The homeless in the doorway of the new offices of the Mission Economic Development Agency

This piece first appeared on Medium as part of a series of personal essays about life in the Mission by Katharine Blake McFarland. Katharine shared her writing with us and we thought it offered an interesting perspective on the neighborhood, so we’ll be republishing a few of her essays here. 

Daniel C. leans against the stairs leading up to the Castro Country Club, a sober house where they have AA meetings and sell sandwiches and Pete’s coffee. He’s a small man, missing some teeth, and years of drug use have obscured his age. I’ve seen him around the neighborhood before and we’ve chatted briefly once or twice.

He came to California because he didn’t know how to stop using at home in Kentucky. Now he’s on the other side of the country, with his southern accent and nowhere to sleep. It’s no comfort that he’s one of many—the thousands who sleep against buildings and in doorways and parks throughout the city each night.

Daniel’s been accepted into a treatment program, but his bed doesn’t open up for another few nights. “How’s it going?” I ask. “Okay,” he says, “but it’s going to be cold tonight and I wish I could take a shower. See,” he holds open a bag of neatly folded clothes, a couple of shirts and a pair of pants. “I washed all my clothes today but I just need to take a shower.” I ask him about staying at a shelter, and he explains the shelters aren’t safe places if you’re trying to stay clean, because they’re full of people selling and using drugs. “Is there anything you can do to help?” He asks me.

My apartment and its white-tiled bathroom — the various shampoos and soaps, the folded towels on the shelf — are all just a block away. And suddenly I can’t remember any of the reasons I wouldn’t invite Daniel C. into my apartment. Denial seems impossible, like a joke or a farce. The distinctions of privilege and possession, nothing more than pretend. Nothing more than a system of dissolvable boundaries and inflatable costumes that we might, if we wanted, dissolve and deflate. “Of course,” I would say. “Come over, you can sleep on the couch.”

But I don’t say this, because I remember my gender — the ever-present element of risk when kindness is confused for more. So I tell Daniel I’ll make some calls to friends, men who might have a couch for him to sleep on. But after an hour I come up with nothing. “What should I do?” I ask a friend on the phone. “You can’t have him over,” he says. “And if you pay for a motel room tonight, when will it stop? What about tomorrow night? And the night after that?” What about the other thousands of men and women sleeping on the street each night? Where will there be room for them all? None of these questions pose reasons not to help one person—slippery slopes and drops in the bucket—but they affect the familiar paralysis. A numb resignation to the way things are in the city.

I pack a cloth bag with some granola bars, a couple of bananas, and a blanket, and I walk back down to 18th St. where Daniel still waits outside. We go to Starbucks and I buy him a sandwich for dinner. It feels much worse than nothing—this sandwich, a juice—empty and unkind.

You can see more essays by Katharine Blake McFarland’s in her series on Medium called  InterMission.

We’re always looking for new thoughts and points of view on the Mission, if you have writing that you’d like to share send us an email at tips@missionlocal.com.

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5 Comments

  1. It would be much worse if YOU were living on the street, at least you can take care of yourself. “We are all self made, but only the successful will admit it” Earl Nightingale. The world is a bottomless pit of need and you will never fill it. Only individuals themselves can fix their problems, it’s real freedom to win or lose, it’s only up to you.

    1. Thanks for quoting the pop-psych huckster Nightingale. So one hubristic white male in L.A. did it on the GI bill during America’s most prosperous period, so every single soul facing hardship, addiction, mental issues, poverty, etc., has no business being a non-success? Sheesh, what a vacuous philosophy!

  2. Oh, since when is working hard and being self enabed a “priviledge” ???? This victimhood thing is out of hand and not working…..

  3. Thank you for being a caring person. Of course you cannot “save him” but you can share a story with him, maybe a meal here and there and sometimes these small differences you make for someone means more than any “quick fix” solution would.

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