|Photo: © Stan Banos|
The homeless problem was bad when I first arrived in San Francisco at the turn of the century. The city was strapped for cash- two decades later, the city is awash in it, and the situation more dire than ever. The skyline is chock a block with construction cranes every which way you turn, luxury high rises and condos rising all around us. The tech industry has inundated and infiltrated this town with its virtual culture of promise and prosperity, and yet- the poor, the destitute and the indigent roam the streets more than ever... We now have a new mayor, one of the least progressive candidates who ran, and I have no doubt she will do every bit as much as her predecessors- bare-minimum-nothing.
Last Friday, on my way home from a couple of beers with a friend, I stopped to take a picture. As a photographer, I sometimes cannot not photograph the homeless all around me. I like to tell myself that someday these photographs will somehow make a difference, like the change I occasionally give, the 911 calls I make to report a possible OD. Of course, I realize its not a proverbial drop in their bucket of misery. But after taking this photo, the person suddenly startled themselves awake, staring right at me, confused and anxious- the same desperate, destitute gaze I had photographed just one week prior (see below). And realizing it was a woman somehow startled me in turn. Despite countless previous encounters, I found myself not knowing what to do, or how to react. In short, I panicked, heard myself mouth something like the most disingenuous, "How ya doing," and then hastily retreated in my utter impotence and humiliation- full well knowing I had inflicted yet more pain, instead of alleviating it, instead of just leaving well enough alone...
Of course, this is one problem that will take more than one person to address. And it is well more than one problem. We need jobs, plain and simple, living wage jobs that will allow people to become productive citizens who contribute and pay rent in modest living quarters that have yet to be built! And yes, we need drug rehabilitation programs and mental health programs for those who simply do not have the ability to take care of themselves, mentally or physically even under the best of possible scenarios. Right now, their only alternative is a jail cell, and there's the rub- that's the-most-expensive/least-effective-alternative of all! And most people with mental health issues don't commit violent crimes- they are victims of it! I instruct and provide care for people with intellectual (and physical) disabilities- they're the lucky ones. Substitute intellectual or physical disabilities with... mental (health)- and they're on the streets! One or two more IQ points north of the cut off point- they're on the streets!
Honestly, I live from paycheck to paycheck with my wife in a rent controlled apartment for well over a decade. Our landlord would love to have us out so she could double the rent (easily). We could not afford another apt anywhere in or near this town. And if I'm being completely honest, I too cuss out and despise the homeless. Their very stench alone is unbearable. I have to cross the street and alter my routes because: their tents and/or bodies block the sidewalks I need to use; I might step in their rampant litter, urine or piles of feces; I might step on a dirty needle laden with any number of infectious diseases. Yes, it's very easy... to blame and hate; very easy to join and partake in our current culture of hate, where we blame and victimize the poorest, and most powerless- all so that we may somehow, someway feel that much better!
Technology is not our answer, our future, our savior- San Francisco is living proof. We must invest in humanity, the people around us, in the community we live in. Social media needs to benefit society, not separate us from its reality, inure us from its everyday injustices and inequities. I'm too old to be an idealist- no, everyone can't be "saved," but we owe it to ourselves to make sure everyone has that chance. Look how "the mighty" are now just starting to fall at the very top, the wielders of power who abused it every which way while going out of their way to purposely demean those without. Now, they scramble to retain whatever vestige of dignity and humanity they can possibly salvage. Yeah, it can happen to... anyone.
|Photo: © Stan Banos|