San Francisco Mayor and Gubinatorial Candidate Gavin Newsom instituted “Care Not Cash” in 2003, in which General Assistance grants were lowered from as much as $359 per month down to $59 per month plus a promise of housing. For many homeless people, “housing” has meant shelter beds under inhuman condition. See “Is San Francisco’s ‘Care Not Cash’ a Sucess?”
Two San Francisco Gray Panthers spoke recently with a couple about conditions in the shelter. This is their report, in the form of a letter to the San Francisco Supervisors:
San Francisco Supervisors:
Today, after participating in a protest against cuts to San Francisco’s health and human services budget, I met a remarkable couple. As my fellow protesters and I were disbanding, the couple — I’ll call them Rosa and Richard — urged us to join them at a meeting of the [Homeless] Shelter Monitoring Committee, which was about to take place inside of City Hall. My partner and I took them up on the offer.
During the public comment portion of the Shelter Monitoring Committee meeting, Richard stood up at the podium. He spoke briefly of his efforts at turning his life around as an able-bodied and employable man who, granted, had made some bad decisions at a certain point in his life. He then read aloud to the Committee the text of the mission statement that hangs on the wall at the shelter where he and his wife sleep. The mission statement was replete with such aspirational words and phrases as “compassion,” “integrity,” and “self-determination” – which rang hollow, in Richard’s view, given the punitive and abrasive treatment that he and Rosa routinely receive at the hands of shelter staff.
When the meeting concluded, my partner and I got into a conversation with Rosa and Richard and walked with them for several blocks after leaving City Hall. Our progress was slow because Rosa was limping. Rosa told me, in a manner devoid of self-pity, of the particulars of her situation. For the past four years, she has suffered from a systemic disease impacting her lymph nodes. Pus accumulates in one of her legs, which she keeps wrapped in diapers to absorb the pus and prevent infections from developing due to her chronically open pores. Her foot below the affected leg is discolored from impaired circulation.
Rosa has been told that, in her present condition, should be elevating her leg for fifteen hours a day. As a homeless person, however, this is impractical. She cannot simply sit at the library or in a café for hours on end without arousing suspicion. Nor does she have regular day-time access to any shelter. Rosa has been hospitalized for thirty days or more on twenty-two occasions since her diagnosis — yet, Medicaid refuses to pay for the materials she needs to wrap her leg.
Rosa also spoke of the inadequate and gruel-like food provided to her at the shelter, and the lack of access to a healthy diet she and Richard experience due to limited means and mobility. All of these things she conveyed to me with gripping clarity and without relinquishing her dignity.
The extremity of Rosa’s circumstances would easily crush another person’s spirit and will. It is bad enough to chronically want for the basic needs in life that many of us take for granted. Worse, is to be fated; fated by virtue of belonging to a certain demographic. “The most evil and insidious thing,” Richard commented at one point this morning, “is that all of this is by human design.”