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.
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.