Outside and In

Over the past 10 years, San Francisco has gone through a thorough change of scenery, from artist weirdo hub to an odd suburbia parallel timeline. The kind of people that inhabit the city change the landscape and the city seeks to appease these people while maintaining its glory. Where you are on the tier systems of the city will shape how you view what’s working and what’s not. Here’s one person’s living example of moving through the system created to house or hurt San Francisco’s houseless populace. 

I moved here over 13 years ago and lived on the street for quite some time. There was easy access to showers and laundry at that time and socks to go around. I was constantly moved by cops, kicked by city workers for sleeping outside. When I was in the “youth” age range (18 to 24) there was a good amount of resources and support to encourage me and keep me busy, places to eat and hang out. Things seemed to go well and it was a time when the city was still booming with opportunity in my field of art and creativity. There was access to case management, resources and support. 

On the flip side staying in the shelter was difficult, it felt maybe like it was run like what I suppose a group home would be. You could get kicked out with no explanation and no remedy and left stranded outside as some form of punishment for your offense. This would leave a grave distrust of who I could or couldn’t trust in the system. 

In the end I was housed through the program with some effort on my part. I got my first lease and keys of my own and it was a proud day. I would let friends stay over, clothes drenched because the city would spray them with water at odd hours in the morning to “wake them up.” As I aged out of that system of youth, the way I approached getting resources had to change. The people in my building were very harsh and living in the building was my first encounter with the “adult” system and learning to navigate landlords, policy and the politics of housing. I was grateful to have two of the most coveted things in the SRO “single room occupant” market: a kitchen and bathroom of my own. I treated them like gold. 

The harsh environment wore on my spirit after so long. The building was extremely haunted (it was almost a hundred years old!). And both living and dead occupants came with serious challenges of addiction issues, street survival tactics and moving things around. And when someone living joined our invisible friends, we would know by way of smell. This again would greatly scar my sense of humanity. Knowing people would die and no one would notice until the stench of death waifed through the halls. 

Our managers were kind of slummy, and didn’t do things fairly. Thankfully, in time things changed, and case managers were added because living conditions got so bad. Wellness checks were instituted to make sure someone was checking in on people, and we had better help navigating the adult side of things. This should show that people need rehabilitation and care to transition from street living to housing living sometimes. I was still able to find comfort and funds making and selling my art in the city. 

Due to unfortunate circumstances I lost my place, but I had it for at least five years and it was a good run for my first place. I was involved in a terrible accident which would keep me hospitalized for at least six weeks. I was homeless after that and had to start the process all over. After time in mental intuitions and rehabilitation houses, I got into a shelter and on a waiting list for housing. I was able to because of my dual diagnosis and help from the food stamp office and an intensive case manager. It was a bit of a wait and no one was sure how long it would be. I was harassed by staff and constantly being reported for trying to be clean and keep my space well or doing laundry. The system is made to harass and discourage you for trying to do well. 

I was going to school in the evening wanting to do better, and there was always someone questioning why. Some time later I was blessed with a special waiting list for a room. It wasn’t the greatest and I didn’t like it but I wanted to get out of the shelter so against my better judgment I took it. I was attacked and harassed for a whole year by neighbors and the staff was useless and mean. We were under constant violation and threat for things that normal housing would never have to deal with ,for example having clothes on the floor. Police were in and out, and again more ghosts. Going to school and the little farmers market were my escape from the building. Trying to get the situation addressed by management always resulted in blame on me. Finding legal help was impossible, but eventually things changed and got better. I’m grateful that things worked out that I was able to get housed, and now I live in a better place and I’m sober. But I’m also left with many scars that make trust hard. 

There was a waitlist hotline created under the Ed Lee system. If I would have gone that way it would have taken three weeks to get into a shelter and I wouldn’t have been able to stay in long as I needed to to get housed, because under the Care Not Cash of the Gavin Newsom mayoral term, money has been funding certain types of beds. There’s no incentive to keep people housed or sheltered. But if you can find ways to weave through the system’s gates you might get a place to live. If I wasn’t so injured, I don’t know if I would have gotten the help I needed the way I did. I thank God for giving me the resolve to keep going and putting wonderful people in my life to help me get there. The road was intense but I made it though.