Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Rich and The Wretched

by Skald

The streets of SF really are mean... at least for the thousands of homeless people who scrape by on the sidewalks. I was almost among them. And that was quite terrifying.

In the past I experimented with what I called voluntary homelessness. The word "voluntary" is extremely important. I chose to live in my vehicle. Thus, I had enough money to buy a vehicle in the first place... and keep it maintained. I also had the time to outfit it for living (blacked out windows, bed and storage containers, extra battery, electric fan, etc.). While difficult at times, in general I enjoyed both of my car/van living experiences.

And thats what I should really call them.. because I was not really "homeless". I had a home-- my vehicle. While tiny, the car/van still gave me privacy, shelter from rain. a place to keep my stuff, and a safe (locked) place to sleep.

Involuntary homeless people, living on the street, have none of these. They are exposed. To the weather. To the whims of the police. To criminals and hustlers. Its a mean existence.... just look into their faces. Most look worn, lined, and desperate.

I was nearly among them. In two weeks I must vacate my friends place.. where Ive been sleeping on a couch (his roommate wants me out). I was (and am) broke... and living in the city with perhaps the highest rent in the world. Over the last two weeks, my apartment search became panicked. I began to contemplate life on the street. Where would I sleep? Would I get hassled?

And how in the world would I keep my job... without a place to shower and keep clean clothes?

Yesterday, thanks to a tip from a student, I found an affordable place. I dodged the bullet and will not become homeless.

But in a strange way I am grateful for the terror.... for it made me much more sensitive to what the hordes of SF homeless are going through. How can they survive in a city where 800 a month is considered dirt cheap (and dont forget the additional 800-1500 required deposit to move in,... plus most places do credit checks)? How do they get by, day to day?

And how in the hell do they dig themselves out of that situation? For thousands and thousands of people here, there simply is no affordable housing. Worse, after a few weeks on the street, homeless people take on a dirty and disheveled appearance... making job hunting nearly impossible.

And so you see them everywhere... usually congregated near upscale shopping areas. They hold out a cup to the city's wealthy. But few give them more than an annoying scowl.

Nor is the city helping... rents just keep climbing and climbing.

I have heard and read many times that SF is at the cutting edge of America... that what starts here often spreads across the country. If true, we can all look forward to an ever widening gulf between the well-off and the impoverished.

Which is kind of ironic. Countries like India and China are growing.... but we are heading towards Indianization-- a small group of very wealthy people (say 40% of the population)... and a large group of ever more desperate strugglers.

The so called "third world" is rising. And we are falling fast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you think SF is expensive, you should try hanging out in london for a while. the cheapest studio apartment you can find will be around $1500 plus bills. most people live in shared houses. at times i have also lived on the edge -- never been straight up homeless but living in a hostel, sharing a room with 14 people, being woken up by the police carrying out busts on random drug dealers in the room.. no privacy, no safety, it's quite horrible and also nearly impossible to maintain a job under those conditions. (try getting up for work at 7 when you are woken by drunks that switch the lights on at 3:30am, yell and threaten to beat the shit out of you for asking you to turn it off.)

for a while i had a job driving around central london in a big refrigerated truck and delivering bread. my shift would start at 5:30am and while making my deliveries i'd often hurry past the many homeless in this city who hadn't woken up yet, sleeping on their cardboard boxes with no shoes in september.

your ass will go to the wall in this town so easily and nobody will lend you a hand. it really made me puzzle human nature last night. there are so many people who are so blessed financially. i'm sure quite a few people rush past the homeless everyday who are making in excess of $100.000 per year. it would be an easy thing for them to say hey, i'll rent you a shitty room in a shared house for a month so you can get your shit together. it could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. but nobody does it, these people don't even get a sandwich, or a blanket. everybody is too caught up in their own consumption game -- the house in the burbs that needs to get paid off, the monthly payment for that flash new SUV, the next holiday in the carribean so they can impress the people at the office...

a little bit of compassion would go such a long way. but we live isolated from each other, the way the system wants us to. in a state of collective mechanized insanity.