THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS Jim. I have lived in San Francisco since 1993 but am new to this site and found it through your letter being posted on Facebook. I hope your readers won’t mind my Facebook post response which I’ve copied here as it’s a little long:
As a dog walker in the Castro, Noe Valley, Cole Valley and the Sunset, I pass a lot of and often the same homeless and/or mentally ill every day. This is what frustrates me and keeps me humble and very grateful…
I have just come from getting my morning latte and bagel with tip is $8–10. I always grab lunch on the go so another $10 and If I go out at night another $20-$50 on dinner/cocktails/door cover… (I know people in the Castro who spend $50 a night on cocktails alone).
I watch these same people as they are leaving a bar at night or getting their coffee during the day ignore people who are digging in garbage cans for food, have no shoes, pants or shirt (warm coat or umbrella when it rains) and walk by and respond “sorry..I can’t spare any change” when asked!
I have hundreds of dollars worth of clothes in my closet I don’t wear anymore since leaving the corporate world so I try to remember to bring one of those coats, hoody or sweater or shoes to give away-homeless people are everywhere so it only takes me a second to get rid of it. When it’s pouring, I take one of the 10 umbrella’s in my closet and give it to someone-I’m finally freeing up space in my warm, comfy apartment.
When it’s raining, I grab a painter’s plastic drop cloth or plastic shower liner/bungy cord so they can put over themselves, their things and their dog which is approximately 5–10 bucks (may have to give up a cocktail tonight) at Walgreens or Cliffs because I’m already there buying something I need. A large bottle of water or Gatorade (remember these people are dehydrated as well as hungry) is only a few bucks and I’m there to get cash from the ATM anyway.
On a daily basis, it is so easy to help these desperate, alienated, malnutrition, scared people (they are PEOPLE) who have absolutely nothing. When even a burrito costs 10 bucks and someone gives spare change (usually under $1) how many days before that person can eat? Our leftovers at any restaurant, even if it’s just the bread that they’re going to throw away anyway can be taken and handed to anyone on the street with a plastic fork.
This is what I propose and what I do: each of us adopt one or two people a week and we give them what we can spare for that week ($5, an umbrella, a roll of TP, a bag of chips (loaf of bread is filling, self contained and can eaten for several days). Put it all in a grocery bag and drop it off. I believe it’s also important to ask what they need which humanizes them and go get it rather than just dropping stuff off randomly as they can only carry so much in their shopping cart or backpack if they even have one. If you’re uncomfortable with face-to-face interaction and then leave the bag on top of any garbage can where they are forced to forage for food. It’s easy and it’s not even out of our way as we have to step over them anyway as we go about our day!