root - Posted on 28 October 2009

by Uncle Anonymous and Friends

In The Beginning Was The Number

San Francisco City Hall just did another homeless census, as usual not even interested in the individuals and families living in cramped quarters with friends and, if any, family, who would easily increase the pitiful official numbers annually reported.

The Mayor's sitting lap dogs (I don't know if the Chinese Communist Party still calls people like this "running" dogs, they never seem to exert much physical effort despite the incredible damage through propaganda they do) faithfully downplay the numbers of people and what those numbers of people really mean.

Here is a little bit of what it's like for folks in two of the homeless shelters in San Francisco; today and yesterday (a few years ago).

A Few Years Ago

I (Uncle Anonymous) met my Next Door Shelter case manager early one morning at the Carl's, Jr. fast-food place at 7th and Market Streets before I went to work. It was a surprise visit. He panhandled me.

There is nothing new in the fact that many men and women have gone from poverty and homelessness to careers in service to people just like them. That didn't prepare me for the sight of this tough love-dishin' dude reduced to a shambling shadow of himself. Somebody said it wasn't the first time, the pressure of being a role model knocked him on his ass, or maybe it was the pressures of trying to do the right thing by people needing help in a system that isn't designed to help them.

The staff at Next Door meant well, but they didn't know all the moves in the find-a-place-to-move-to dance, including going to SRO hotels run by non-profit organizations like Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp., CoHousing Partners and whatever else is out there. We were often incredibly confused about what to do, where to go.

My job helped me more than Next Door staff did. Even then, the day I was actually supposed to begin the process of moving out my case manager was asked to do something else and I wouldn't have found out until he didn't make it to our appointment if we hadn't run into each other an hour earlier and I asked if the appointment was still happening. I got sandwiched anyway the next day, two people blaming me for lack of communication!

It was against the rules to re-charge your cell phone. People still did it. You can do it now, though with the new no-more-6-month-stays (unless you're an emergency medical case) regime that may not be so... or just not worth the effort.

What really stunned me was the staff person who thought responding to a friendly "Good morning!" was an admission of weakness one of us might exploit. She seemed to go out of her way to put shelter clients "in their place," telling me I couldn't sit in the brighter light--and read in one of the comfortable chairs in the lobby early in the morning just before breakfast (men going through the 30-days-of-do-you-really-want-to-be-here initiation stayed on the ground floor just to the left of the lobby).

I heard her say something to a colleague, in an aggrieved tone of voice, that she was "just keeping it real." I try to keep it real too, but there's a fine line between "real," "rude," and worse.


Anonymous Cubed did time in the (ECS) Episcopal Community Services' Sanctuary shelter at 8th and Howard Streets until recently. A.C. told me about many assaults and fights happening there daily and nightly. Many staff members are too intimidated to deal with the incidents, and even when one or both combatants are evicted they return within a day or three after appealing the evictions.

"There's too much drugs and alcohol in there too," he said, "people sell marijuana openly: 'You wanna smoke somethin'?, they'll ask, 'let's go over here and do it!'"

Meals are cooked at Next Door Shelter (also ECS-run), taken and served at Sanctuary. Anonymous Squared told me about a woman at Next Door who shares my experience with food poisoning (something that got me about once a week back then).

Games people play. Staff enthusiasm and cooking skill, or the lack of same, and the theft of food, have been hot topics of gossip and a major concern of shelter clients for years. The quantity of food served and the always highly variable possibility of getting Seconds have also always been a problem.

Whether or not you're employed, homeless folks just want to eat and relax after a long day, this is not what anyone looks forward to. Next Door male clients, when I was there, at times succumbed to stress and there would be shouting and shoving. A man was stabbed in the cafeteria one day. Not what you look forward to.

Auntie Anonymous has witnessed some of this and more, including the casual "ha ha that's funny" cruelty of people watching other people's physical or mental problems come out to "play," including not being able to make it to the bathroom in time to deal with food poisoning.


Sometimes I felt like the punch line in a "dog walks into a bar..." joke. Sharing the outer wall with me on one side was Samson, a nice guy who talked tough. I still see him around town (in line at Glide Church for a meal), despite his vow to never set foot in San Francisco again. Oakland was home. Oakland must be tougher than I'd heard from one of our POORMagazine Oakland Scholars.

On the other side of me was an equally nice, funny gay guy with a not-so-nice neighbor, a self-described ex-cop who enjoyed starting disputes and sitting back to watch the fur fly. He offered me $100 to take a pee test for him. If he'd been nicer...

Right across from me was a guy who worked in a hospital emergency room for incredibly good money (to me), until he couldn't take the pressure and deal with estrangement from his woman and feeling worthless. We talked a lot about his life.

He was one of the happier "endings" from that time, despite almost blowing his second chance blasting through his saved-up money on nothing, a mutual somebody we knew from the shelter saw him on the street one day walking with his Significant Other, looking happy.

Next door to him was a man caught in a truly vicious circle, taking psychotropic drugs that made him socially functional, sexually "neutral." He wanted to get SSI benefits, have a nice place to live and just be left alone. All that and he read extremely mind-bending intellectual non-fiction. A lot. Above my pay grade and I like non-fiction too.


You want to know who spends time in homeless shelters? Look in the mirror. Nice, unpleasant, "good," "bad," very organized and never gonna be in a homeless shelter again, somewhat or a lot un-organized and likely to need to spend time in a shelter again.

Those old tired sayings about beggars and you-can't-expect-better-when-whatever-you're-getting-is-free? It isn't free when your welfare check is used to pay for some of the benefit you get from staying in a shelter, or supports somebody in a subsidized/welfare SRO hotel room.


Sign-up for POOR email!