I try and not walk down hill directly from my little apartment. This block has got worse and worse in recent months, and it was not great to start with. When I first moved in, it was the a safer block of the Tenderloin. There was homelessness, a little crime, but it was relatively clean and quiet. Over time it gradually got worse and worse. I can chart San Francisco’s gradual decline by how scared I have become to walk out of my front door, and how many sleepless nights I get due to people being allowed to scream, shout, be naked, fight, fuck and have mental breakdowns underneath my window. I used to look outside to see what was going on, now I do not want to look in case I see something I cannot ignore. Instead I sit here with the noises. There is no point calling the cops, they don’t come anyway, not even if some naked man is screaming and shouting and humping the sidewalk in a haze of bad drugs and worse mental health.
Dylan once sang, in Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, that the ‘cops don’t need you/ and man they expect the same’, and not much has changed out here on the mean streets of San Francisco. The City has been allowed to deteriorate into a mess of violence, psychosis, rampant abuse of drugs in full view of anyone walking past, and regular nakedness. I am no prude but this is out of control, I used to joke we needed a ‘belts for bums’ charity drive for the City, but now I would settle for just pants. It is men. Always men. They are out there rubbing themselves against tents, sidewalks, other people, their gross genitals swinging in the wind and the rain. The man outside my window was twisting and turning in some ketamine drug hole. He took off one sock. Then the other. He took off his pants and lay face down on the sidewalk. No one came to stop him, or check on him, or tell him he had to wear pants. It is small beans (quite literally), it is not something that San Francisco even tries to keep in check. This threatening, dangerous out of control crisis on the street is not something I can live with.
I had to go down down town, down hill, right into the heart of darkness, the center of the TL. A rat ran over my boot, broad daylight, bold as brass. I shuddered. It is a health hazard, living with rats running through the joint like it is some medieval plague ridden hell hole. A man with his pants around his ankles rubbed himself on his tent wall, trash and shit strewn around him on the sidewalk almost blocking the way for pedestrians, who also had to walk past his bare ass, humping or scratching or whatever he was doing to the outside tent surface. At least I hope it was his tent. Rubbing his dick on someone else’s tent is somehow vastly worse. Can you imagine sitting in there with some crazed beast rubbing his dirty dick on your tent wall, hoping that he didn’t enjoy it too much, and that you have some measure of waterproof protection? Any port in a storm. Any hole in the TL is at danger of being violated. Even the tents are not immune.
I looked across the street. I didn’t have much of a choice. The other side of the street looked worse, totally blocked by people crazed on the new drugs that seem to rot their bodies and inflame their minds. They were gathered in a gaggle and there was no way through without getting too close. I don’t like getting close to anybody, but that seemed like a death wish. The man’s bare naked ass moved jerkily. I wondered if I could walk in the road, but then a car sped by like a bat out of hell, no doubt having taken a wrong turn and wanting to get out of Dodge as fast as possible. Next to man a man with a big beard, smoking a thin cigarillo, wearing mirrored sunglasses and pants glanced over at me. The lights changed. We could walk. He gave me a small nod and met my gaze, taking the path closest to the bucking ass. I walked next to this man I didn’t know and got way closer to him than I would have liked, our shoulders almost touching, but had a measure of distance and protection from the tent-fucker. It is uphill all the way home. I didn’t dare look again at the man who had just walked me past the horror. It felt too intimate, too close, almost embarrassing. I don’t know why I was embarrassed, I was not the one with my pants down in the TL, making it with a tent, but nevertheless my cheeks burnt. The rain started to come down hard again. This does not seem to deter anyone. They are all too high to care.
It used to be that drugs were the usual dangerous options of coke in its various forms, heroin, weed, speed and pills from doctors that wrote. Now it is flesh rotting tranq, fentanyl if you are lucky, heroin comes and goes and is mixed with the first two deadly synthetic substances in various ratios. There is ketamine…again with fent or tranq probably in the mix. The hallucinogenics are somewhat purer. DMT, some acid, but none of that gets rid of pain, and heaven help the ‘head who uses them in such a bad vibe area as the TL. No that shit needs a safe space and some kind people around, otherwise it is hell time and a stint in the psych ward. The supply is so tainted no one can possibly survive it using street drugs. The doctors ain’t writing. Instead people are dying out there and it is getting worse. These new chemicals make people aggressive. Your average heroin addict is not an aggressive soul, but add fent or tranq to the mix and shit gets real nasty real fast. Outside my window all night long I hear the lonesome call of the addicts. At least the crackheads are happy before they get unreasonable. I don’t trust any one out there. There are fights and screams and yelps all night long. This is what hell sounds like, and I need a ticket out of it.
The day and night is broken by sounds that I almost don’t dare to describe. The sounds of sex, bought or forced, heavy panting, screaming, grumbling, yelping. The sounds of sirens heading always away from here. They never come here to bring peace or order to the street. My police scanner app thingy on my phone tells me of fires and men with guns and hatchets 900, 700, 400 feet away and closing on my location fast. It tells of stabbings and robberies, and carjackings. The kid comes home from a run to the park and round it and tells me of drug addicts passed out cold, and men ‘park jacking’ – wanking in the open, in broad daylight, while the children play around them. “They mostly do it under blankets, but you know what they are up to,” he explains darkly. “I need to find a new park to run round.” I agree with him, but where do the children play? Not round here. We look at a map and work out a route for his daily run. He likes to run for an hour a day. It helps him concentrate at school, clears his head. A kid deserves to be able to do that at least. He is old enough to go out into the neighborhood alone, but is he old enough when the ‘hood he has to run through is the ‘Loin? We have an agreement – he only runs uphill, straight to the big road, and then goes off to Russian Hill and the park and then back again. He sends me text messages assuring me he is ok. When something gets odd or nasty out there he dodges into a shop and waits a moment, calls me and heads home. I don’t know if my nerves can take it any more.
Another siren. Another hour. More suffering outside my window. I like to live in the City. I like the fact there are places to go and things to do. I love the hills and the water. I love watching the boats come in and go out and the insane but wholesome people swimming in the cold water of the Bay. San Francisco could really be something wonderful, and it was. It might well be once again, but this mess is going to take some getting out of. Human shit and rats on the sidewalks, rampant crime and danger. An environment which is unlivable. I wonder if there is human shit and rats and screaming unhinged people on the street in Pacific Heights…I can hear another fight outside. It sounds heated. Two men yell at each other in Spanish. It makes me shudder and wonder if it will go away peacefully, or if it will escalate. My brain is on high alert all the time. It needs to be. I don’t want to get hurt again. I long to try and live towards a future where I am a grey haired old woman with grandkids who adore her and look out from their safe home in some small town towards the lights of the Big City…and the whole thing starts again.
Don’t get me wrong, San Francisco saved me when I was desperate and homeless. It helped me more than anywhere else ever did, and despite the fact it has not been welcoming towards my sweet and kind hearted son, and has not included him in the life of the City, not even allowed him a game of baseball with other kids because of his lack of documentation predicament, he has enjoyed living here and has had a roof over his head for the first time since he was a very small boy. He has been in the USA for eight years now. He sounds almost totally American. Culturally he is a Cali ‘bro’, which sounds more like ‘brah’ coming out of his mouth. He longs to be included, but doesn’t feel there is any hope he can be. With San Francisco dismantling its sanctuary city policy, coming first for those they deem ‘dealers’, and from there, no doubt there will be more hostility, blaming vulnerable people, the undocumented, for the ills of the City. This place is running into failure. I am no Hundred Acre Woods curtain closer. I have spent a life on the street, I have lived what I write about. But I never bothered other people, I kept myself to myself and did not run wild and rampant out there committing crime and scaring people, keeping others awake at night. I have no beef with drugs, and believe strongly in safe supply, harm reduction and decriminalization, but this is not that. This is letting people rot out there, this is letting people die out there, this is malignant neglect, not benign assistance.
Harm reduction locations have been closed. There is no safe supply programs, so people are forced into using increasingly dangerous drugs, which are also dangerous to the community around them. This is pure containment, looking the other way and hoping what? That the problem people will die out, and no more will take it because it is so dangerous? Even New York has decent harm reduction facilities. This is not helping people, it is giving up on the problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by prisons and criminalizing addicts. We need mental health facilities, and a way to put large numbers of people into treatment. We need action which is positive, not inaction which is not. Whatever, whichever, I cannot solve the problems of San Francisco, I can’t fix the Tenderloin and sure as heck no one will listen to me when I tell them what I think will work to make things safer for everyone. The President seems to do nothing, except talk of the scourge of fentanyl and score political points on Republicans who are about as positive and helpful as a bad case of hepatitis. The Democrat President has not re opened the Dream Act to help children like the Boy become legal in the USA. He has not dealt with the drug issue. He has done nothing except make food become so expensive I worry about opening a can of sardines. There is no point in looking towards politics for a solution, they are only interested with protecting themselves and the whole damaged system. It is a self perpetuating pyramid scheme, where a few at the very top get to live wonderful lives, while the vast majority suffer, get sick, can’t afford treatment, and die.
I have been spitting up blood for a month now. I can’t go to a doctor or get tests, it is too expensive. I have to sit and hope that it is my nose or something minor and I am not about to kick any bucket any time soon. It is a complicated feat of mental fortitude and denial. It either goes away or it doesn’t. I guess I should not expect any mercy. I am simply a mother that had to run for her safety with a child she has done everything she can to protect, fallen foul of a law which should be repealed, but I stay clear of such things when I can. It is too big to think about, and no one wants to know what I think, because I am rarely seen as ‘reasonable’, and why should I be?
When my subsidy is over (and it was something life saving that I am infinitely grateful for), I am going to have to leave. It is too expensive here, and way too dangerous. I can’t breathe or think. I live in a reasonable, utterly grounded fear for my safety, and my sleep is always interrupted by chaos outside. Poor San Francisco, it can be a beautiful place to be. Anyone who has followed my blog a while knows how much I love it, but much like one of those TL rats, I am going to have to desert the sinking ship for my own good.
If São Paulo got out of the mess, you can.
I will. I promise. It is getting far too dangerous to stay here. August. I just have to hold on a while longer!