For the last five days my apartment has has an unhoused neighbor. He found himself a spot under a tree, first on this side of the road, then moved to the other side in front of an unused store front. He was not aggressive, nor loud. Your perfect neighbor really: quiet, respectful, tidy. He occasionally smoked his shit off some foil, and nodded out, his head clonking against the dirty San Franciscan sidewalk. No sleeping bag, no tent. No nothing. I felt scared for him. I don’t do very well with men, and I felt a little scared of him and his maleness. Seeing he had got a blanket or two was hardly reassuring. It is not nearly enough. It gets cold at night out here, so resolved to try and say hey when I walked past next time. He had no belongings other than a single Walgreens plastic 10c shopping bag with a few things in. After giving me a scare a couple of times, looking like he had gone under, I resolved to go get some narcan. It is no simple thing for me to woman up and take my ass to the harm reduction clinic and ask for anything. It takes me back to the bad old days. I also have to walk past the dealers to get in there, and stand around knowing they have sweet sticky methadone syrup just within reach. I looked out the window again, and knew that despite how uncomfortable and borderline tempting it would be for me I had to go in and ask for a free narcan inhaler and some training in how to use it correctly. I can’t have someone die out there when I could have done something. This young man is my peer. I was in just the same position once upon a time. That young man is someone’s son. Someone loved him. Cherished him. Wanted the best for him. Someone is missing him somewhere. Heck he is probably missing himself. He deserves a chance at life.
This morning he was moved on by cops. Told not this block. Someone must have complained. They also moved on another new street resident, who had unfortunately built an entire fort from discarded furniture in front of the nicer apartment block just down from me, kinda blocking the entranceway. My heart sank when I saw it. Sofa cushions and shelving, bookcases and a lamp. My heart sank because I knew it would attract attention. The sweep crews would be called and the poor guy would lose everything. I am privileged. I would not want to live with him just outside my window. He was being a bit fiesty, quite loud and coughing a lot. He seemed to be hassling a dude trying to get into his house. The teatowel wearing nativity play wannabe with the trash fort really seemed to be in need of help. More help than he had currently been on the receiving end of.
I couldn’t look outside when I heard the kerfluffle. I felt too awful. Awful these guys had lost their stuff. Awful that they had been moved on when they had nowhere else to go. Awful that I was safe inside. Awful that I had done nothing to help. People need to put their feet somewhere on this earth, they cannot simply disappear.
After being moved on from a parking lot with the kids in tow, I remember screaming: “Just where do you want me to go!?” Anywhere else. Not Here. They didn’t know, they didn’t care. As long as we were not where we were, that was good enough for them. “Move or we will call the cops.” Sometimes we didn’t have enough gas to go far. Sometimes we had a nail in a tire. Sometimes we were exhausted and had driven too far, but some little nazi in a fake cop uniform insisted that we keep on driving. We had been driving too long back in Salinas. Hours and hours out of Los Angeles. We pulled into an almost empty lot, late at night, outside a Staples or a Safeway. Something like that. It was about midnight, and we really needed to stop and sleep for just a couple of hours before we got outta dodge. Salinas is a shithole of immense proportions, one of those little two bit towns with a bad attitude that feels as if it is about to boil over into violence of some kind, at any given moment. It is a town on the edge, a precipice of poverty and deprivation and social tension. The Latinx population seems to be under siege from those that feel they have colonial superiority in some kinda sick trump inspired racist hatred kick. Salinas is a place to get out of as fast as possible. Salinas didn’t even want to give us that long. Possible or not, they wanted us gone.
Just where do you want people to go? Anywhere but where you are. Anywhere but your street, your town’s parking lot, the park that you enjoy walking in that some people have to live in. Your play worth more to society than others lives.
A solitary man walked up and down my road picking up trash. A lone piece of foil prettily littered down the street, one side burnt black. All that was left of the young man that I had failed to even ask his name or give him my spare blanket. Privilege is fast to twist its seductive fingers around my neck. I hate myself sometimes. I don’t need both blankets. I have too much. One is enough. Excess and deficit. Too much and not enough.
I am still going to go pick up narcan so I have the chance to save someones life, so they too have the opportunity to have a bit more than they currently have. With fent there is no hope of walking someone around or dropping ice down their back, or slapping their face to jolt them out of that sea that drags out into the waves and under the water, down the black tube wave and out of this life.