I'm the other mother - or Momma Deb. Our family is pretty much like every other family in suburbia. The girls go to school, one mom is on the PTA boards of elementary and middle school. The other mom goes to work, paints, writes, and tries to just have a good time raising kids with her partner. This is my third attempt at blogging...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Musings on Homelessness from the Reluctant Blogger

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it? Blogging seemed like such a non-essential task when compared to the monumental task of finding a job that supports our current lifestyle. So much so that I just couldn't bring myself to be here. All the same, I've been of two minds about it - I should use the blog to blow off steam, bounce ideas around, even use it to explore new ideas. Yet, getting to doing it, to blog ... well, it just didn't happen. I always felt guilty somehow, that I wasn't doing enough in the job search. Plus, there was the Big D to fight off. You know. Depression. Kept rearing its ugly head

So, no blogging. Until today.

Last week found me taking BART into the City. Why was I doing this? Earlier in the week a slightly annoying SF gay-boy-head-hunter had latched on to me because my talents fit a position for a client he was working with. The boy just kept calling and calling me. Nothing wrong with persistence - I should know. It's just that no matter what I said in the course of our conversations he'd reply, "Oh, of course!" at the same time stepping onto my words. That is just so annoying. Makes me wonder if he is really listening in all that eagerness. At any rate, he set up a phone screen for me with the client. That went well, and then the client wanted a face-to-face interview. Rather than driving into the City - gas is nearing $5/gallon here - I opted for a BART $10.50 round-trip - gas costs would have run me more than twice that.

Nice thing about our particular BART line is that I pick it up at the beginning of the local line. This means that getting a seat is no problem and I get to do a lot of people watching en route to the City. A real cross-section of the local population rides the train. At one point a seemingly homeless woman sat next to me. Her clothes were disheveled, nothing matched, her hair a bit unkempt. All the same she was as nice as anyone else on the train... except that she was in dire need of a bath. Being next to her I contemplated what it must be like to be without personal resources, resources that are plainly hygienic in nature. A daily hurdle to overcome - and perhaps one that is not easy to overcome, especially for a woman.

As it turns out, this was just a small taste of what I was about to experience.

I got off the train at the Civic Center station on Market St. in San Francisco. Believe me when I tell you that this is not the finest part of the City. Thanks to Google Maps, I had an idea what the street would look like, and I was actually going to a business that is located one street over and parallel to Market St. Well, "street" is too good a word for it. It was an alley with a street name, so I guess it could be called a street.

I was a bit early for my interview, so I looked around for a coffee shop or diner where I could park my bones. There were quite a few run-down hole-in-the-wall kind of places. None with a place to really sit. I think they are discouraging loitering. It was a bout 10:45 in the morning, and the street was alive with people walking about. Not business people, but very poor people. Mostly people of color. Many colors. I ended up walking around the block, checking everything out. I passed people talking to themselves, people scurrying, people who looked drunk, people plainly with all their belongings in whatever would carry them. I saw very few people who seemed to have personal resources.

Finally I came back to Market and 7th street and spied a donut and coffee shop. I went in and purchased coffee and something to nibble on. I decided to sit next to a window that was right in the corner. From there I could observe the intersection of Market and 7th as I ate.

During the time I sat there I must've seen over a hundred down-trodden folk wander by. Some purposefully, some not so. I saw one Asian woman with a tattoo on her face, dragging a roller suitcase behind her. What drew my attention to her was that she had stopped and pulled a nearly empty can of beer out of her baggy purse which sat atop the suitcase, and quickly bent down and put it upside down under a nearby blue U.S. mailbox to drain its dregs. Then, she pulled out of her coat pocket another can of beer, opened it, and slid it down into her purse, careful to keep it upright, replacing the one that had been there before. While her back was turned from the mailbox, another homeless person came along and grabbed her now empty can from under the mailbox and walked off.

I'm not sure she ever really noticed.

Then off she went.

There was a tall, middle-aged, very anorexic white woman who wandered by. Grizzled black men. Young black men with attitude and pants riding their lower butts. For every twenty five or so seemingly poor individuals I saw, there was maybe one or two more affluent people quickly walking through. There was an Asian family of a father and 2 or 3 pre-teen kids - they made their way very fast through the area. There was an office-worker girl with one of those plastic U.S. Mail boxes piled high with pre-stamped manila envelopes. She quickly unloaded the envelopes into the blue mailbox and then quickly slid off down the street.

Finally, it was time for my interview. I left the shop and headed up the alley to the address given me. I walked past Salvation Army. I got to the door and the signs there said "This area is under 24 hour surveillance cameras" and "Press button to announce yourself." I did this and was buzzed in. It was like stepping into another world - high tech, clean, even familiar.

The interview went well, but they needed occasional 24x7 support. Needless to say, I was a little leery of that, given the location.

In the end, I declined to work for them - it just made this suburban woman a little too nervous... Unfamiliar territory.

Do you think I was being judgmental? Do you think I should have stepped out of my element to learn about a different world?

All things considered, did I do the right thing?