”What about the homeless problem in the Haight?” My answer, how can there be a problem if I know the name of the homeless on my block. On my block in the Haight/Ashbury, there are about four to six people sleeping at night, on the street, on a regular basis. Around the corner from me, there’s a tent city every night that in the morning, adjourns to the Panhandle for the day, only to return every night for beddy-by, unless dispatched by 5-O. Once every couple of weeks, I have someone sleeping in my doorway. This is living in the Haight.
To me, there are two kinds of people living on the street in my neighborhood, the people who live on the street and everyone else.
For example, Gary.
Gary’s the guy who lives in the Panhandle with his over-flowing grocery cart. He’s dressed to the elevenths, even on the hottest day of the year. For a good time, he walks away from his cart, and watches it from a statue. When other humans get close to his worldly possessions, he freaks like Rainman. By the way, his real name isn’t Gary. That’s what I call him. When I go shopping at Lucky’s or Falletti’s, I give Gary some leftovers or sometimes, a few bucks. He thanks me with a nod. One time I saw Gary at Lucky’s. I was surprise to see him...indoors, but I guess the homeless have to shop too. Well, for some reason, Gary had a meltdown in Produce. I don’t know why he was freaking, but he was. I went over to try to talk to him. Thinking we had some connection. I might as well have been Dick Chaney at a Bush family function. I wasn’t welcome by Gary as he signaled the planes to land with stalks of rhubarb.
Charles the street painter. Charles thinks he came out sometime in the late seventies to follow the Dead. He thinks. That was a long time ago. Another lifetime for Charles. So may family members ago. I commissioned Charles one drunken night, mine, not his, outside of Murio’s, to do a painting for me. He did. I paid the downtown price for his artwork, and was happy to do it. I talk to Charles almost everyday. I know he lives in the Park at night. I think he’s happy. The other day, we were talking about his newest creation. Most of his artwork is bible-based. He does love his biblical action figures. While we were discussing the teaching of St. Augustine as Charles sketch the saintly Floridian, he eye was distracted by the city’s trashcan on the corner from where Charles lives during the day. As much as he tried to draw the saint, he kept fidgeting the garbage container. He didn’t like the way it closed. The door that opened to allow you to empty the receptacle didn’t have tight enough grip. This didn’t sit well with Charles. As fine as artist as he is, not much work got down that day due to the faulty hinge on the trash can. I had to leave Charles as he became a broken record that still spun.
Larry. We think Larry is his real name. Larry thinks Larry is his real name. That’s what we go with. There are those times when we were able to catch Larry in those small lucid moments. In those nanoseconds when he’s able to recall who he is without any of our help. He said that he’s graduated college and has been to war. If the war part is true, we could get Larry some help through the Veterans Administration. When some concern neighbors took Larry to the V.A. to see about getting him on some assistance, or at least a place to live, Larry imploded. The questions must have got to him. He went buggy and they had to leave.
And it goes on. I know many of my street neighbors. Some I know with a nod, others a hello. A guy like Gary, I’m never really sure if he knows who I am. Even when does. Then there are the kids.
The kids range from kids too young to be away from home on their own to the old geezers with their bicycles pulling trailers from here to who knows where. There are vagabonds and partying-transits that glide from town to town, spare-changing and soup-kitchening their way across this great land of ours. By the tattoos on their faces and the nasty outstretched hand position for entitlement, they sit and block Haight St. Some of these punks yell at you when you don’t pony up the silver or green that they expect. They gather at the corner of Haight and Cole, by the clinic, and party during the day while they work the street. If I’m not anger at the kids for badgering me for the take-out I’m bringing home for the wife and kids, or hitting me up with the promise that if I give them money, they leave. I feel sorry for them. I know for every kid there is a broken home. Or maybe a home that is now broken hearted. I don’t know who’s right. I just know who is hitting me up for spare change.
By the way, having lived and worked on Haight Street for most of my life, the most sure fire response I have for the street kids when asked for spare change is...
Sorry, I am French, en francais.