Everyday Life: Homelessness in San Francisco


Good Evening:

This is not a post of “Everyday Life” photography as art, but rather of “Everyday Life” photography as journalism.

Much of my street photography does not include the wonderful, beautiful, unique or quirky aspects of life in San Francisco. This is not a perfect city, and one thing San Francisco does not do well consists of its response to the many forms of homelessness and the sheer numbers of homeless in this town. I do have some photographs to share, plus a story I sent to my friends and online buddies on July 23, 2011.

Sleeping Homeless Person with Traffic Cone. Evidently, people had stepped on/tripped over this person once too often.

Fidelity and Love on Market Street

Good Evening:

First, a caution. This is not one of my happier or funnier pieces. You might want to revisit at another time.

I took the bus downtown tonight to attend a mixer for Bay Area film artists, but the action was out on the sidewalks. The 71 Haight-Noriega pulled up to the stop at the intersection of Page, Franklin and Market. A homeless man strolled over the crosswalk on the street in front of the bus, followed by his white pit bull. There’s an abandoned storefront at the intersection, and the homeless like to sleep on the Page Street side as it is comparatively sheltered from the wind.

No homeless individual is lucky, and this 50-ish looking blonde man with a wispy moustache was no exception. However, some homeless people will lose everything–marriage, car, job, home, family–and still keep a dog. It’s an extra expense and hassle for someone with no money and plenty of hassles already, but they will keep the dog anyway. Everyone on the bus watched these two. The reason we watched the pair was because of the dog–he was wearing a heavy people coat, with his forelegs sticking through the sleeves.

Mentally Ill Homeless Woman Walking Past Strip Joint on Market Street

The other passengers returned to their normal business, but I kept watching. The man did not seem to have any food for himself (perhaps it was hidden in his backpack, perhaps he had already eaten), but he did have some doggie treats in his coat pocket, and he gave a pair to his sartorial friend. Then he started to unwrap not his own bedroll, but his dog’s blanket, setting up his dog’s bed first. Throughout, the pit bull wagged his tail nonstop, nuzzling his friend’s hand, sniffing his crotch (perhaps the one canine trait humans would do well not to imitate), and pawing the man’s leg in a dog’s typically affectionate manner.

I know what homelessness does to the life spans of humans and dogs alike, and it is not good. Barring miracles, these two are not long for the world. In particular, the dog will have a hungry, diseased life, and a short one. But tonight he had a nice warm coat, he had a few doggie treats, he had an entire city that was his for the exploration, he had a place to sleep, and he had the best friend a dog could have in the whole wide world, a human who loved him and whom he could love in return.

As far as the white pit bull was concerned, he had a great life.

And you know something? His coat was in much better condition than the man’s.

Sleeping in Front of the Asian Art Museum

The bus rolled on, and I was lost in my thoughts of a white pit bull and the fancy bar and restaurant where I was meeting other film artists. A few blocks later, loud shouting interrupted my reverie as the 71 pulled up to Market, Eighth, Grove and Hyde, the same five-way where that cop had fun with the truck driver (“Cop Humor at 8th and Market”). Another homeless man stalked angrily across the middle of Market Street behind our bus, so oncoming traffic couldn’t see him emerging into their lane. Fortunately, the driver who could have hit him was not talking on his cell phone, so he braked in plenty of time. This homeless man (20’s, brown crew cut) screamed at the driver, screamed at the other cars on the road, and screamed his companion following behind him. Both of them, the homeless man and his companion, made it to the other side of Market without injury. The homeless man continued to yell at his follower.

But he wasn’t yelling at a dog. He was yelling at his girlfriend.

You Can Be Here, or in Baja…

She wasn’t walking fast enough for him. You would think he might have a little more understanding: he wasn’t carrying anything, while she carried all of their worldly belongings on her back, a backpack with a bedroll tied to the top and a sleeping bag tied to the bottom. The weight bent her forward at a 60 degree angle, but still, she couldn’t walk fast enough to please her boyfriend.

“Come on! I’m not even walking fast!” he yelled. She followed him, face blank, her eyes looking at nothing but the sidewalk at her feet.

The light turned green, the bus moved on, and I thought, “Lucky dog.”

Vonn Scott Bair


4 responses »

    • Dear P.T.: I know how you feel; I have read a number of blog posts that I would respect, appreciate, acknowedge, and yet somehow “like” seemed not quite the best choice of words. I appreciate your comment. Vonn Scott Bair

  1. This is, as you say, a very sad post. I was shocked to see how many homeless folk there were in San Fran, when we visited, some years ago. Here in Africa, we have the same thing, but it’s mainly black Africans who have come into the cities from rural areas. I hate to see the street kids, begging in rags, and the women with their babies, at the traffic lights. In the past few years,now that our unemployment rates are so high, we have white beggars too. I always wonder what their story would be if I plucked up the courage to ask them.

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