Michael had a white cloth wrapped around his waist. It reminded me of the attire of a Buddhist monk or an African nomad. I was curious if Michael was one of the many homeless African Americans who were born and raised in San Francisco, and so I asked him where he was from. Michael replied, “I’m from the sky.” This made me smile, because maybe we are all from the sky, but engrossed in our daily lives, we forget. He explained that he was not going to give me any personal information. I asked him, since it was obvious that he would not want me to photograph his face, if I could instead photograph his hands.

Michael told me his jeans were ripped in the knees and missing the seat. He asked if I could give him a pair of jeans. I asked if I could find him in the same place tomorrow. At home, I looked and I had three pairs of jeans. I returned the next day with a pair and surprisingly Michael was in the same place. He was grateful for the jeans which were only two inches larger than his size. 

To me, he will always be Michael from the Sky.

Photo by Joseph Johnston.

Joseph Johnston

When I walk out of the house, I only need to walk a block to encounter someone living on the street. Perhaps, in part, because I am a pre-Stonewall gay man, I have always had a special place in my heart...

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8 Comments

  1. That is kind of a nice sentiment, that he will always be “Michael from the sky” to you. But I picture a day, years from now, when Michael is receiving adequate mental health treatment and no longer self medicating to deal with the symptoms and the horrors of the street. Perhaps he’ll look back on those days differently than you see them now. Perhaps he won’t want to be known as “Michael from the sky” anymore. Will he be that to you then? Always is a long time.

  2. On your photography website that you included a link to here, you say of the homeless “Knowing they respect me makes me feel safer.” Why would you feel unsafe around people who are not housed? Do you think they are more dangerous than people who are housed?

    1. Mitch, the photographer whose work is featured here has built long-term relationships with the people he photographs. He doesn’t just “take” photos. Mission Local will soon publish a piece on Joseph’s work and hopefully, you will gain a larger understanding of this man’s purpose and the importance of his work.

      1. That’s cool. The photographer also seems to suggest he feels homeless people are more dangerous than people who are not homeless. I’m not sure how what you are saying relates to my point . . .

  3. In India Holy men and women who live on the streets and beg are called Sadhu’s. It is a revered part of Hindu society as these people have renounced all physical desires and attachments to this world and devoted their lives to Spiritual practice. I have met many Spiritual Beings some appear as Angelic beings. In Old SF when there were very few homeless there were true eccentric Mad People like : The WHITE LADY (a waif like very thin African American woman who painted her entire body white EVERY DAY and dressed like a ghostly flapper in AMAZING all white outfits with cloche hats and gloves that were always clean , though tattered and torn . She was a true apparition believed by the Bohemian underground , that to spot her on the street was Good Luck! “Hey i saw the White Lady today !” She was magical. There was also the RED MAN. He painted himself all Red and wore all red clothing and shoes. He had dyed Black Hair and a big black moustache. He was not as interesting (to me anyway) but i liked seeing him around. At that time you could kind of “adopt” a homeless person (who usually had a territory and often lived in the same spot like a bus bench. I adopted a big man who lived in front of the Salvation Army on Valencia/Army St. who was entirely wrapped meticulously in newspaper tied in string so he looked like the Michelin Man . He was always writing furiously on yellow legal pads. One day I went to give him money (the stench was formatible) and saw his face for the first time. He was BEAUTIFUL. Black with the most gorgeous green eyes . He was probably 40 yrs old. I asked what he was writing and he said “prescriptions” as he was formerly a Doctor. I had to wonder what incident or story he had that led to where he was now. SOME of these “Homeless” are divine entities or aliens “from the Sky”. They are not stuck in front of screens or distracted by anything but the human kindness they depend on to live and that leaves vast space for Spiritual Growth and maybe even Enlightenment. We just don’t know…..They are American Sadhu’s.

    1. Saw her three times during my 32 years in San Francisco. One time at 6AM on John Daly Blvd. on Daly City walking in the fog down from Bart. Magical moment I will never forget. Her or his flowing garments wisped by me in the fog

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