Homeless in San Francisco

I was in San Francisco this week for Oracle OpenWorld (#oow10). A lot of walking around is expected at a conference like this: to and from the conference locations, to dinner, out for coffees and all that.  I was really struck by the number of homeless there were. Pretty much on every block, you would see several with signs or cups. The more engaging would be selling the Street Sheet, playing an instrument or something. 

I had stopped in at a Starbucks to do some work and grab a beverage at the end of one evening. A man outside was selling the Street Sheet from a wheelchair. I popped out and chatted with him for a bit. He was polite, engaging, had good thoughts on a number of topics. He figured maybe one in three hundred people would make eye or other contact with him. I have to say I am typically one of those people as well - head down, walking past, trying not to notice or be noticed. What was it that drew me to this one person, rather than the hundreds (literally) of others I encountered while in San Fran for 4 days? I really could not tell you. Maybe he seemed less "threatening". Maybe because he was selling the Street Sheet. Maybe the wheelchair. Maybe it was just my frame of mind at the time.

I asked him why he thought there was so much (in my eyes) in the way of homeless people in this city.  He touched on several things - drug and alcohol problems, the stripping of funding for social net programs, cost of living. He said that there are many for whom trying to "climb up" just seemed like an impossible task; many also just can't get past the addiction that has hold of them. All too easy to see how this can happen.

I gave him a few dollars, thanked him for chatting, and got a "God Bless sir" back. He was hoping to sell one more paper to hit his target and then pack it in for the night. I don't know where "home" would be for him, but I am sure it had none of the creature comforts I had in my hotel room. I got back to my room and thought, you know, I can complain about the bed not being "my bed" and the bathroom not being as nice as what I have at home, but in the greater scheme of things, I am pretty fortunate.

At the hotel where the events were held they had a stand in the lobby with brochures about Project Night Night. They provide small packages for homeless children that includes a blanket, a book, a stuffed animal and a tote bag - a small thing that maybe can bring a smile to a child's face and give some small comfort. I am a sucker for kids, and think that a street is a terrible place for a child to grow up. On behalf of us, and the folks that stopped by and visited us at OpenWorld, I went online and bought some packages for these children. A really small thing no doubt, but I hope that there are a couple of kids that will get a bit of a smile from reading their book and hugging their teddy bear. I hope so.

(September, 2010)

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