Jackie sweeping the street. Illustration by Francesca Mateo.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Rieber collected many items in the months before she died earlier this year — a barbecue grill, a baby gate — but her most-used possession was a broom.

One neighbor recalled running into Rieber in the rain, surrounded by little piles of leaves and trash: She took the water flowing down the street as an opportunity to clean the whole block.

“She did her part, and stuck to herself,” said Kristy Benjamin, the neighbor.

On the morning of Jan. 8, a woman walking to see a friend on Bartlett Street between 23rd and 24th Streets found Rieber on the sidewalk and unresponsive. The woman called 911, and medics arrived, but it was too late.  Officers did not find any evidence of foul play, according to a police department spokesperson.

Rieber cut a distinct figure, neighbors said, with a tall, wiry build and olive skin. She dressed with a masculine flair, keeping her salt-and-pepper hair short and wearing baggy jeans — or, in one instance, an outfit of full camouflage.

Beth Burkhart, who lived next to Rieber for years, said there were two sides to Rieber, depending on whether she was sober. But, for the most part, she kept to herself: She always seemed to have food and water, and didn’t ask her neighbors for much.

Ashley Voss, owner of Voss Gallery on 24th Street, said Rieber had lived next to her business at the start of the pandemic when stores were more shut down. 

“She was the neighborhood patrol,” Voss recalled. “She would just walk up and down the sidewalk, and if there was someone causing any riffraff, she would check in.”

Months ago, when the police arrested someone near the library, Rieber rode her bike over to the gallery to ask Voss if she was alright. 

Jackie Rieber on 24th Street. Illustration by Francesca Mateo.

At one point, Voss added, she had offered to connect Rieber with city programs for homeless people, but Rieber said she didn’t want any help.

The city’s Homeless Outreach Team, which may have worked with Rieber, declined a request for an interview about her, citing privacy concerns.

Despite having spent about a decade on Bartlett Street and the surrounding area, neighbors knew little about the woman who sometimes swept their street. 

The neighbors and business owners who knew her said they never got a chance to speak with her at length. The medical examiner’s office has been unable to get in contact with her family, according to a spokesperson. And other people experiencing homelessness who might have known her have since dispersed.

Soon after her death, a group, which included a man police identified as Rieber’s friend, ransacked her tent and set up their own encampment on Bartlett. The city has already moved them on.  

“I thought it was strange that I haven’t seen her around for three months or so,” Voss said. “I just figured that she had moved to a different location.”

Burkhart added, “She was the face of the homeless problem in San Francisco, the intersection of addiction, and mental health, and the cost of living in the city, and how it all comes together.”

“The situation feels a bit hopeless,” she said.

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Kate Selig

Kate Selig is an intern at Mission Local.

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6 Comments

  1. “At one point, Voss added, she had offered to connect Rieber with city programs for homeless people, but Rieber said she didn’t want any help.”

    This is the fundamental issue. There are endless cries that not enough is done for individuals too sick to accept help in the first place. Throwing more funds at homelessness is not the answer.

    Conservatorship is key for many of our homeless. Those who rant against it somehow find solace in letting these people die in the streets. Nothing progressive here.

    1. Conservatorship, or more accurately deprivation of civil rights is strictly limited. She was not suicidal, a threat to others, or incapable of self care. She was a human being who contributed what she could to a society that saw her as unworthy of life and liberty.

  2. Very sad to see people reach this point in life. However we can not change or force people to change. A large portion of the homeless community, will not accept help. If a serious mental illness is involved there is no cure, and medication merely shuts down parts of their brain and they basically become zombies.

  3. It’s so sad that people hopelessly loose their lives on the street, while empty homes sit idle waiting to profit the wealthy few that can afford to keep the city in this sick stasis. What should’ve been a basic necessity are leveraged hurting the people that don’t belong to the wealthy class.

    1. You do understand, I hope, that it is the absolute right of a property owner to not utilize or occupy a property for whatever reason?

      A common reason is that the owner does not wish to deal with the issues arising from rent control, including the inability to remove someone from your housing unit in many cases.

  4. Rest in peace. I didn’t know you, but you were the face of many who suffer from the homelessness and mental health issues that exist in this city.

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