photo of book near candle

A Very San Francisco Christmas

The rain came in. The fog came down. The water raced down hill making a river that ran through it all – all of the city, all of the dirt, all of the night and the people and the tents and the houses. The streams of light coming off the descending traffic, remaining stationery in the doorways and windows, coming down from the street lamps, catching the motes in their glare, a few people weaving down the mostly deserted streets. One woman carrying two umbrellas and muttering loudly to herself about this man or that, to get get get away, to get out, to go in an endless speed driven jive. Neal Cassady would have been proud of her. Tne umbrella broken but still in one hand, the other holding up valiantly, a little bent and battered, but fighting the good fight against the storm. It does not snow here. It rarely gets more than dank and a little chilly, and to be frank, that is mostly in the early summer when San Francisco remains stubbornly cold. I have never seen it tip over into pristine white snow and perfect freezing 0 temperatures. I love San Francisco and its warm winters, its temperate summers, its fog and its bridges. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas here. There are no decorations around the town. I’ve not seen a civic Christmas tree up, or some lights down the street. It feels like any other time of year.

I suppose angels and christmas wreaths would look silly with the the autumnal rain bleached out into dry bright sunshine and warm blue skies of a San Franciscan early winter. There is no sign of moisture left on the sidewalks by the time I walked out to Walgreens on Polk for a few essentials of life that may or may not be in stock because the boats are not unloading on the Bay. There is a minimal amount of hustle and bustle. The stores are busy, yet still struggling to raise any festive cheer. Is it the inflation making festivities a little muted? Is it the supply chain issues? Are we all just sick and tired and burnt out after being thrust into the strangest situation that turned into the new normal and now appears here to stay? I don’t feel much like partying, and besides, we are not meant to gather in large groups and the masks are still hiding everyone’s faces. Fuck this shit. I am done with it. It, however, is not done with me, or us.

San Francisco is saying Bah Humbug to Christmas. The Mayor has decided on a festive crackdown on my ‘hood. Time to flex some muscles and pretend to be fixing problems by a show of force, as far as she is concerned, farm some goodwill from the rich and influential. Be seen to be doing something. The buzz phrase of ‘take back the Tenderloin’ is racist, classist, and smacks of a totalitarian regime cracking down. Take it back from whom? Give it to whom? People who live here belong here. All of us. Make it better for all of us, unhoused, and housed, instead of some creepy campaign to get rid of people! How far off are we from mass incarceration, forced relocation and downright violence? Unhoused people being pressure hosed is violence and totally unacceptable. These are human beings who need help, not problems to be washed away. Not all the pressure hoses in California will wash the blood of the City officials hands after this crackdown.

The increased police presence on the street will only lead to more danger and more confrontation. It will make all of us who live here conversely less safe, not more. It is not for the residents, both housed and unhoused that this is being inacted, it is for those who sneer and turn their expensively chiseled noses up

It is not going to help anyone, not those of us who live here outside or inside; not those who are addicted, nor those who have to live amongst the issues this area has. I am lucky, my block is relatively quiet. My unhoused neighbors are frankly less trouble than the housed ones. I was happy to see that while the storm raged, people were off the streets. To be honest, if it is possible to shelter people while it rains, then it is possible all the time. As long as we don’t walk south further into the ‘Loin things are generally peaceful most of the time. The solution would be better drug and alcohol addiction services, opening the SIP hotels to get people back off the streets for some respite. I worry that the safe use sites will end up being not optional – use at the ‘safe use site’ or else go to jail. Who the fuck wants to get high at a ‘safe use site’. Perhaps if they were there for those who wanted them, provided free safe hydromorphone, and harm reduction services, but I figure they are just going to be used as an excuse to further criminalize addiction. The Christmas Grinch that runs matters for the city, has even closed the SIP hotels, despite the funding being in place.

Crackdowns, unused hotel rooms, sweeps and criminalization, oh my! It is like some twisted version of Christmas Carol where Scrooge decides to go dark side after all, despite all the warnings and sits cackling and counting his money in a warm cosy house, while the warnings of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future stand around waggling their fingers, dragging their chains and wondering what in Heaven to do with the old bugger. Mayor Breed’s decision to use heavy handed policing, reminiscent of a totalitarian crack down on the most vulnerable of people, the increasing use of dual pressure washer hoses against homeless people, using the water as a weapon as well as promising, and dramatically increased video surveillance makes the community feel less safe, not safer. The only people this is pleasing are the YIMBY’s with their overpriced apartments and total lack of compassion. This is a rampant capitalist society gone rabid.

There is a lack of care and lack of concern and decency right at the very top. Reading Kamala Harris’s puff piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, I was hoping for some compassion and thoughts on what can be done on a federal level to help the poor and homeless of this great city, instead I was treated to reading about her interior decorating skills. Rubbing in the sheer unfairness of the chasm between the Have’s, of which she is one, and the Have-Nots, she decided to talk about her superfluous and surface luxurious designing and redecorating of her office space, amongst a robust self defense of her performance to date. It just seemed a little churlish, a little tone deaf.

In the spirit of doing good for others, caring about those that don’t have – and I am hardly in a position of extreme luxury. I have a home for the first time in many years. I am not outside with my child still. I have warmth and a shower and a bathroom and a bed. I can watch the TV. I have a refrigerator to put my food in so it doesn’t go bad, and an oven to cook it in. I spent years with none of those things, permanently camping outside. Good gear means the difference between life and death. A tent that doesn’t leak, a tarp. A good flashlight. Some way of heating food. An ice chest and ice. To this end St James Infirmary has a Tent Drive, a project to raise money to buy tents to replace those so cruelly snatched in the sweeps that remove unhoused people’s means of rudimentary shelter and survival. Click below to donate if you can:

It is somehow a very San Franciscan Christmas – warm weather, a little rain, no decorations, a lot of division and cruelty from those who run the show, in order to sate the desires of those who have so much here, to erase those who have so little, and to balance out all the bad, a group of people fighting back with kindness, with understanding and with tents.

Ill raise a joint to that kindness and the peaceful pushback against criminalizing being poor, and making it as hard and dangerous as possible for those who are unhoused, or unconventionally sheltered.

Happy fucking festive season, one and all….For what it is worth, the answer to the question, what will make SF safer for everyone is ‘More SIP Hotels’, not more fucking cops. This City knows who it is – progressive, funky, cool, kind, hip, musical, cultured and inventive. We are the city of the Summer of Love. We need to fight back against the hate.

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