Anyone who’s visited San Francisco knows that city’s homeless problem is like no other, and this week the SF Chronicle addressed the problem with a series that can be difficult to read, but is worth your time.
What’s even more interesting is the reaction to it. Romenesko reports there were picketers, but I found the transcript of the online chat with the lead reporter even more enlightening — early on, they were assailed by an advocate for the city’s “mobile residents.”
Yes, “mobile residents.” Now there’s a euphemism for you.
Anyway, I read the Sunday kick-off piece, and it was both horrifying and, I regret to say, not too surprising. Concentrating on a knot of homeless people who sleep on a city traffic island, it introduced us to the group’s leader, who died of a necrotizing bacterial infection long before the stories ran:
It was the leg that did it. He had been letting it go for years.
The last time the leg got badly infected was in February, and he spent weeks in the hospital. But after being patched up and released, he was back out on the street. He’d bandage the wound, but then unwrap it when he wanted to get high.
“I kind of like it being open because I can shoot straight into the vein, ” he said last summer, while he fingered a fat vein pulsing up through the open flesh. He was sitting on the Island with people walking by — none of whom seemed to notice him or his leg or the syringes dotting the dirt under the trees. “Gets me well (high on heroin) quicker.”
Good God. There has to be another way.
alex said on December 6, 2003 at 1:27 am
That was one of the grossest goddamn things I’ve ever read. And you know I’m hard to gross out. Excellent literary journalism.
I was in San Francisco about eight years ago and was struck then at the pervasiveness of the homeless, and I thought I’d seen it all in Chicago and New York in the ‘eighties. It’s no wonder they’d have their own anti-defamation league.
My brain cells are fried as to the name of the park at the foot of Haight-Ashbury, but my recollections of the stench there are as fresh as today. I remember huge oases of mattresses and bushes here and there serving as clothelines for all kinds of filthy linens. It had a singular squalidness about it unmatched by the skid rows I’d seen in any other city.
This year in Chicago I’ve noticed quite a spike in tent villages and beggars; it’s looking like the ‘eighties all over again. I can see why so many gravitate to San Francisco. The climate around here really thins the herd.
Beth said on December 6, 2003 at 4:10 pm
I am snowbound in CT, and just read the entire series. Wow. I never realized that SF had such a homeless problem. (I’ve never been there.) The story about the Silvers, and the photo series really got to me. I can’t blame the family for not wanting to move in subsidized housing in the projects, but then I see the pictures of their van, and wonder how they do it. It makes the stories of stampeding Walmart shoppers seems all the more ludicrous.
michael golden said on December 8, 2003 at 8:58 am
The large park to the west of the Hashbury is Golden Gate Park. To the immediate north is a long, thin strip known as the panhandle. There are many causes for the large number of homeless and there are many different varieties of homeless folks. The series covers all that. The bottom line is that the problem has been exacerbated by bad government and now nobody has any idea of what to do about it. The solution in most cities seems to be to harass them until they move elsewhere.
KCK said on December 8, 2003 at 8:20 pm
fyi – one of Janis Joplin’s former residences was the panhandle.