This time last year I was in a campground with the Boy. It was raining. Water was streaming down in inside walls of the Beastie, and the campsite was flooded. The water splittered and splashed off the lake making ever decreasing circles, sacred geometric designs that shimmered in the twenty four hour glow of the private campground next door. Their floodlights came on at dusk and stay bright till dawn, making the nighttime pointless – if we didn’t park the camper correctly the halogen lamps streamed in through our windows. I would crawl into my corner, curl up and pretend I was in a clean and comfortable bed. That we were all dry and warm. The Oregon Coast is wet for three quarters of the year, and the quarter that is dry is packed with tourists who play at tumbling down dunes and stripping Fred Meyer of groceries. In a pandemic year, the visitors would stream into the little coastal town and leave with all the toilet paper, canned goods, soap and sense of entitlement intact.
This time last year it was winding towards its end. I was getting ready to say goodbye to Billy, so long to the Road; pack up my bags, and take my Boy and head to San Francisco. I can’t believe I have been here almost a year – it both feels longer and shorter in time. I have been happier here, just me and the Boy, writing my blog, wandering around my beloved San Francisco, settling down in California, than I think I have ever been in my life. I feel safer here. I feel as if the City isn’t trying to throw me out. I feel supported and embraced. I feel as if for once, there was help for me and the Boy in the place in which we live, and that San Francisco himself wants us to stay and thrive. I love my little stomping grounds. I love this part of town, that sometimes conspired to scare the daylights outta me, and sometimes had me hopping and skipping trying to avoid the poop and the assholes who tried to hurt us, threatening to beat my son with their shoe, threatening to push me into the road, but most of the time settled into a relatively mellow tick tock of days.
The Embarcadero, Russian Hill, Polk and the Presidio. Golden Gate Park and Mission (but not after dark!) I am in love with the City. My little corner here, no one notices me. No one seems to care I am here. No one hassles me. I live here. Thank you, San Francisco. Thank you. Thank you that I am wearing a sweater in late October. Thank you that the summer was warm but not unbearably hot. Thank you for the mist and the fog, and the wind and the rain, and for not snowing on me. Thank you for the shelter and the help and the boost up to a point where I can start to believe that I might actually be able to stay with the Boy and make enough money to survive, and thrive in this cold capitalist nightmare of a world.
2020 proved, in hindsight, to be one of those necessary evils of a year. The pandemic put such stress and pressure on me, on the situation, that it was always going to split bonds, crack the differences wide open. No camping – the anti virus measures closed all campgrounds, especially those we usually used in national and state parks. There was no leeway for those of us that the rangers knew were living in there and had nowhere else to go. No showers – instead washing in a bucket in the Beastie’s toilet cubicle. A virus that was an unknown quantity. We had no way to make a campfire where we were parked, no way to sit outside the camper – we spent a year stuck inside a tiny 26 ft camper van. Three people cannot do that for a year without it becoming unbearable. It was going to end one way or another. At the time I was focused on survival. In retrospect the only sensible thing to do was to go into a shelter.
I just read today that all the SIP shelters, including the one I was in, are closing. If there had been no covid, I would have had nowhere to go and stay. Leaving would have remained impossible. All those families are going to be left without anywhere to go. All those families that continue to need shelter and assistance are now going to not have those invaluable resources available to them. They are paid for by federal grants until the end of the year, yet these rooms already paid for, are closing now, and going to go unused by those who need them most. That doesn’t just mean single people, but also families like me and the Boy will be thrown out and many of the will end up on the streets; potentially children and all.
As much as I hate to say this, this action disproportionately affects the most vulnerable black American families in the Bay area: the shelter was black-run, and mainly served the most vulnerable families of the black community in San Francisco. Closing these shelters is an act of social sabotage and racism. If the city cannot see how this is a racial issue, and also an issue which affects the undocumented, as well as families ravaged by poverty and desperation, and fail to see the need for the scales to be redressed, some social equity, then I fear for their humanity. People are set up to fail, and when they do all there remains is censure and trying to remove what little they have left in terms of family, belongings, dignity and safety – and that is unforgiveable.
The shelter service providers were kind enough to help me and the Boy. Thinking about that kindness, even now reduces me to tears. Despite the issues, despite the difficulties, going into the shelter saved me and the Boy. I can never thank the program or those that ran it, enough.
Looking back, with 20/20 vision, it was do or die. It was ‘now or never’. It was all kinds of clichés bowled towards me with their usual inability to counsel or console. It was a last roll of the dice to see if the both of us could make it. Thanks to the SIP program, we might just be able to do that. How cruel that the rooms are paid for and families being thrown out, people who are the most vulnerable, not being able to use the rooms paid for by funds specifically intended for housing homeless people. The pandemic isn’t over yet, and the pandemic of homelessness and poverty is in full swing and gaining momentum. To not allow people to use that which was intended for them, and is already paid for is beyond inhumane. It is criminal, it is wasteful for resources. The powers that be would rather write off the funds already paid to the hotels to fund these rooms, and throw people out on streets, than simply use the for the purpose which the money was intended to pay for.
In short, the City would rather see people on the street. There is always talk of how history is going to look on actions and events, I fear history will judge the treatment of the homeless very harshly indeed.
When the storm comes in, the storm of little people who have had enough of suffering, and want a little share of what is rightfully theirs, I won’t be surprised. “Poor people gonna rise up, take their share.”