by Samel Leparan
The intersection of Blackness and homelessness in San Francisco is a history that can be told in several ways. To intersect means having at least one element in common. But what do blackness and homelessness have in common? Where do blackness and homelessness meet in San Francisco?
Let’s dive directly into the most common views and well observed elements that directly or indirectly intersect blackness and homelessness in San Francisco. I am a Black homeless folk on the streets of San Francisco and in my life as on these streets I have interacted with many folks from different places and with different skin color who are also homeless, either by choice or by chance.
Why homeless by choice or chance? It is a million dollar question. Some are homeless because of the experiences they went through and the circumstances surrounding them forced them to the streets. Others are homeless by chance due to the lack of opportunities they had when they arrived in this country. As Louis Pasteur once said, “chance favors the prepared mind.”
I have come to learn that there are actually a multitude of different paths that lead the folks you see, meet, interact and or read stories from in the Street Sheet to become homeless, regardless of their skin color or any other identities. But why are the majority of unhoused people of a certain skin color? Why so many Black folks?
At least for immigrants, the answer to that is not obvious. It lies in the reasons why people are leaving African countries and coming to America. Black folks are migrating to America for so many reasons. Many are trying to find greener pastures; some come to visit, others to study, others come for holidays, while still others escape the harsh reality of their poor homes and countries—failed democracies or persecution. Some came in search of new opportunities or new challenges.
The limitations set by the intersection between Blackness and homelessness intensify when national identity merges with race and housing status. When one comes to America from an African nation, it may be because of what they have heard, read or been told about the great opportunities that lie ahead in this foreign country. They have the chance, they have the choice to benefit from the opportunities at hand, but after a while some succeed while others fall on hard times: they lose their passports, indulge in drugs and dealing, lose their dependants, join bad companies, fall out of favor with their employers, or lose their documents through evictions, theft, accidents, floods, fire and so many other ways. This forces one to be an illegal immigrant, forcing them to try and evade the authorities and the systems in place.
Without any other viable options, one’s living choices narrow down to living on the streets, under bridges or in a car. The shelters put in place to help become more scary, especially to those who are undocumented and trying to hide from the system. Here is where you find the real relationship between Blackness and homelessness. People are forced into a choice: to be arrested or hide and remain homeless, having no one to listen or understand their stories and different experiences. These folks cannot even afford a meal, let alone other basic needs. Others cannot even find their way back home due to many factors like safety—especially those who seek asylum—affordability, or missing documents, while others just choose not to go back.
Blackness and homelessness intersect in so many ways, and for that reason folks need help and support, for you can never really tell why one is homeless or the reason here in San Francisco.