Boy, that was some kind of nightmare! The stories are true! The homeless are invisible. Simply arranging for a place to sleep was a major project. SF has adopted a new policy in recent years inappropriately titled “Care Not Cash”. When the Democrats elected their pretty boy mayor 6 years ago, he ceased the former policy of handing out $495/month and declared “accessible” services would replace that policy. It is clear he was never at the mercy of the system.
The Shelter Reservation System
In order to reserve a space (It sounds like some high-class hotel doesn’t it? It tells you something about the mindset of the people who designed this set up.) It’s required that you go to a “drop-in center” where you check-in. Then they send you to another location to wait in yet another line to be assigned a number.
They tell you to return at 7PM to wait again for a number and return at 9PM whereupon you wait in line by number and sign up for your desired shelter. Clients (I love the euphemisms) are then told to go back to the drop-in center and wait until 10PM at which time location assignments are made, which may or may not be in close proximity to where you are currently located (most often not). Most nights you bed down by 11PM (wake up is at 5:30AM).
There is a process by which you can make your reservations for 3-7 days, which also requires queuing up in various lines but with no guarantee of getting the desired location (most often not). I usually ended up at Ella Hill Hutch, a gymnasium by day, which consisted of approximately 150 mats laid out over the gym floor. The manager of this place was a super-sized Aunt Jemima of a woman (She easily weighed 400+ lbs) who was a holy terror.
She had a different technique every night. It started with her checking in everyone by last four of SS#. That seemed to work slowly but efficiently however the next night she called out numbers while we stood outside in the fog and chill with everyone crowding the table for sheets and blankets. The next time, she returned to individual numbers only this time I was in for a surprise.
In between all this fun & games, I had received one of my bi-monthly checks of $211 and spent it promptly on one week in a fleabag hotel. This enabled me to wash off the grime of the streets and spend some time indoors for a change. When I had two more days left in my week I had a genius plan. I went down to the drop-in center to renew my reservation early so I would be somewhat ready for my return to this particular circle of hell (this apparently what Dante had in mind when he wrote his Inferno)
(I must make a note here about the possibility of a disjointed train-of-thought. I find I need to take periodic breaks (because of my infirmity). It is sometimes difficult for me to type for any length of time. I hope this doesn’t prove disconcerting.)
When I returned to my own private Hades, my number wasn’t called and when I inquired as to the reason I was told I had lost my space because I missed one night. Apparently, if you miss one night of your reservation, you lose it. This was worse than a 3 star hotel. This meant I had to return to the drop-in center and reserve a new space. This all took place after 11:00PM.
I arrived back at the drop-in center at 11:40 to find no line. And a relatively quick sign-in process. This late sign-in actually turned into a positive as the new location (aside from trucking over there – you must remember every move requires traveling pack-mule style with all of my belongings strapped to my back) turned out to be relatively benign what with bunk beds and a very civil breakfast service.
I had had food service before (not at Aunt Jemima’s, of course, but elsewhere) and it usually consisted of standing in line cafeteria-style. This particular morning, a woman was waiting in the line and told me to take a seat and she would serve us at the tables. The was a refreshing change. Later when I tried to reserve a space at this shelter, I was unable to do so. No surprise there as the better shelters are obviously more desirable.
Return to the Queue
This time I started queuing up about 7:00AM, making sure I was at the head of the line. Once I was registered, I was told to return by 3:30PM, which I did. Then I was told to return after 7:30PM. On so doing, I was told placements would take place after 9:00PM. I was finally sent to St Vincent de Paul sometime after 10:30PM. When regulars are supposed to look for work or make other efforts to escape this carousel is beyond my meager understanding.
My wager is they do not but are left at the whim of “Care Not Cash”. With not much care to go with limited cash. (Once an individual is determined, homeless the maximum monthly benefit is reduced to $65. The thinking being that the maximum benefit of $422/month is for a rent subsidy. Once that need is no longer demonstrable, the benefit is withdrawn.)
Naturally, along the road less traveled one meets compatriots. One gentleman, nee James, introduced himself as Thor, a Greek god he believed. I tried talking to him about Norse gods but he would have none of it. He was convinced that the usual depiction of Thor with flowing blond hair was some conspiracy of the white establishment. He later copped to telling me a tale about the Thor alias.He also told me how he had a pension from the airline flight attendant’s union, which he could tap into at any time but he preferred the “adventure” of homelessness. So you can see he had more than a single hinge loose. Anyone who would participate in this nightmare, freely and of their own accord had to be at least a little whacked. But James was harmless, which is more than can be said about others I came in contact with during my sojourn on the other side of the river Styx.
There were more than a few of these. There was the paranoid who thought I was looking at him and his girlfriend too much. He suggested I sit elsewhere and I was only too happy to comply. There was also the lush woman and her boyfriend. When she would drink too much, she and her mate would spar, once he even drew blood and Trina (Aunt Jemima) had to separate them. All of these were definitely miserable people in a miserable situation.
The Golden Eagle Hotel
I mentioned getting a hotel room a couple of times while dealing with homelessness. This place, the Golden Eagle Hotel, was on the quiet end of Broadway. Broadway is the infamous strip of topless clubs in the heart of North Beach. North Beach is the equally infamous neighborhood that was home to the beats or beatniks of yore. This hotel, though lacking any concrete evidence of beat history was just seedy enough to have housed Kerouac, Ginsberg or any other down and out luminaries. At least thinking so, made my short stay there seem just romantic enough. For the reality was maybe too sordid for comfortable contemplation.
Ocean Beach & GG Park
Ah, the park. Its quiet solitude was a welcome respite from the grime of the downtown streets. The streets where my daily struggle to find shelter was played out. Golden Gate Park is the jewel of the city and the local government is seeking to prevent those bereft of hearth and home from setting up encampments there. The local constabulary has recently (just in time for my inclusion in the ranks of the dispossessed) embarked on a pogrom against the less than fortunate, hounding them from the glens and dales of the beauteous, tree filled oasis, seeking to run them out (to go who knows where).
My preferred choice of location was out where the park meets the seashore (Ocean Beach). From here I could enjoy the gardens in the park or head out to the beach. I was fortunate enough to enjoy the Pacific at least for the short time I had left on the West Coast. I spent many enjoyable hours hiking along and above the Pacific seacoast so although this beach is adjacent to an urban area, I could at least see along the southern Marin coastline (to the north of San Francisco) the site of so many rewarding experiences. At least it offered some counterpoint to the shelters and the Golden Eagle as my last remembrance of that Golden city of dreams (broken and otherwise).
Account of Homelessness