Kelly Murphy. Photo by Joseph Johnston

I met Kelly Murphy when she was a teenager.  Her boyfriend, Scott, was painting a mural across the street from our house and sometimes Scott and Kelly would drop by. Over the years, I continued to encounter Kelly on the street or on Muni. It was always pleasant running into her.

At some point, Kelly became homeless. Recently, she has been living with a boyfriend in a tent outside the Post Office on South Van Ness. I was told by a neighbor that relatives of Kelly live nearby. It pains me to see her on the street, remembering her as a vibrant teenager involved in San Francisco’s mural movement of the 1990s.

Going to the post office recently, I again ran into Kelly. She was having a meltdown, was brusque with me, and made me rethink the words “ … always pleasant … ” Then I reflected: everyone has bad days but, unlike me, having both a house and a room, the homeless have no place to which retire when they are upset. Today I saw Kelly outside the Post Office. Her tent was gone. I asked her about it. She said it was taken while she was somewhere else. She seemed resigned to the loss. She once again had a sweet demeanor.

Kelly Murphy. 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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13 Comments

  1. She moved to a doghouse, literally a doghouse. Between 19th and 20th and South Van Ness. Outside the builders exchange. I cant say my encounters haven’t been as pleasant. Seen her pop dozens of times on the sidewalk.

  2. I think I saw her walking this past week going South on Potrero Avenue with her shopping cart near 24th Street.

    1. Tokyo, a city of 37m, has few people living in the rough. It is not cultural. It is about public policy that puts people first. Housing First (no judgement about who is deserving and what strings to attach) works! We would all be better off.

  3. Your statement isn’t accurate. Tokyo does not have the rampant drug issues present in America. They have incredibly strict drug policies. They also face far fewer barriers to creating housing for their homeless. You don’t have an endless number of whiners complaining about new builds or asking for outrageous 100% affordable housing from private developers and shutting down any development which proposes less. If Calle 24 keeps up there tactics, the Mission is going to gentrify a hell of a lot faster and the homeless issues will only grow.

    1. Sure you should be correcting people when you have clearly don’t know what you are talking about?

      1. Juan’s characterization of Tokyo’s land use laws and Japan’s stance on drug use are both accurate. Singapore similarly builds lots of public housing on expensive land, has few homeless, and is even more draconian about drug use.

  4. what would help her? Stop by with a cup of hot coffee (milk and sugar on the side if you can manage. Bring a sack lunch and stay to talk for awhile.
    Collect some hygiene items in a freezer-quality ziploc bag (the sandwich kind tear too easily) travel size shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, toothbrush and paste. hand cream for dry hands. A pair of warm new socks. a nail file is always a nice addition.
    Stop by with a fleece blanket. Or buy a rain poncho – the kind in a tiny envelope. Don’t last long, but help in on a wet day.

    Ask if she has a sleeping bag. A hooded sweatshirt is always a good bet on a cold night.

    Picking up takeout in the neighborhood? Check to see if she’s there and pick up an extra order. Drop it by and, if she’s lucid and calm, stay to talk a little. Make eye contact. Don’t ask personal questions. Let her share and just listen. You might want to comment how much you love the Mission murals…she might like to tell how she was part of that movement. Or not.
    Small things with great love.

    1. Yesterday she was screaming at an elderly lady returning home from the laundermaton Van Ness and acting completely out of control. She needs medical psychiatric inpatient care, NOT A SANDWICH AND A PONCHO!

      1. The answer isn’t tents, sleeping bags and ponchos. She and many homeless need treatment programs and some type of housing. But asking the City to provide solution to this is daunting. The City, despite what many think, does not have a limitless budget to deal with one very visible problem. This sucks the resources from other things (senior services, outreach services for youth, and yes even Parks & Rec). Not an easy solution but we need a Federal approach leaving this up to city&local (and even state level) is much too patchwork of an approach.

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