From his appearance, one might assume Delson James Barette is a wild man, but he is one of the most polite people I know.

Delson is from Yonkers, New York. He finished trade school, then traveled with friends across Canada and down the west coast to San Francisco. He really liked San Francisco, so when a friend had a spare room, he moved in. That was seventeen years ago, and the last time he has had a place of his own.

The first time I met Delson, he thanked me for stopping and talking. He said being homeless can feel isolating.  He then asked me, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Every time I meet Delson he asks if he can help me with anything. I usually ask that he give me a hug, not because I need one but because I think he could.

Delson suffers from the mental anguish common among some of the homeless. He confided in me that scientists and others are sending messages telepathically to his brain. He tries to send them messages to stop bothering him. For example, I have seen him repeatedly punching numbers into an ATM machine at a bank where he has no account; fiddling with a parking meter; or repeatedly pushing a pencil tip into a 4 x 4 grid on a small piece of cardboard—all in an effort to get these people to stop sending him messages. Recently he told me that someone was trying to contact him—did I want him to put them on hold, or would it be ok if he answered them now?

I mentioned to Delson that there are drugs he could take to help prevent these people from bothering him and offered to take him to the Westside Crisis Clinic, but he declined. However, the last time I ran into him, he asked about my offer and I felt encouraged that one day he would finally take me up on it. Due to the pandemic, I am being told to stay home, so sadly, for now, helping Delson is another project that is on hold.

Delson’s shoes. 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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16 Comments

  1. delson is a good, old friend of mine. he’s a wonderful guy who got down on his luck and then lost housing and his mental health has been steadily declining since. wish so much that he’d take some of the help of his family and friends but we can just be there for him and give him money for food whenever we can. so many of our homeless have a story like this.

  2. Most people dismiss Delson as a schizophrenic drug casualty but he used to be a detox counselor at Walden House rehab in the Haight and is a really nice person. He lost his room at the Curtis ‘Hotel’ because the voices appeared to him to be coming from appliances and wiring in the room. Unbelievably lucid and empathetic despite being plagued by voices that would drive a lesser man to his demise. He doesn’t drink or use drugs, but he would like a can of soda from time to time if you want to give him something. I’ve never seen his shoes looking that ragged and I see him nearly every day. I’ll try to hook him up. I am sure there is a treatment that could help him drive out the voices and I hope one day he finds that help. The state of mental health support is this country in pathetic and embarrassing. Watching clueless techies step over him on their way to self-gratification is infuriating and don’t how he can persevere much longer under these conditions in this world…….a world without enough empathy to go around.

    1. V16 – I really appreciated your comments about Delson as I was in the New York Hardcore band Downfall in High School with him back in Brewster NY. I’d like to this turn into a People We TREAT situation. Can you please email me off this platform? dcar317@gmail.com as I have a few questions about my friend as I am looking to attempt to align some professional assistance to his plight.

  3. Just out of curiosity, is any sort of waiver or permission required before you post information about these individuals?

  4. Thank you for posting this. I’ve
    Been friends with Delson for about 25 years. I don’t see him as often as I would like but I do keep people updated on his well being that know him from his time on the east coast. I also have talked about him getting help and he has always declined. He never wants anything and always appreciates the kind words and chat on the streets.

  5. I met Delson when I was 17 years old or so. We grew up going to the same record store. We spent a lot of time going to shows. I saw him about 15 years ago when he seemed to be doing fine. It makes me upset to see him in this way. He is such a kind soul and I plan on coming to find him when I’m out there… see how my old friend is. Prayers to all who live on the street because of mental health, life choices, and addiction.

  6. My old roommate and friend. When I first moved to SF in 2002 I lived with D and then also lived with him some years later. Truly a beautiful man and a kind soul with a huge heart. The thing I remember most about being with Delson is the laughter. So much laughter. My friends and I tried an intervention years ago to no avail. As far as I know his family knows but is not taking action. I live back on the east coast now and wish I could do more.

    1. My cousin I haven’t seen since I was 9. We were the same age, but looked up to him so much. Coolest guy on a snowmobile. Wish we could connect again. I think of you often Delson!

  7. My name is Adam Plantinga and I am an SFPD Sgt. at Mission Station. I see Delson frequently around 16th and Valencia St. He is a gentle soul. I want to maintain his confidentiality in this public forum, so I can’t say much more, but I just want people to know Mission Station is actively trying to help Delson with food, shelter, and social services.

  8. I just saw Deslon. I see him quite frequently as he is on the street I live on. We exchange nice conversations and at times he is often trying to figure out how to make the voices stop. If you can stop and say hello to him, he loves to shoot the shit and see how your day is going and vice versa. I often bring him tacos and clothes if I have stuff I know he may need more than me. It’s important to keep an eye out for him, there have been some scares when not seeing him for a while. I hope one day he will let us try and help him more with his mental health. For now, some food and what you can spare, even if its just a good convo, it means alot.

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