The “Wheeled Conveyance” Problem

By J de Salvo

I have Bipolar I Disorder, which means I go through long periods of mania and depression; as opposed to BP II or Rapid-Cycling BPD, which present as extreme mood swings, my depressive and manic periods can continue for months at a time. When I’m manic, it can be almost impossible to sleep sometimes, and if I go long enough without sleep I start hallucinating and hearing voices. My illness has gotten worse over time, and after 25 years in the so-called “workforce,” I finally decided it was time to apply for SSI. Over the last ten years, as my manic episodes have become more severe, I seem to lose my job every couple of years anyhow, due to the fact that I become too dysfunctional to be a reliable employee. SSI isn’t easy to get, and if the application process wasn’t so long and difficult I would have applied long ago. Someone told me that if I applied for GA, the city would connect me with people who would help me to gather the necessary documentation to mount an effective case. Without this help, your chances of getting approved are close to zero. Even if you were to walk into the SSI interview in the middle of a full-blown manic episode, you still wouldn’t be approved without evidence that your condition is “ongoing.”

Everything was going fine, for a while. They assigned me an advocate to gather documentation, and a case manager/counselor with whom I was having weekly sessions—on the record, in order to further illustrate the “ongoing” nature of my problem.

Then one day, I showed up for my appointment, and there was a new sign on the door to the waiting room:

“No luggage or carts.

Only 2 bags will be checked.”

Ever since that day it has been a struggle just to keep my case open. My GA was cut off because I missed an appointment that I never received any notice of—my wallet was stolen, so now I can’t pick up my mail at General Delivery—but even if I had received the notice, it’s doubtful I would have been able to get inside the building to attend the appointment, because of the County’s new “no cart” policy.

I have a friend who lets me store my cart and other belongings at her apartment once a week, so I can go to my weekly sessions with my counselor, but she lives out by MacArthur BART in Oakland, which is one of the BART stations where the elevator is behind the fare gates, and there is frequent heavy surveillance there by BART Police. There’s really not much choice but to pay the $17 that it costs to make the two round trips to Oakland involved to take my stuff there and drop it off, go back to the city for my appointment, come back and pick it up, then take it back to the city with me.

I sell Street Sheets, so I usually have a little cash, but $17 for BART more than once a week would really stretch my limited means. It’s shameful that San Francisco’s social services agency would concoct a policy like this that so obviously most affects the very people that need their help and services the most.

Yerba Buena Gardens, one of the few parks in downtown San Francisco that allows napping, has a similar new policy about “wheeled conveyances,” and even the SF Public Library has size restrictions on luggage and carts. How are unhoused people supposed to access public resources when we’re banned from the premises just for wanting to hold on to important possessions like blankets, tents, Street Sheets, clothing, and food. These are the items that are in my cart, and without it, I would have to decide which of them to forego.

Walgreens apparently has a cart policy, too, but I rarely see their security enforce it, especially if someone is just trying to eat. Recently, however, at a Walgreens on Mission Street, in the FiDi, I walked inside with my cart to get a sandwich and a banana, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard the usual security guard greeting: “Sir…”. The guard told me that I had to either leave my cart outside, or leave the store. 

Grabbing my sandwich and banana, I told them: “No problem, I’m just going straight through checkout.” I wheeled my cart over to the checkout line. There were only two people in line, and the line turned over quickly. For the 10-15 seconds that I stood in it, the guard kept repeating: “Sir…sir…sir,” desperately trying to get my attention, which I withheld, ignoring them completely. The cashier either wasn’t aware of, or didn’t care about our petty little dispute. She rang me up for my food, I swiped my EBT card, thanked her, and at last the defeated guard gave up; now I was already leaving with my purchase, so it would have been futilely redundant for them to tell me I had to leave, now.

At the door, I turned back towards the guard.

“You know, I know it’s your policy and everything, but I was just trying to get something to eat. I only needed to get to the very front of the store, then right into the checkout line, so it’s not like I was blocking anyone or anything. Besides, don’t you think it’s kind of a weird policy not to allow shopping carts into a store?”