You Can't Hide From the Homeless
By KIM GIRARD
Blast San Francisco Bureau
Those faces from my days here in San Francisco haunt me. The dead-eyed, hunched, androgynous person who sits in a wheelchair on the corner of Divisidero and Haight at rush hour. The African American man who holds a skinny pole and teeters along an embankment doing a bizarre fishing pantomime on Van Ness. The chubby, slightly menacing bearded grump who slumps on the sidewalk in front of Cala supermarket on Geary, staring down at the sidewalk drawing circles.
I have lived and visited many U.S. cities, but never have I seen so many wretched, diverse souls - all with their hands out, all grabbing at part of me, every day in San Francisco. In restaurants they try to sell me dead flowers. On street corners they ask for whatever you have as they push shopping carts and flash toothless smiles.
|"I have lived and visited many U.S. cities, but never have I seen so many wretched, diverse souls."
Each morning I pass the line in front of the Veteran's Administration building before speeding off down Highway 101 toward work. On my way home I wait at every street light reading signs panhandlers clutch. ``Down and out,'' ``Homeless,'' ``Out of work,'' the signs say. Their owners stare at you blankly as you wait for the light to turn. You pretend you don't see them. They always ask for whatever you can spare - even a smile. Most of the time I don't feel like smiling. This change begging ritual depresses me and wears me down.
When I have it, I toss quarters and dollars their way, hoping to make myself feel better for the moment. The words ``if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem,'' skirt through my head, as I ponder political activism or soup kitchen volunteering. Later, when the fifth person in a given night has made similar pleas for cash and I am out of change I only want to scream because there is nothing I can do to stop it. While some who beg for your quarters are thankful for whatever you give, many emit anger and frustration as they shake the cup.
|"When I have it, I toss quarters and dollars their way, hoping to make myself feel better for the moment."
We are capitalists: survival of the fittest is the plan, I know. And with all the cash in Silicon Valley, there is little room for a bleeding heart, and we seem to be doing less and less to help house, clothe and feed the weak, the mentally ill, the poor and the junkies.
I think about my taxes for a moment, wondering what toilet seat I am paying for or what wing in the White House is getting a new couch. And with our economy booming, not one political candidate this campaign season has mentioned the homeless in California. Crime and children and schools all get top rank as they bicker and blather, but there is no mention of our growing underclass.
I think about what people do with the change they collect, how they build a small life around that money every day. Sometimes in Cala market I watch men with grubby hands spill dimes and pennies in front of the cashier, paying out like children for a bag of Doritos and a fifth of some cheap vodka. I sometimes help make up the difference by tossing in a dollar, but do not get involved. I do not want a stranger following me home to my studio apartment.
|"With our economy booming, not one political candidate this campaign season has mentioned the homeless in California."
I do ponder ways to deal with this strange life, a life where people with families and pasts and secret hidden passions and talents keep asking me for money where ever I go.
And there is no answer, I think, as I scrape the lining of my pocket for a quarter. I could move to a socialist country, flee to a suburb, never leave my apartment, though I know these are no answers. I am always going to feel sick and guilty about how we ignore the poor in a way that nothing else in my life makes me feel.