental health has been better, I have been able to write and work, and create and breathe, and just stop moving from here to there not able to ever put down roots or find solutions. Now I am about to move into an apartment with my child, and that means more to me than I can express. It means life. It means not giving up. It means a chance.
The purchase of these four hotels – (I failed to find details about the other three that were not behind a paywall) means the difference between life and death for people, some of whom are children. Not only that it is better for the city that people get inside and in treatment. Trust me, no one can kick hard drugs outside. Kicking heroin/fentadope involves a messy, bone breaking withdrawal. With no access to a restroom and a quiet space it is absolutely impossible. Get people linked up to the assistance they need, get them feeling clean and cared for, and well fed, and watch the crime and social problems disappear. It is better for everyone to put homeless people in homes.
Everybody wants to deal with homelessness, but they don’t want to find solutions. The solution is to use all those hotels that are wasted on tourism and put the people in the street into programs run from these single room occupancy hotels, that take care of their social and medical needs. Between the social workers and the staff here, I have been able to acclimatize to living inside again, I dared to dream about a future. Now I am looking at moving into my own home with my son. The program kept what was left of my family together, and helped us thrive. It provided stability and security and safety. The hotels for homeless program works.
Not only that, San Francisco has applied to buy four hotels in the San Francisco area, and to start to move homeless people into them. Of course, there is pushback from residents of these areas. I know my beloved Japantown is not happy at the thought of hosting the homeless community in their part of Western Addition. There is considerable community pushback and this breaks my heart. The hotel which serves the community I have been a part of for the last ten months, is not a hotbed of anything other than the recovery of people’s lives. There is no trouble outside. There is occasionally trouble inside, but there is always security here. If anyone is caught dealing or using the rooms for prostitution they would be gone. No visitors are allowed, and there is always someone in the lobby maing sure this is adhered to. The hotel is monitored 24 hours a day. The residents are in more danger from those outside the community, than those within it. If San Francisco wants to solve the homeless issue then they need to give up some HOMES for those that need them.
The petition to stop the purchase of the Hotel Buchanan in Japantown is an example of the worst of humanity. People want the eyesore of the homeless off the streets, but begrudge them a space to just be. Having a hotel which will house the homeless is not something that the residents and businesses of Japantown should resist. Embrace the healthing, embrace the change, embrace the love for our fellow humans. Homeless people pose no danger to the existence of Japantown, no existential threat is brought into being by simply putting human beings into sanitary housing conditions. Treat people like humans and they start acting like humans. How could anyone be so heartless, let alone the wonderful and vibrant Japanese community in Western Addition, a community that my son belongs to, and we both love so much, and spend so much of our free time in? Show some love! Show compassion! Show people that people matter, no matter what their financial status, or their problems and challenges. There but for Fate and Chance go all of us, and there I am.
As hard as this has been for me and the Boy, it has made all the difference to our lives and the ability we had to forge a bright future. The homeless hotel has helped one halfu Japanese kid dream of a future where he can be a success. The purchase of the Hotel Buchanan can help so many more people, as will the other three hotels up for purchase by the city to house the homeless long term.
Don’t fear change: be the love and the compassion and the helping hand back up into civilized living conditions that people need. When I came here I had sore that hadn’t healed up, I was very thin, my mental health was not great because I was constantly worrying if today or tomorrow was going to be the day I would never see my son again. The Boy was scared and depressed and felt set apart from his peers. With the program he has flourished and has friends and a social life. It gave him a chance he had not had before, and I could not be more grateful.
So long as the staff and security people stay on top of new residents and any possible behavioral and mental health issues they have, and there is adequate social worker input, it might not be perfect, but it is a damn sight better than any other option. Group shelters still alienate and fail to make people feel like people. The hotel program gives the gift of a transition towards stability, and what a priceless gift it is!
These hotels are literally sitting on space not being used by tourists when they could be part of the solution in fixing a huge and devastating social problem.
The hotel program is making a real difference to the lives of good people who just need a chance to shine. The SF Chronicle positioning this knee-jerk ‘not in my back yard’ reaction towards these hotels as a resident ‘fightback’ is a dereliction of editorial duty to do no harm to the city they write about. It is creating an Us and Them mentality, hostility towards those of us that life has beat down on until we broke. It is cruel and callous and to be frank, makes me wonder about the ivory tower some of these journos live in that they fail to see the big picture of what is better for a city with a large desperate struggling homeless population that needs some help and compassion. A failure to see the bigger picture and whip up hostility to programs which will be for the good of all San Franciscan residents, is not helping the dying Japantown with its empty stores and malls, and not helping the city as a community. I would implore them to do better, but the stench of privilege means they would never understand, not in a million years.