ABOUT EVE: PART 3
Once she had been young and hopeful. Once she had lived in an apartment, and she had shopped for groceries. Now she panhandled for money to buy food. “Jack in the Box on Seventh Street and Wendy’s on Market have 99-cent specials. I won’t go to the shelters for food. They don’t treat me right in the lineup.” There was a drop-in shelter near Van Ness and Market where she could shower, but she had trouble getting there with her heavy shopping bags, and her dirtiness embarrassed her.
“I wash in restaurant restrooms, with sponge baths. I don’t wear a bra because it hurts my chest. For underpants I wear pantyhose, from which I’ve cut off the feet. I wash them in a sink at Wendy’s. I wring them dry with a paper towel and put them on wet. But first I put Noxema on my skin. It keeps me from getting a rash. I’ve had a skin rash so bad I had to go to the hospital.”
Finding bathrooms was a major problem. “They don’t want us homeless people in restaurants or bars. They just wish we’d disappear ... Wendy’s on Market closes at ten p.m. If I have to urinate at two a.m., I put on my shoes, rush up the BART steps, and have to go on the street.
“Once for eight weeks I didn’t shower or brush my teeth or hair. Then I bought Noxema, washed and dried my clothes in a laundromat on Sixth Street while I wore a plastic bag for a dress. I washed myself at Wendy’s.
“From walking I’ve had blisters and corns on my feet so bad that they crack between the toes. I cut off calluses and corns by myself with a razor.” When she had the money, she would buy a new sweatshirt or sweatpants, pantyhose, or a pair of shoes at Woolworth’s. She suffered from emphysema, cirrhosis, skin diseases, infected scabs. She had arthritis, a bad heart, and needed glasses to read, but had lost them.
On the first of each month, when her SSI check came, she would vanish. She would rent a cheap hotel room, drink, perhaps do her laundry, buy some new things at Woolworths. Or she might take the bus to Reno and rent a room there, where she said it was quieter and cheaper. In Reno she would gamble. Eventually, she would reappear on her familiar corner in San Francisco.
“I will be leaving my job soon,” I said. “How can I contact you?” She wasn’t sure how. She mentioned a General Delivery Postal address, but she wasn’t sure of the street or the zip code. At times she would be very drunk. Then she would shout out angry words and curses from her ledge on the corner—to herself, to God, to whomever was passing by.
“Let me help you find a room,” I said. I reasoned that her SSI check would be enough to pay down a month’s rent at a rooming house and still leave her cash for food and laundry and other things. But she was reluctant, even though she expressed enthusiasm. “Let me get my laundry done first. I’m too dirty to go the way I am,” she would say. But then she wouldn’t do her laundry, and she would fail to show up.Sometimes she was just too tired, or her money was gone. I realized she was afraid of being alone in an enclosed room. Somehow, the streets felt safer.“Oh honey, I want a room so bad.”“Okay, we’ll get you one when your check comes ... You say it’s automatically deposited in your bank. Good. We’ll go and look that same afternoon.”
In preparation, I would call various cheap hotels. But then she would be too tired, not feel up it, and afraid. “I don’t want them to see me so dirty like this. I’ll wash up, and then we’ll go tomorrow, honey. My feet hurt too bad today.”Some hotels she did not like. At others she’d had bad experiences, or she’d been thrown out for drinking. Still other hotels were always filled at the beginning of the month with people in situations like hers. I calculated that with a little over half her SSI check she could pay a month’s rent. “No,” she said. “It costs too much. I’d rather just pay for a few days.”
The last time I tried to help her find a room, she just couldn’t manage walking to a nearby bus with her bags, even with my help, and no taxis were in sight. She didn’t dare leave her few possessions for even a moment. She said that occasionally she would rent a locker on Eddy Street or at Mason and Taylor for a couple of dollars a day. I left my job in San Francisco and went away for several months. When I returned, she was no longer on her corner, and none of the shopkeepers had seen her. I continue to search for her, but I have not ever seen her again. Maybe she has moved to another block. Maybe she has moved to Reno. Maybe she is in a hospital. Is she still alive?
I wonder at the harshness of prevailing public policies. It would be so easy to make people’s lives a little easier.
A few examples:Eve spoke of how old-fashioned park benches were built so that one could lie on them full-length. Newer ones are built with a divider in the middle, expressly to prevent this.There used to be public bathhouses (not erotic clubs but real bathhouses) where for a few coins one could take a bath, dry off with a clean towel, and emerge refreshed.
Amenities that used to exist have vanished..
What about protecting people without homes, rather than hassling them? What about building some free public bathrooms, showers, baths, places to wash clothes, to groom oneself? What about creating shelters where one doesn’t have to leave at dawn? What about less claustrophobic shelters, perhaps in the open air—casual places with unobtrusive protecting guards, where people could just could lie down and sleep safely for a few hours, or sit and collect their thoughts? What about free places to check their belongings?
We punish victims. Years ago Eve might have been in a mental hospital. But these hospitals were closed, and patients were put onto the streets.
What has become of Eve? Where are you now?
Causes Maria Espinosa Supports
Amnesty International, KPFA, anything to ameliorate homelessness and to make shelters more livable