I generally turn out of my door and do not walk further into the Tenderloin. I walk north out of my neighborhood, turning away from Union Square, away from downtown, away from Market and Mission. I live in the northern part of the ‘Loin, on a quieter block. My unhoused neighbors and those who live under the 900 block of Levenworth are my natural social milieu, I simply rarely have any business in this part of town, and going to gawp at people’s suffering has never been my gig. Since I had reason to go south, I did wonder what the new crackdown had done to the area. I quickly found there were no tents left all the way down towards Turk, not even on side streets. I was just in time to witness ‘street cleaning’ scoop up some unhoused person’s tent into the flatbed of their truck. People were left sitting on the sidewalk with their blankets and coats draped over their heads for privacy. It is so immensely unfair to take away the only shelter and privacy people have.
There are people collecting signatures for ballot proposals haunting the corners and parking lots in Nob Hill. One of them came up to me and asked for my signature ‘against homelessness’. I asked her what that meant in practicality. She gave me some Christian bullshit, and sneered down at me. I made it clear that I had no interest in online betting, in yet another program which forces people into religioso brainwashing in exchange for a meal, or a mat in a dangerous and disease filled congregate shelter. I told her no. She got unpleasant, and even more aggro when I told her I had been long term homeless and that is why I was asking exactly what her ‘program’ entailed. The great people at the Coalition Against Homelessness and Street Sheet, SF are the only ones with a measured, secular and therefore inclusive of LGBT issues, and in possession of a decent caring attitude towards the issue, and to be frank, the only ones I trust to actually help. I managed to walk away from that women without screaming at her, which was a feat in itself..
That was until today when I went out for a walk, had to go past her spot, and was attacked by her again. I have to be ‘low profile’, I can’t get loud or angry. Walking away again today, her sneering in my direction, hard features, mask below her nose, her cloaked in an air of furious unempathic superiority and me in my Lou Reed shirt and a bad attitude, I felt a rising inability to ‘let it be’. These people don’t want to fix anything. What they want is to punish the unhoused and addicted for spoiling their privileged view as they walk around the city being important. I hate these people worse than bacteria or viruses. I detest everything they stand for. I hate the fact that I feel nervous even expressing that opinion. They are pigs at the trough, snouts in the muck, feeding on the easily manipulated attitudes of the herd, while the underclass get kept under in order to make the wheels of capitalism turn.
There is a spot that I love, just over the border of the Tenderloin in Nob Hill. The ground dips into a valley and then rises uphill, so the rest of the city sits inviolate, sparkling, distant. I stand by a tree and look out towards the ugly high rise towers, and the money and the sunlight and fog that tempers it in my beloved San Francisco. I stood there today, the city stretched out before me and cried.
I am not sure if I was crying for the happy dancers down Levenworth Street, smoking and dancing and communing with each other and some beat of life that continued through them. I am not sure if I was crying for the older woman I saw smoking crack out of a pipe under her jacket. Those hot little blowtorch style lighters, a red hot crack pipe, a very high person plus a fabric covering was not the best idea I have seen in recent times. I am not sure I was crying for myself and the total shut down of any social life and interaction. I am not sure if i was crying for the city, or out of frustration with the richer inhabitants of it, but I was still crying. Between my humiliating tears, the mask smothering the air out of me, gasping, and my glasses fogging up I was both silenced and blinded. That is not acceptable under any circumstances. I took the fogged up specs off, put them in my bag, loosened my mask a while and gulped down city air. After a short while; people passing me by unquestioning, unseeing, uncaring – I managed to get the overflow of emotion under control. I felt ashamed at losing myself in public, but let’s face it, the public don’t care are long as you are not in their collective way.
When the balloteers demand signatures ‘against trash’, ‘for homelessness’, the proposed solutions are not helpful or kind. One person’s ‘trash’ is another’s shelter. I am sick. Sick and tired of it all. It is a constant struggle against a tide of unruly lack of care and demonizing hatred misplaced. I often wonder what would happen if people got angry at the politicians who engineer the hatred and the lack of services and care, instead of at people who cannot help the situation they find themselves in. It is the moral judgement of housed privileged society that those outside must have done something wrong, something terrible to end up out there. This soothes the sheeplike masses into quiet satisfying comforting acceptance, after all, it can’t happen to them if they are superior and have not done ‘anything wrong’. That is, until it does….It is a trap. A con. A bear pit with spikes at the bottom, hiding the pitfall until it is too late. Above ground the animals bleat on about it ‘not being acceptable’, meaning ‘disappear anywhere but here…here…here…and here too’, there is nowhere to go where anyone is welcome if they are unhoused.
My son sat opposite me at supper yesterday, we were playing some music and eating baked potatoes and hummus. “Ma,” he said quietly, “I guess we were kinda gypsies?”
“Travellers, darling. We were travellers. You will always be a traveller, baby.”
“You know people romanticize it, Ma. Or else they look down on me like I’m trash, or we were somehow, you know…bad…”
I smiled at him. “And how do you feel about those years outside on the road?”
“Sometimes it was very hard. Sometimes it was scary. Sometimes it was fun. It felt like we were doing something special sometimes. I am glad we are here in the apartment. I like having a shower and a bed. I like going to school.”
He reached over and held my hand. “Ma. I know it is difficult for you being inside sometimes. I know you miss people, and moving around. I know how hard this is for you. Is it wrong that I don’t like conflict?” And just like that he decimated me. Of course it is not wrong. After so much trouble and hassles, and danger and violence, how can it be wrong to want peace?
The fact of the matter is, we all want peace. It is just some of us have to be prepared for personal and private wars. That is the way it is. That is the way it has always been. I am happy to keep on fighting if it means my boy can have the peace he craves. I’ll fight for him. Does it all have to be so hard?