Homeless in San Francisco–Not Really

The bus left at 9:00 pm. We arrived at the bus stop at 9:15 pm.

Alone in a cold dark city with only a bag (not a sleeping bag), 2 cell phones that were close to losing power and no where to stay. What to do on a Saturday night when the chance for shelter seemed slim and the temperature is dropping. Mary and I walked to the nearby transportation terminal and checked for the next train to Sacramento. Sunday morning at 10:00am. Hotels; could we find a hotel? (We didn’t think of renting a car.). We walked the streets in anxiety until we came upon one that didn’t seem to expensive. (We’re frugal.). It turned out to probably be one that “rents by the hour.” It has a locked door with a buzzer. The street that is “sketchy.” We got in but the carpet on the stairs up to the lobby is old and everything told us that this was not what we wanted. We walked a mile to another one. My feet ached. The bag got heavier and heavier. But the condition of the streets improved. The rooms were three times the cost of the first one but the hotel was definitely “upscale.” Most importantly, it had clean, comfortable rooms available.

Mt Angel Seminary had the high school juniors experience an “immersion” into homeless by spending one night on Broadway, Portland. Portland’s skidrow. The relatively few homeless were there because of alcoholism. In 1992 we read about a Jesuit High School immersion program that had its juniors spend a night with the homeless in Sacramento. The numbers were greater and the reasons are more diverse. Last night we walked among the homeless late at night in San Francisco. It was not an immersion program. We were cold. My feet ached from a lot of walking all afternoon. And we didn’t know what would happen “out there.”

Fortunately we have the resources to find a comfortable way out. Parc 55, a nice Hilton Hotel had a room with a clean bathroom, a place to place our bit of “stuff” and, most importantly, at the moment, a clean king size bed. We bit the bullet and paid the price to leave the world of the homeless just outside the hotel’s doors.

It caused me to think about our current situation in California once again. When I was working at Trinity Cathedral, I encountered homeless persons every day. I cross paths with far fewer snow that I am retired. Roseville has a much smaller homeless population than Sacramento. When I go into Sacramento, I am constantly reminded of those who have very little, including a place to sleep securely at night. Over the 12 years of employment at Trinity, I learned many things about our homeless sisters and brothers.

  1. There is no “homeless” as a group. There are individuals who are homeless, i.e. without a home.
  2. There is a difference between not having a house or residence and not having a home. This may seem like a technicality but it isn’t. Some people find home among their friends under an overpass, along the river bank or in a doorway.
  3. Some homeless people are tremendously resourceful. Just like me (and probably you), they find ways to survive. They may or may not strive for ways to better their situation (again, similar to a lot of us who have houses and homes).
  4. There are many different reasons for being homeless
    1. Mental illness (including high anxiety about sleeping inside)
    2. Lack of affordable housing — an increasing number of those who cannot afford housing in California find themselves in this situation because the cost of a residence continues to rise and rise and rise. Fires are a big reason for this.
    3. Addiction
    4. Lack of affordable health care
  5. The degree or range of intelligence among homeless persons is large. Not every person living on the streets is stupid.
  6. Most homeless people yearn to be recognized. They yearn for a hello. They yearn not to be invisible to those better off than them.
  7. Many yearn for someone to talk with. A lot of us do.

I constantly wrestle with the calls in Luke to care for the poor and the homeless. As Operations Manager I wondered about opening the church as a shelter. But I also “pushed back” on our homeless ministries because we used so many physical resources in our “homeless ministries.” As a person with much more wealth I wonder about opening our house, our home, and realize that that is probably as unrealistic as further opening up the church. I live with too much fear and insecurity and refusal to believe what I have written so far in this entry.

But I remain interested in the situation. (I avoid the word “problem.” We have a situation,” not a “problem.”) We passed one of the street bathrooms in San Francisco yesterday and I thought about how good it is for the city to have these. I think about the situation in Sacramento where a property owner was not allowed to keep portages-potties on his property for those who need to use them. I read many of the articles and editorials in The Sacramento Bee that focus on homelessness.

Is there a long term solution? No. The poor (and homeless?) will always be with us. However, given the wealth of our state and of our nation, it need not be like this.

About Jerry

Catechumenate ministry is my passion. I have been involved in the catechumenate since 1980 in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal branches of the Church. I am a "progressive," ecumenical Christian who is realistic enough to know that the Church has never been "One"; is often not "Holy"; strives to be "Catholic" and is "Apostolic" only when members respect the Tradition rather than the latest customs. I have been fortunate to be able to focus on various elements of philosophy, theology and Christian history during my studies. I am able to bring them all to bear in catechumenate ministry.
This entry was posted in Church, Personal, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.