Advocating for Yourself

by Everett May

Most people can appreciate the value in having a good advocate on your side during life’s challenging moments. Almost everybody has experienced a situation when an advocate was either necessary or would have come in handy. In certain circumstances advocates are not hard to find—especially if there is money involved—but that’s not always the case. Sometimes your troubles have nothing to do with money, or they are something money just can’t fix. Life can throw some curveballs and you never know when. Usually when it does, when you most need a team on your side, all you can hear are crickets on the field, as though everybody packed up quick and went home, leaving you alone at the bat. Now, it’s just you and that curve ball. Let me tell you how to round the bases, make it home and win the game when the only person you have to rely on is you.

Sometimes you have to be your own advocate.

I became homeless in April of 2021. With practically no services available where I lived, I thought my chances would be better in San Francisco. I had dreamed of living here for more than 20 years. So, after losing my job and then my apartment, and with nothing left to lose, I decided to make a leap of faith and I came to the City. On one hand it was a blessing. I was finally where I wanted to be. On the other hand, it was also a curse because I had never imagined living in San Francisco without a home. Of course, I never imagined living anywhere without a home, so if I had to start from scratch, why not do it where I’ve always wanted to be? I stayed in hostels when I could and explored the city at night when I couldn’t, then I’d catch a few hours of sleep at St. Anthony’s when morning came. The Tenderloin became my home base.

And as rough as it is a lot of good things can be said about the Tenderloin and the people there who provide services. Eventually I could no longer afford the hostels so I took up a space with many other homeless people at night in front of GLIDE, but I was determined that would not be my fate. I had not come to San Francisco to suffer and sleep on the sidewalk. I prayed for a home every night.

At some point I came across the Linkage Center in Civic Center. I remember that I was looking for some food. I discovered they had more to offer than just a meal. I had a housing assessment done and was told that I qualified for an SRO. I was ecstatic! After so many nights sleeping on the sidewalk this was music to my ears. I went through all of the necessary steps and it didn’t take long before I got a referral to an SRO in the Tenderloin. I was so happy that my homeless days were finally over. I went and looked at the place, accepted it, and set a move in date. A date not too far off. I couldn’t have been more grateful. I mean, sure the place was small, but at least it had four walls, a roof and a door. I spent the next week sleeping on the streets, but it was a little more bearable knowing that it wouldn’t be for long. Finally the day came for me to sign my lease and move in. When I arrived at my scheduled appointment time I was told that I would have to come back the next day because the person I was there to see had a personal appointment.

Now here’s what I haven’t told you yet: I am bipolar. What’s more is that at that time I was not on my usual regimen of medication. Being new to the city and without a primary care doctor yet, I was then taking a very strong anti-depressant that I was not prescribed and that I purchased on the streets. What I didn’t know was that this medication can easily produce mania and even rage. And that’s exactly what it did.

It isn’t in my nature to lash out at others, but the drug took control. There was a scene, and Security was called. Needless to say, I did not move in on that day. Worse, I was 86’d from the building. Which was really bad considering I had to pay my rent and deposit in that office. I had backed myself up into a corner. Not only did that office handle affairs for the SRO I was supposed to move into but also for practically every other SRO in the TL.

After the whole ordeal I was dumbfounded. I could not believe what had happened and why I lost my temper like that. It really isn’t like me. It wasn’t until I saw a nurse practitioner at my clinic that I started to get some answers. I told her what medication I had been taking and asked her to prescribe me some. She said, “absolutely not”, and explained that that medication was not recommended for bipolar people for the reasons I mentioned above. She prescribed something different and I began to get better.

I was back in control of my mood and behavior but I was still sleeping outside.

I went back to the people who had given me the referral. I hate to say it but they weren’t much help at all, not at first. It was explained to me that I was still eligible for an SRO, but because of that outburst at the housing clinic, my options were now narrow. I would have to wait for an opening at one of the buildings they do not manage. This seemed reasonable to me—after all I am the one who caused the scene. Medication or no medication, I still take responsibility for my actions.

Luckily I was able to move into a shelter while I waited for a referral and once again I felt optimistic. Sadly though, I still faced unforeseen obstacles. Getting my own place definitely wasn’t going to be easy. The agency I was working with got their list of openings on a weekly basis. And every week I would check to see if I had a referral. Week after week, nothing. Once I was told I could have had a referral if not for an eviction on my record. I have no evictions on my record. Another time I was told that I’d have a referral but I was not allowed on that particular property. And this was not the property where I caused the scene, nor was it run by them. I had never been on that property and I called them to ask why I was not allowed there. They said they didn’t know what I was talking about, I was not 86”d from their property. They had never even heard of me. I started to feel  that someone was working against me.

More than once the thought to reach out to the housing clinic and apologize crossed my mind. I ran this idea by the social worker I’d been working with. The one who was supposed to get me the referral. She advised me not to, that it would not help my case. I would just make things worse. I was beginning to wonder if this person was not really on my side at all. Months went by and eventually I was reluctant to even ask about a referral, knowing that I’d get the same answer. I was beginning to lose hope.

One morning I woke with a new determination though. I was not being treated fairly and I knew it. No one seemed to be on my side, so I decided that I must act on my own behalf. I must speak up for myself or stay in the shelter forever. I contacted my primary care doctor, for now I had one, and asked for a statement explaining my behavior on the wrong medication. I searched the internet and found supporting medical journals also. I looked up just who was in charge of the housing clinic where this nightmare began and found the director’s email. Finally I typed a letter explaining my case and sincerely apologized for my behavior. I sent the email and turned the matter over to the universal powers.

It wasn’t but two days later when my case manager came to me at the shelter and told me that I had a referral for an SRO and an appointment the next day to go and view it. My case manager and I went the next day to view the apartment, I accepted it and was able to move in a week later. Finally, a home in San Francisco! It took two years and yes my place is very small. But it’s tidy, it’s safe, it’s warm and it’s mine. And I’ve put a few personal touches on the place making it look pretty chic. Maybe it was luck, but I am pretty sure it would have never happened had I not been willing to step up to the plate and advocate. For myself.