Tag Archives: homelessness

Under the Overpass, 19 December 2015. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Gathering)

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Good Afternoon:

San Francisco has gotten hit with a huge El Nino in recent days, one downpour after another, with only slight respites of light drizzle and the occasional sunshine. At the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where I work, we go around with sheepish grins and tell each other, “This weather is terrible! Isn’t it wonderful!” Whilst it remains unlikely that a single wet winter will completely undo the drought, most San Franciscans feel a bizarre combination of irritation and delight.

Not so much our homeless population.

Finding any means of protection however slight against the elements becomes more difficult in weather like this. For this reason, large numbers of homeless have sought refuge under the overpass along 13th Street in the South of Market neighborhood. I would guess that the number of improvised shelters have quadrupled. Any amount of protection will do, but some pieces of real estate have more value than others:

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Even these lucky ones cannot completely avoid the wet.

Blanket Drying Out After Downpour, 13th Street Near Folsom, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Blanket Drying Out After Downpour, 13th Street Near Folsom, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Others make do with partial protection.

Broom & Shoes, 13th Street Near Harrison, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Broom & Shoes, 13th Street Near Harrison, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Some might not have even that much.

Hell Ride Crew, 11th Street near Valencia, San Francisco, CA 19 December 2015

Hell Ride Crew, 13th Street near Valencia, San Francisco, CA, 19 December 2015

Worst of all, no matter how well meaning, any and all attempts at solutions seem to consist of and/or end in shouting, blame and lawsuits. Anyone can see that San Francisco’s recent prominence in the national consciousness results from the fact the income gap here absolutely dwarfs the income gap nationally, and one nightmare scenario consists of America turning into a middle-class-free version of San Francisco, containing the few extremely rich and the many extremely poor. I took that quick and easy quiz in the previous link and discovered that nationally my income was slightly above average and places me in the 57th percentile, an excellent result when you have all of The Good Zeroes: zero kids, zero cars, zero drugs, zero mortgage, zero debt.

However, by San Francisco standards my income fit in the 38th percentile. Lower middle class.

Well, I have defenses, but most people don’t.

So whatever you see in these pictures, wherever you live, it can happen there.

The wind and rain in my neighborhood have just take a turn for the heavier.

Vonn Scott Bair

Trying to Understand, 27 October 2015.

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Good Evening:

I know what I saw today, but I have no idea what I saw today.

At about 11:15 a.m., on a stretch of Market Street from 10th Street to Van Ness Avenue, in the space of three minutes, I watched four homeless men (all Caucasian males who looked 40-50 years old) separately and independently walk into heavy traffic, indeed, they walked into heavy traffic towards the heavy traffic.

Homeless Man Searching the Gutter for Food, 19 October 2015.

Homeless Man Searching the Gutter for Food, 19 October 2015.

I have no idea what I saw.

I might have seen four almost simultaneous attempted suicides. In fact, the 14th time I saved a human life involved a man who was attempting to kill himself by walking into traffic. Incidentally, none of them got hit, not even close, not even the one at Market and 10th who wandered into oncoming traffic in four different lanes.

It just boggles the mind that so many homeless have hit upon this method of attempted suicide.

Unless it wasn’t.

Begging Outside Trader Joe's, Bryant & 9th Street, San Francisco, CA

Begging Outside Trader Joe’s, Bryant & 9th Street, San Francisco, CA

When four homeless men wander into traffic in such a small area, the possibility exists that a tainted batch of the current cheap street drug has warped their minds. Or it could have been just a coincidence that four perhaps mentally ill homeless men happened to wander into traffic at the same time. Unless this was a perverse version of Russian Roulette–maybe they get killed, but if they get injured they can try to sue drivers.

It just doesn’t seem possible that one person witnessed four strange events almost exactly alike in such a small time frame. Five, if you count my 14th. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on. Seems like some kind of bad craziness taking hold in San Francisco.

Unless it was all just a coincidence.

I don’t know what I saw.

Vonn Scott Bair

The World of the Eating & the World of the Hungry in San Francisco’s Civic Center.

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Good Evening:

During a recent Friday lunch hour, I had to run a few errands and that including walking through the food trucks and tables that take over San Francisco’s Civic Center every Friday starting at noon. At one point, I found myself halfway between what felt like separate worlds.

Approximately fifteen feet to my left:

Food Trucks and Court at San Francisco Civic Center

Food Trucks and Court at San Francisco Civic Center

Approximately ten feet to my right:

Broke - Hungry Anything Helps!!! God Bless

Broke – Hungry Anything Helps!!! God Bless

And when I returned after completing my errands:

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I swear it almost looks like worship.

I get why San Francisco has once again become such a fascinating subject for pontificators and opinionators in the pontificating and opinionating industries. No other city combines such a ridiculously high median income ($96,000!) with such visible displays of poverty and hunger. Separate worlds of The Eating and The Hungry, as it were. Also, the disappearing middle class disappears here at a faster rate than most other places in America, as far as I know. I am not a professional journalist, just an amateur observer with a limited perspective, so perhaps other places exist where the contrasts between haves and have-nots is even more spectacular–possibly Wisconsin, for one.

Of course I don’t, can’t, have no right, and absolutely refuse to complain. Although my income is less than two-thirds of San Francisco’s median, I can get by rather well, thank you. I can even retire much earlier than most people, although “retirement” is a misnomer in my case–actors and writers just plain don’t.

But San Francisco’s haves–they have it real good. They can afford Leap, a sort of private public transit system, where for $6 (!), they can ride in a bus where they can spend even more money on Blue Bottle coffee and organic pastries, plus indulge in Leap’s social media component (free cyberstalking with every fare!). Apparently, I am not allowed to ride on Leap. Oh, I can afford the $6; sadly, if the advertising is any indication, Leap is limited to San Franciscans less than 30 years old. Darn it.

On the bright side, if I had a car, I could hire someone to park it.

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Oops, wait–looks like I’m too old for this one, too. Darn it.

While I understand the importance of a healthy, stable, preferably even growing middle class, and while I understand the potential economic harm to America resulting from an ever-shrinking middle class, I wonder at all of the attention we middle-class folk have received. Should circumstances ever become economically impossible for me to continue living in San Francisco, I have options–Los Angeles being an obvious choice for someone who already has 15 or so credits in the Internet Movie Database. I have resources.

In the world of The Hungry, people don’t have resources.

San Francisco has seen an explosion in the number of homeless, and I don’t think it can all consist of other states exporting their mentally ill to my city. Again, I’m not a professional journalist, and I don’t have facts, figures and statistics, but a lot of the newly homeless who set up homeless encampments at night in places like the block on Market Street near 2nd Street (in our Financial District) must have recently lost their homes in San Francisco and had no place to go.

The American middle class is in danger of losing their financial well-being. But what of the people who already have?

When does that become an issue?

Vonn Scott Bair

What’s New for San Francisco in 2015?

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Good Evening:

It’s fun trying to predict the future, especially since in my case I am so absolutely HORRIBLE at it (apologies for the shouting). But what the heck, we haven’t lived even one week of the new year, so we shall all forget my flubs before the week has ended.

One possible certainty: since 2015 is an odd-numbered year, the San Francisco Giants will not win the World Series. Fellow G-Men fans, we shall have to wait for 2016 whilst the St. Louis Cardinals win another pennant this year. One more likely certainty: the San Francisco 49ers will go downhill thanks to their front-office dys- and malfunctioning. Still can’t believe they let Harbaugh go.

Another (fairly safe) prediction: the bartenders of San Francisco will continue to compete among themselves in the creation of the wackiest new cocktails. Thanks to the revival of what the industry calls “brown goods,” (examples include Scotch, Bourbon, rye, et alia) restaurants and bars both new and hold have gone crazy for the cocktail um, er, uh, craze.

And the title “Lust” in the San Francisco Chronicle will continue to have nothing to do with sex (as astonishing as that might sound): it will continue to be the title of one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s real estate columns.

One guarantee, since it has already occurred: the massive construction makeover of San Francisco will continue apace. Presenting recent photos of just a few of the construction sites within a few blocks of the Civic Center:

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It will not shock me if more than 200 construction cranes scrape our skies.

Unfortunately, I must predict that one of the saddest aspects of San Francisco will not improve: homelessness in this ridiculously wealthy will probably get worse. Only a few days ago, I saw this homeless woman on Polk Street near Fulton struggling to awaken and walk away from the sidewalk where she had spent the night.

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Personally, I find it an American embarrassment that not only does the phrase “Greyhound therapy” exist, it has its own Wikipedia entry. This past year, I visited both Portland, Oregon and New Haven, Connecticut, and felt shocked by the numbers of homeless people not living on their streets. We still await the results of various legal actions against the state of Nevada for their habit of shipping their homeless to California.

One more prediction, most likely to become the most wildly incorrect unless it becomes true: one major Internet company based in San Francisco will shock the tech world by going bust. I have no idea which one; just wanted to make a prediction that I personally believe won’t happen.

Vonn Scott Bair

Silence Insane @ Haight and Divisadero, 28 September 2014

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Good Evening:

I had hoped he didn’t see me.

He went hopelessly insane years ago, and I know little of psychology, but unfortunately it appears that nothing can save him. However, today did not count among my lucky days:

Immediately Before the Attack.

Immediately Before the Attack.

He saw me. And made me his next target for his next assault.

But this was no ordinary assault.

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He assaults people by harassing them without saying a word, he hardly makes a sound even when he moves, circles his victims, makes threatening gestures for a few moments, and then moves one, but then moves back and repeats the above until his victims are thoroughly terrified. I have used my camera to chase off a thug threatening two couple, and then to chase off a homeless addict/alcoholic threatening me, so I tried it again. It sort of worked; he left me alone after one circle, then walked down the street not harassing people when he saw me continuing to photograph him. This might be my money shot:

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Looks kinda like something that madman Winogrand might have taken. Aside from the first photo, I have not edited any of these shots (taken with my point-and-shoot), but I might crop the top and convert to B&W to see what happens. Here he is retreating from my camera:

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I didn’t scare him away, but my camera did.

Vonn Scott Bair

Street People in San Francisco, Saturday, 13 September 2014. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity)

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Good Morning:

Saturday morning had me up and running early, performing chores. For starters, I bought breakfast for the actors, directors and playwrights participating in a 24-hour theater festival (where you write, rehearse and perform a set of short plays in 24 hours, and yes it can be done). No matter where I went up and down Market Street, I saw something like this:

Market Street Near 7th, 13 September 2014

Market Street Near 7th, 13 September 2014

At 7:00 a.m. on a weekend morning, San Francisco’s homeless are still asleep on Market Street. Something so obvious to me now to which I had been so oblivious before: old age. Our homeless population has aged before our eyes and now they have to cope with advancing years.

Powell & Ellis, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Powell & Ellis, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

And with age comes increasing physical disabilities. Oblivious me, I had never noticed the canes and wheelchairs before.

Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Sutter & Powell Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Sutter & Powell Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Market Street, near Stockton and 4th Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Market Street, near Stockton and 4th Streets, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, 13 September 2014

Polk Street Near Fulton, San Francisco, 12 September 2014

Polk Street Near Fulton, San Francisco, 12 September 2014

San Francisco has one of the largest gaps between the richest and poorest in America, and that gap becomes most obvious early on Saturday morning.

All photos taken Saturday, 13 September 2014 (except for the last, 8:00 a.m., 12 September 2014) with my point-and-shoot, cropped, edited and converted to B&W using iPhoto.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Niche.

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Good Evening:

On the other side of Redwood Alley from the San Francisco PUC HQ, you will find the Superior Court building. Another relic of the dark ages of San Francisco architecture, the building features these niches built into the walls for the vents. I don’t know if the architects wanted people to use them as benches, or if they set the vents into the walls to protect them from the elements, or if they simply didn’t think these things through, but in recent months a homeless woman has taken to using the same niche every afternoon.

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She reads avidly, a hardcore book lover, and it would not surprise me if she has a library card; the Main Branch of the Public Library lies only about a hundred yards away. Lately she has taken up writing, penning one page after another at a pace that would give me writer’s cramp.

And recently, it appears that someone else has discovered the pleasures of a quiet place in the middle of the big noisy city.

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I hope that whatever that woman writes becomes a bestseller. Certainly, she’s working hard enough.

Vonn Scott Bair