You know him. You have seen him on Valencia and 16th streets, calling out, “Spare change, spare change!”
Kurt Scott is 73, and he’s been blind since getting glaucoma in his 40s. At the end of each month, once his disability check has been spent, Scott goes to the corner of 16th and Valencia to panhandle. If he’s lucky, he gets enough for a couple of beers and then he goes home and watches television. That, for him, is a good day, he said.
Scott was born in Idaho and adopted — it was his mom who picked him out. His dad picked out his sister, and then his new parents drove them home to Twin Falls. His father did a variety of jobs – butchering the deer hunters brought him and helping to run a poultry farm and a grocery store. They had a three-story building with two big giant lockers where his father kept the frozen meat. “It was a big deal,” Scott said.
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Scott’s passion turned out to be music, so he moved to San Francisco and earned a bachelor’s degree in music. He taught piano, moved furniture and liked to party, but then, he says, AIDS got a lot of his friends.
In his 40s, he was on the bus headed home from a music lesson and he started blinking. Before he knew it, his vision was gone – first from his left eye and then from his right eye.
It’s been 30 years since that night. Nowadays, he has a boyfriend, Emilio, who lives with him but stays with his friends in the Tenderloin.
As for Scott, he lives on disability and his income from giving piano lessons. He is the master tenant in an apartment and manages that as well.
He says panhandling gives him a daily fix of humanity. “Everyone knows me here,” he said. “It’s really fun. If I didn’t go out there, I’d probably feel pretty bummed at home.”