Edward Nolan at his campsite in Golden Gate Park on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Nolan has lived within the park for more than two years. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Nolan’s Blues: One man’s tale of survival

‘The park’s been wonderful to me.’

When The City conducted its homeless count in Golden Gate Park in January, Edward Nolan, 65, may have been among those counted.

Nolan is recognizable for his penchant for playing the harmonica — he wants to develop the “Frisco Blues” sound.

For the past two years and five months, Golden Gate Park is where Nolan has slept, ever since he got into a fight and caught the worst end of it. He said he was standing up for the honor of his girlfriend at the time.

That was after he was evicted from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s single-room occupancy Boyd Hotel based on allegations that he broke rules, like the number of times he could have guests over.

He tried to fight it legally but without success. Court filings in his case at the time clearly described his situation and the likelihood he would have to either leave San Francisco or end up homeless, since he was surviving on his Social Security benefits.

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Nolan, who was born and raised in San Francisco, worked as a machinist for 31 years at places including San Francisco Dry Dock and for Puglia Engineering Inc. The way Nolan sees it, he does “deserve some help.”

“I put in my time,” he said. “No one person can do it by themselves. Nobody can do it alone. Everybody needs help. We all need to work together.”

“I know how to take care of a home by myself. I know how to feed myself. I know how to cook. I enjoy it. I enjoy entertaining people too,” he continued. “I am being cheated out of all of that by being out here, by being without a home. I don’t get to do and utilize what I have as a person, as a man that knows about life.”

“What am I doing out here without a place to live?” he asked.

Nolan acknowledged he has struggled with drinking and drugs, but he said those are now in the past.

“If I don’t stop drinking I’m going to die,” he said. “That’s what the doctor told me.”

He chose to live.

“I am grateful,” said Nolan during a recent interview with the San Francisco Examiner outside the Main Public Library in the Civic Center. “Life is worth it. The simple pleasures. They are the best. Like sitting on a nice day like this. I was practicing off some songs on the harmonica. I got my first harmonica in the summer of 1967. I was inspired by Paul Butterfield.”

Nolan said he tries to stay positive, but acknowledged being homeless has had its challenges.

“I don’t like people looking at me like I’m a hobo,” he said. “That makes me feel a little bit messed up.”

Still, Nolan appreciated the park.

“The park’s been wonderful to me,” said Nolan. “I have to set up my tent at night. I have to tear it down in the morning. I have to leave my area spick and span, spiffy. It’s got to be clean because if it isn’t, you know you are going to wear out your welcome, if you have a welcome. I didn’t know if I had a welcome. I just lay there to survive from a fight. I ended up surviving there for a couple of years.”

Nolan has received a few citations for illegally camping in the park.

But he may finally get the help he needs.

The City found housing for him last week in the Civic Center Hotel on Market Street. He was selected through the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s Adult Coordinated Entry system, which is overseen by Episcopal Community Services. A case manager with the nonprofit worked with him, after he was referred to them through a Department of Public Health clinic in the Civic Center area.

“I got my keys in my pocket right now,” Nolan said in a text message to the Examiner last week. “I am so stoked. I am going to my new place right now.”


This story is part of the SF Homeless Project, a media collaboration, coordinated by the San Francisco Chronicle, intended to draw attention to solutions to end the crisis. See related stories: Joining the SF Homeless Project to inspire solutions, Homeless count shows sharp decline in Golden Gate Park — but where did everyone go? , Homelessness grows on SF’s sleepy west side and Formerly homeless say city ignores complaints over living conditions in subsidized housing

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Edward Nolan walks into his campsite in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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