I was walking up Haight Street last night, on my way to get a sausage from Rosamunde, when a homeless lady saw me, smiled real big, said “Hi!” and went right in for a hug. I was 100 percent sure I didn’t know her, but she looked like she really needed a hug. So I gave her a big one and said, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“I remember you,” she replied while we were hugging. “It’s so good to see you.”
I almost never forget a face, and considering this woman was missing most of her teeth and had a scar from her scalp to her cheek that looked like it resulted from some kind of major trauma, I would’ve remembered her.
“It’s good to see you too,” I told her, even though we’d never met.
“Thank you for remembering me,” she responded. It took everything I had not to cry right there.
We have an epidemic of homelessness in San Francisco and we each put up walls to block out the sheer immensity of human sorrow. Otherwise we might not be able to make it through each day. And then, sometimes, you have an interaction that breaks through the walls, and you can think, “How can I help?”
At $9 billion, San Francisco has the budget of five Rwandas, but we also have the economic inequality of that same country. How many times have you walked our streets and thought: “How is it possible that we have so much wealth in this city and so much homelessness?”
In a past column, I talked about things City Hall can to do help, like creating more navigation centers, allowing safe injections sites and wet houses and, most importantly, pushing Housing First initiatives that focus on getting roofs over people’s heads. And the only response we’ve heard from Mayor Ed Lee is that our homeless neighbors have to leave for the Super Bowl. Where they are gonna go, he doesn’t seem to care.
There’s no need to feel helpless, though. There’s a lot we can do help out. First off, it’s important to remember that 71 percent of The City’s homeless had San Francisco addresses before they were on the streets. So these are literally our neighbors. Write and call your district supervisor to make sure they push for Housing First initiatives.
It’s also important to give your time and your money. This is the giving season, right? Everyone is feeling extra charitable, so pick an organization to volunteer at and donate to for the holidays, and then continuing doing so after the holidays are done. Here are a few great organizations that need your help:
• St. Anthony’s
• Larkin Street Youth Center
• Project Homeless Connect
• Raphael House
• Compass Family Services
Remember, multimillion dollar companies in mid-Market that feed their employees three meals a day were given tax breaks, yet organizations like Glide and St. Anthony’s struggle to feed people one meal a day. Do what you can to help.
And finally, most importantly, stand up and speak out. Our homeless neighbors are our most fragile citizens. Many of them are victims of domestic violence or abuse, or are queer youth who fled their homes, or are veterans, or come from the foster care system — or worse.
When the goons come in to sweep our neighbors off the streets, just because Mayor Lee and the multibillion dollar NFL want to pre-party before a football game that’s 40 miles away, we all need to stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves. There will be direct action, like sit-ins, in the streets, and I implore you to be part of it. I’ll be posting about it on the Broke-Ass Stuart Facebook page if you wanna stay informed.
And if you can’t do any of the stuff mentioned above, at the very least, give a hug to somebody who looks like they need one.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.