The Gorilla Outside of a Room

The night I found myself sleeping in the rain outside of a Subway sandwich shop in San Francisco any pretense I’d built my life on up until that point instantly vanished.

Outside of Subway that night I asked myself how I had gotten to that point.  I asked myself was there any hope or was where I lay the next phase of my life, again to occupy such a lowly state?  The question itself so overwhelmed me I could find no satisfying answer. The answer that initially came to mind was that, in a sense, I deserved—was even expected—to sleep in the rain because I’d grown up poor.

In fact, I grew up not simply “poor” but a particular kind of poor: Southern, black poor.  A lot whose socioeconomic positioning is so heavy with despair that the word itself “poor” breaks into halves in the speakers’ mouths whereby they swallow the second half (o, r) as they push the first half (p, o) off their lips into the jargon specific po’ which they used as a qualifier.  Po’ folks. That’s what we were.

Neither poverty nor homelessness are chic.  They carry no bohemian cool factor, no San Francisco folklore about Mimi Von Trustbaby—bored with privilege and status and perpetual front row seats—abandoning her mansion and heading to Haight Street or the Tenderloin to rough it while she finds herself.

And though that night in the rain I’d begun thinking that maybe all po’ folks were expected to end up homeless and sleeping outside, deep down in me, next to intuition, in that sacred, quiet spot reserved for hope, I knew that assumption was false.

I’d always heard, and continue to hear, that homelessness in San Francisco could be solved if its citizens possessed the will to do so.  I know this will exist[s]. It is the same will that got me off the streets and into housing. I’m no longer homeless today because a number of San Franciscans (friends, case managers, activists, non-profit and for-profit workers, myself) had the will to do something about it.

The resolution to every problem began first with the willingness to even ask a question in spite of how silly or shallow the speaker thinks the question or how personal and probing the question might actually turn out to be.

In the coming weeks, months . . . years the purpose for the articles of this new column, In the Red, is to ask the citizens of San Francisco what are we truly willing to do (individually and collectively) to finally solve homelessness in our city.

Homelessness isn’t a joke.

It’s people lives with which we are dealing.

Homelessness doesn’t exist in some vacuum.

It’s front and center and outside all around us.