The light is failing in San Francisco, while I hope the dreams and twisted perverted desires of the Republican Party recall are fading faster than the late summer Bay area heat. Apparently, I missed an earthquake. After Japan I don’t even feel ’em under a 3.8. I don’t dare tempt the Fates by suggesting that these California quakes don’t impress me much, it is just that Tokyo managed to scare the daylights outta me on a regular basis.
So I am sitting up on my window seat looking down onto the city, and the people that are walking home in the cold of the evening. Late summer is the hottest time of the year here, though I have not felt it get truly hot in the way it gets inland. That kinda heat that leaves you panting and sweating on a bad, feeling like you are about to pass out doesn’t make it past the merciful Bay marine layer. I love this city. It feels like this is where I belong, even if both me and SF are going through an identity crisis. I don’t know who I am any more, but I guess I know who I ain’t. The eternal Californian summer feels as if it gifts fifty percent more life to its inhabitants rather than force them into the suspended animation of repeated winter wastes of time that could be better spent on a beach or lazing on the ground in a park that is not frozen and dead.
The California climate, at least away from the biannually frozen north which turns into a picture-perfect snowy wonderland every winter, is the best thing about this state, apart from its liberal politics. It ain’t perfect here, but at least it gives people a chance at survival, even though sometimes it feels as if the powers-that-be are only paying lip service to compassion. I do not miss the snow, the cold, the constant deluge or the Trump signs of Oregon. Every time I say his name I want to spit. Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck the republican recall. I see these paid for by the republican party stooges outside grocery stores and on street corners, I get hassled every time I see them. It’s a power grab, and nothing more, that is playing on the have’s desire to push the have not’s out of California. I don’t see it flying in San Francisco. In my highly unscientific observations of their pissant signature collecting, they are being rejected 9 times out of 10, and 6 of those times come with various degrees of profanity, not least of all from me. Just like YG and Nipsey Hustle made clear back in 2016, I’ll say it again, fuck Donald Trump. Fuck fascism. Fuck the Republican party. Heck they are all going to horse paste themselves into oblivion anyway.
A man settles down under a tree, seemingly for the night, and I feel a strong sense of shame for being inside safely, as well as gratitude for our current comfort. Cardboard. Plastic bags and layers of paper go down on the tiny square of dirt that is cut into the sidewalk. It is a particularly beautiful tree. It is all that is between the man and the elements. I’ve spent entire winters cuddled up in stinking jersey and fleece, trying to keep out the wind and the wet. I wish the young man out there had somewhere better to go, as I watch him try to pull his clothing around himself closer. There are people who would resent him even having the plastic and paper under his body as he slept. These recall lot would support the sweeps that take away people’s possessions, their tents and their safety. As it is, even with the more liberal people in charge, the Los Angeles homeless community is under attack, and the sweep crews move on the San Francisco homeless regular as clockwork.
The man outside gets up, starts shuffling around pouring a liquid out of a large bottle, onto the sidewalk. I admit I groaned wincing at the thought of piss running downhill, but being driven to the point of pouring piss over a society that fails to provide adequate bathroom facilities that are open all night, and cafes and shops insisting you buy something to use their facilities could drive even the most reasonable person towards a dirty protest. Nobody cares when you are living outside and drowning in anger and resentment and lack of provision of even the basic of human needs.
Living outside, looking at the cars that sit there empty that could be providing shelter and safety, the empty office buildings, the empty apartments, the hotels that sit empty, and the parks which could make a decent spot to camp and put up a tent, and being denied all of it, gets infuriating. There is a surplus of shelter, and those that have it do not want to share with those that are in need. To be able to camp safely, to have a room with a shower and a toilet, to be warm and dry. To have electric to charge up a phone. To have access to clean running water. All these things should be a given in 2021 USA, and they are for some, but not for all. There are women living in parks with children. Pregnant women under the underpass sleeping rough and in danger, there are elderly dying on the streets, and young people unable to pull themselves up to a point in life where they can do something that would mean something, that would give them purpose and meaningful satisfaction, that would help them cease to be a perceived burden on society, and instead be able to contribute and interact with the society around, reintegrate and take part in the life of the places they live.
This reintegrating into society, rejoining the herd is currently my main goal. I feel shut out, feral, marginalized as if I cannot exist within society because I am not welcome. I feel as if the city can smell my failures on me and will not let me in. I feel as if my son is not welcome either. This feeling is diminishing day by day, partly due to the baseball club my son belongs to making a huge effort to make him feel like part of something good, partly due to living in a house and having an address. Today talking to a lovely person from the SF Coalition on Homelessness, being heard and accepted, and a hand offered that would give me more connections within the city, and a voice within it, made me feel like it was possible to be seen as human again, not a feral animal to be kept at arms length. The SF Coalition clearly sees people as people, not as problems, and their compassion and positive activism has been having an impact since 1987. After all, isn’t that all anyone is looking for? Acceptance?
If my queer, recovered addict, failure as a human being self can find acceptance perhaps I can rise above my past and actually thrive, rather than fail. This is the key, I feel: to love without boundaries, to accept people are they are – addicted or mentally ill, unhoused and free, or unhoused and trying to comply with the difficult and problematic rules of the ‘help’, which sometimes, despite their good intentions, gets it a bit wrong. Where the Coalition on Homelessness seems to shine is that they do not have barriers to accessing assistance. They see addicts as human beings. They seek to provide a myriad of practical solutions to the problems faced by the unhoused. I figure if anyone can work out a way to get me some medical help it is going to be these people! I cannot imagine what it would be like to not be in constant physical pain, nor what it is like not to be looked down upon for my daily struggle to stay clean and sober, let alone included and listened to!
The stagnation of suffering and accepting a situation that is unacceptable might be the biggest problem facing San Francisco. Those that run things, that have power have a certain cachet and celebrity. My stomach turned when I saw a certain firebrand democrat that I admire greatly wear a ‘Tax The Rich’ beautiful designer ballgown to the Met Gala. Tax the rich, and sell the fucking dress and feed people. House them. Nurture them. Nurse their dreams. Give them a chance. Heck, actually do something to save lives and provide better drug treatment centers, safe injection sites, with the option of injectable hydromorphone instead of methadone, and a more humane and workable opiate treatment program. Fentanyl is killing more people than covid in San Francisco!
This gulf between the rich and the poor, between have and have not, between me and you and them and us; the barriers to empathy and understanding all need to be torn down in order to fix our broken and failing society, otherwise the entire structure is going to fail.
The champagne socialists need to be scrabbling down in the street, begging for relief. They need to know what it is like to need detox and be told it isn’t available. They need to know what it is like to be sleeping outside with children, or homeless and pregnant, or scared, or hurting and lacking medical treatment. They need to understand through experience how it is to not be able to get money sent because of lack of documentation, and the fear of a family being split up through the grotesque work of ICE. San Francisco is my sanctuary and my savior, and I will be forever grateful for the relative safety it has provided me and my Boy.
The powers that be need to understand how it feels to look out at life and see nothing but a wide open expanse of hopelessness, knowing that the hole is too deep to climb out of without a leg up, a hand out, a ladder of compassion thrown down, instead of retribution for being a victim. Society abuses the based for daring to survive the initial onslaught against them. There is nothing as vicious as society when it smells a reject or someone different. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Fault has nothing to do with it. Nor does being fair. Nothing is fair: life is brutal. Failure breeds failure and success breeds success.
I always get an uneasy feeling in the mornings or late evenings, hoping that nothing happens that day which will cause my life to fall apart. No matter that I have a door that I can lock and a life which is gradually knitting into something workable and successful, experience has taught me that pain and failure is just around the corner. If it wasn’t for Ruthie offering that hand out of the hole I was in and cake and a hug once she had caught hold of me, if it wasn’t for the friendship and mentorship of the wonderful Helena of Casa Forte, I would have gone under. I will never know how to thank them. I got lucky. So many people are not so lucky, and none of them any less deserving than me and the Boy, and that is not right.
Nothing gets better by sweeping away what doesn’t suit, without fixing the heart of the problem: human beings are not files that can be deleted if they are troublesome or don’t fit the scenery. Two men stand at the crossing held up by the flow of traffic. An entire underclass population are held back from happy, clean, satisfying productive lives and the opportunity to have a positive impact on their city by a continual red light given to fixing the problems they face on a day to day basis. We need to put in some traffic lights! A big ole stop sign to the sweeps, to denial of service for homeless people who cannot abide by rules put in place by shelter providers that are far above and beyond anything the rest of the population has to live by. We need to green light action which help the many disenchanted and struggling people who live outside of the burgeoning wealth of San Francisco so they can cross over into a better life and join in instead of being shut out.
It is not so much a manifesto from my window as a plea for compassion, decency and a leveling of society. As a homeless person in a shelter I felt continually spoken down to, chastised, infantilized, disrespected, held to arbitrary rules which took away my autonomy and freedom. My need for sleep and rest and the ability to work from my room was constantly under attack. Nothing was ever fixed quickly and efficiently, while the petty rules were enforced harshly, the large issues went on for months at a time. I felt I had no right to even ask to be allowed to sleep, and when I did, pointing out the banging on the wall for hours was not fair, I was dismissed. Beggars have no right to ask for anything Be grateful, or get out. The denial of service threat hung over the entire shelter. After all, if we didn’t like it, we were told we could always go sleep outside in the alley without children. The hotel system works, and for all the difficult things, the fact is that the time in the shelter let me recover from being outside for so long and make a life. Running water! Heat! Light! Electricity! School! Work! All these things without somewhere to stay are a daily struggle.
It really shouldn’t be so hard to survive.