Thursday, August 5, 2010


There are two other fascinating San Francisco people I forgot to mention in my last post! Minima reminded me of one... He was another man that we saw while walking through the Tenderloin. He was shirtless and his pants were falling down almost all the way off his ass, revealing his poofy white underwear. He was dancing and singing with utter glee. I think he was one of the happiest looking people I've ever seen.

The other fascinating encounter happened in the Mission. Minima and I were eating at a Mexican restaurant with another friend of ours. A homeless man came into the restaurant and walked right up to our table. He stretched his hands out toward our friend's burrito and tried to take it. She managed to hold onto it, but she and Minima had to tell the man, "No!" several times. As I watched this taking place, I felt very strange. I felt frozen and unsure of what to do, and I just sat there watching stupidly. My brain was sending mixed signals. I felt sort of stunned by the situation. In Seattle, I've seen people ask for someone's food, but I've never seen anyone try to wrest food away from someone's hands. But I also felt really bad for the man. He was bedraggled and pitiful. I felt guilty for having more than enough to eat every day.

I felt this complicated mess of emotions quite often while walking around San Francisco. There are homeless people all over the city, most of which look to be in pretty bad shape. I felt ignorant and naive when I encountered them. I don't know what their stories are. I don't know if I am a sucker feeling too much pity, or if I am a privileged person not feeling enough. It really bothers me when I encounter situations like this that I can't sort out. It haunts me now.


  1. This post raises an excellent question that pertains to San Francisco in particular and large urban centers of activity in general. I know it's something I grappled with mightily when I first moved here five years ago. Specifically, how much do I give and to whom?

    This is especially difficult for people who are energy-givers like you, Sandman. In a city like San Francisco there is so much to look at, so much to join and be a part of, so much that demands your attention, it forces the participant to make choices. The amount of "stuff" here is just like the homeless population--it's on just about every street corner you pass by.

    When I lived here for the first time I felt constantly frazzled, scattered, exhausted and yes, haunted too. This time around I've realized the key to thriving in this buzzing metropolis is to consciously focus my energy. That means that only those things that call to me get my time, energy, attention, money, etc.

    I try to look at it this way: On any given day I have approximately 10 units of energy to spend and once it's gone, I'm done. I don't get anymore until the next day. So if I give half a unit to every homeless person I pass by, all my energy is gone by 10am and then no one gets anything more from me. However, if I decide that the issue of homelessness is something that really calls to me, then my energy is much better spent investing 5 units every other day volunteering for nonprofit programs like Home Away from Homelessness (a great program for homeless kids in the Bay Area) or Project Homeless Connect.

    And then there are others, like my friend Fred, who chooses to invest about 2 or 3 units every day into getting certain mental health bills and laws passed which ensure there are enough beds in free clinics for those who need them, those who need assistance with mental health medication needs get it, etc. Fred's called by politics and the specific arena of mental health but this is also greatly affects the homeless population as so many do have severe mental health issues.

    It's a hard adjustment to make, living in San Francisco, especially for those who were put on this earth specifically TO give of themselves. However, if we unfold a plan of awareness, and focus our energy with a strategy, it seems like our units of energy can go a lot farther.

  2. Knowing the resources as well as being able to affect the resources to bring about the largest and most beneficial change... Telling that man that if he wants food, you will be happy to direct him to a place that will feed him more often than one person's easy handout.