In the fall of 1997 I began working in an office in downtown San Francisco south of Market. The large number of homeless people on the streets deeply disturbed me. For the most part, commuters ignored them. Certain images stand out: The first is of a couple sleeping in a doorway at dawn, one's arm protectively around the other. In hooded jackets, their sex is indeterminable. A second image , also early in the morning, is that of a woman slouching over a small boy, whom she cradles in her arms. Both are sound asleep in the middle of a broad sidewalk. Their styrofoam begging cup holds a few coins. Crowds swarm past them at 7:30 a.m., as if they simply were not there at all. The third memory is that of "robots", gilded human figures who stand in frozen postures near Market and Geary. They, too, hold begging cups. Are they appealing to the crowd's desire that they be truly inanimate?A woman whom I came to know as Eve used to sit on a ledge on the corner of Mission Street and New Montgomery. Many mornings she would be there, and then sometimes she would vanish for a few days or weeks. "Thanks honey," she would call out in a warm, throaty voice whenever someone dropped money into her little straw basket. She would be holding a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. Dressed in a white windbreaker and turquoise sweatpants, her white hair pulled back into a bun with jaunty red barrettes, she intrigued me. She was less frightening to me than many of the others, and I wondered what had driven her to the streets.
During these first few weeks, her belongings consisted of two plastic shopping bags. The cord handle of one was torn, so that she would have to grip the sides of the bag as she carried it. Over time, these belongings would change, as they frequently got stolen. Then with money from panhandling or her SSI check, she would go to Woolworth's on Market Street and buy herself a cheap backpack or a small baggage cart. In time, these too would disappear.
What was her life like? How did she survive day to day?
TO BE CONTINUED
Causes Maria Espinosa Supports
Amnesty International, KPFA, anything to ameliorate homelessness and to make shelters more livable