August 5, 2016

The Black Hole of San Francisco

Homeless_Depot.jpg"These days, the streets of San Francisco resemble the streets of Calcutta." -- Cinnamon Stillwell "Homeless by the bay"

San Francisco, America's top open-air exhibit of failed social policies, never fails to illuminate the lies of social utopianism. Although large sections of this city still retain their charm at a distance -- the swooping helicopter pan shot in from the Golden Gate; the brightly painted Cable Car cresting against sunset -- most soon lose all charm in close-up. Instead, strolling through this city has become like taking a long walk through an endless parking lot at The Homeless Depot.

Scene: A clear and crisp dawn in a small side street near Laguna and Hayes. Plantings in all the window boxes on fussily painted facades. A few very small well-kept front yards. Clean curtained windows. All in all a pretty and quiet moment in the city's morning.

Then, between two of the cars on the street and a bulging shopping cart on the curb, I notice a man who has obviously slept rough for at least 200 consecutive days. He is, like some haggard Tai-Chi dancer, turning in a slow pirouette and gazing intently at the ground. Then he lowers himself delicately down into a squat between an Audi and an SUV.

Seeing no real reason not to stroll past, I do and see that the man, pants to his ankles, is slowly relieving himself onto the curb. I note that he has no plastic bag which dog owners use to deposit the deposit. I was to see this behavior twice more in a single day in San Francisco.

And I was in the better neighborhoods.

In the course of a random walk of four hours through the most touristed sections of the San Francisco, this scene was only the most unhappily memorable of a series of disturbing snapshots. Perhaps they only disturbed me because they were playing out against the postcards of my memories of San Francisco during the six years I had lived and worked there in the early 70s; against even deeper images of the city in the Summer of 1968.

Against memory any present day moment usually pales as nostalgia takes its toll. Knowing the nostalgia effect you are prepared, at the least, to be disappointed. Feeling that the past is preferable to the present is a common human instinct. Revisiting old haunts you're prepared to be disturbed. After all, you've read and heard about the degradation of San Francisco for a long time. That said, there's nothing like a few people crapping on the sidewalk to remind you that the San Francisco of the present is probably past redemption absent another earthquake.

The extent to which the homeless, the hard-core unemployed, the drunk and the addicted, the whores of all three sexes, and battalions of shabby panhandlers infest San Francisco is something to bring even the most hard-core liberal from elsewhere up short. For decades myriad policies and millions man-years of effort funded with untold millions have only created a free-crap zone.

That and extreme compassion fatigue.

Strolling San Francisco past the blanket wrapped souls that sleep upright in bus shelters, past the ad-hoc shanty towns of clustered shopping carts, past lone men swaddled in sleeping bags on a stretch of stained concrete with only a fence and a warning between them and a few meager blades of grass; all this gives one a deep sense of unease and unmitigated tragedy after the 20th exposure. After the 50th exposure these human disaster zones just fade into the background body count, one more item of the city's detritus -

All just part of San Francisco's rich tapestry of diversification through stupefaction.

Seeing so many driven so low -- and this in what still passes as "the better neighborhoods" -- you have to wonder what happened to, and what is still happening to, the many millions of public funds being compulsively shoved at this problem. Where have the money, the time, and the good intentions all gone?

The best that can be said is that the limitless toleration of homelessness has provided lifetime employment in various government and private agencies for those who would otherwise be part of the problem they have sworn to solve. Although it is commonly preached that poverty creates homelessness, it is also as correct to say that agencies set up to combat homelessness have a deep and abiding interest in preserving it. This interest and these agencies are now such a permanent feature of our government that there is virtually no chance of disbanding or eliminating them. Ever. The best that can be done is to slow, if possible, the growth of their funding since increased funding primarily swells the size of their employee pool and thus perpetuates and enhances their power.

A cynical person might believe that HISF ( "Homeless Industry of San Francisco)", which recently merged with the Free Schizophrenics Movement (FSM), exists not to curtail suffering but to relentlessly expand its scope. After all, were the number of the homeless to actually diminish in San Francisco, the number of those serving the insatiable needs of this group would also be expected to fall.

A cynical person could believe that an institutionalized, unionized group with excellent benefits and a fine pension plan would never knowingly do anything that would lower its customer base. Indeed, it would be much more likely to make the description of its customer increasingly complex so that ever more people would be discovered to be lacking in basic social services.

A cynical person could believe that the industry's customer base in San Francisco was booming. Booming to the extent that this year, and the next, and the years that come after the years after, the nation, state and city will all require more and more money from working citizens to continue rather than solve homelessness.

But I am not that cynical person. At least not today. I see hope in the small things, the little signs on the streets of San Francisco that not all the homeless wish to suck on the city tit forever; that some of them still possess the classic American entrepreneurial spirit.

Example: At night on the same day as above. I am walking down Laguna Street towards Hayes with an old friend. We have just been to a party and to drinks after and are feeling very in charge of the night. As we walk down the block I can see we are coming up on a parking lot behind a chain-link, razor-wire capped fence. I notice something odd in the fence.

When we get up to it I can see it is a used -- very used -- fishing rod of uncertain vintage and battered aspect. Instead of fishing line, rough brown twine comes up through the line loops on the rod and dangles down from the tip about 11 feet above the sidewalk. On the end of the twine, is a used -- very used -- large Starbucks coffee cup. The twine is very carefully woven into the lip of the cup. On the cup itself a grimy 3x5 card is taped. Printed on the card in hasty letters is the word "Please."

That's it. Just hanging there in the middle of the block panhandling for its owner well out of standard panhandling hours. We glance inside and it's working. There's about three dollars in change at the bottom.

Cynical men would have emptied it out to feed the parking meters for their Escalades. Not having Escalades we just chipped in and strolled on by.

Still, it was nice to know that somewhere in the vast and increasing army of the homeless now occupying The Streets of San Francisco was at least one soul who pushed aside total dependency and chose, instead, innovation in his or her chosen field of endeavor.

You'd think that the vast apparatus that exists to keep people from begging on the street could learn a bit about begging from this constituent. But then again, why should they? Getting more money to do less from San Franciscans these days is like shooting fish in a barrel; a large barrel and a lot of very fat-headed fish.

Bonus link: A tour of 16 Crappy Places -Mapping San Francisco's homeless haunts

Bonus bumper strip solution to problem:

It's a joke.... I think.

Posted by Vanderleun at August 5, 2016 12:26 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I spent three months in the area over thirty years ago. It was pretty crazy then, although in those days I eagerly sought out the madness and was disappointed to not have discovered enough of it.

Oakland made me real nervous, even though I'd had plenty NYC at that point. Takes a while to get to know a hell-hole, I guess.

Posted by: Will at August 5, 2016 12:38 PM

The old reality: cynical.
The new reality: After that severe and extended clue-bat beating you finally realized that the cynical man was correct all along.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at August 5, 2016 3:03 PM

I am in the San Jose area from time to time for work. I haven't stopped in Frisco (locals hate that phrase, I hear) in 20 years but there was plenty of trash and beggars back then too.But if you can stomach driving through, go north of the Golden Gate Bridge about 15 minutes to Muir Woods. Beautiful Redwood trees with many that are hundreds of years old. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of the area, so I will stop right here.

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at August 5, 2016 3:18 PM

I first visited SF in 1958 before there were skyscrapers and visible homelessness. It was the San Francisco that provided the backdrop for Hitchcock's movie Vertigo, the San Francisco of Mort Sahl and the Kingston Trio at the Hungry i. God, it was beautiful. I visited on and off for the next 30 years and loved every minute. But since my son moved out of his fifth floor walk up on Grove Street, I've no reason to go back. I suspect that there is enough wealth in the city to prevent it from becoming Detroit, but given the left's insatiable demands Detroit may not be too far from San Francisco's future.

Posted by: Chuck R at August 6, 2016 5:19 AM

Chuck, isn't it amazing how so many Democrat governed cities start to resemble Detroit in different ways? I think there is a sequence to the social pathologies involved, but a key visible feature is always Democrat party governance.
I have watched the city I grew up in decline and deteriorate over the last 4 decades (I no longer live there), despite the best efforts of some civic minded citizens and companies to stem the decline. And again and again, it was the Democrat led city government that would do the counter-productive thing that undermined whatever people did to stem the tide.

Makes you wonder, sometimes.

Posted by: David at August 6, 2016 6:34 AM

I'm guessing there is too much Milk and Pelosi in S.F. for a proper Detroiting. That treatment is for other locales. The Southeast is getting it big time, particularly in the last few years.

Posted by: Will at August 6, 2016 7:52 AM

Let us put the blame for this eyesore where it belongs, and enact the one policy that will stop it. The Ugly People (both the truly homeless and the many phonies) infest the places they do for one reason: other people (mostly tourists) with a misplaced notion of charity are paying them to be there. We need a "DON'T GIVE TO BUMS" law, with a penalty large enough to make it stick -- and a reward to snitches who send in pictures of the offense.

Posted by: jdgalt at August 6, 2016 8:21 AM

Will, I agree with you. I grew up in Jackson, MS in the 60's and 70s and it was a great city. Memphis was like that, too.

Now each of those cities, along with Atlanta, Birmingham and Montgomery and others are hellish shit holes that are broke, deeply in the red and filled with crime. And they just get worse.

The common denominator to all of it: blacks and liberal democrats who are running those places. It's simply too damned bad that they cannot be sacked up and thrown in the garbage along with their human occupants.

Posted by: Jack at August 6, 2016 8:49 AM

I've lived in SF since 1983, and at one point spent a few years working for the city in the Department of Health and Human Survices - basically the umbrella welfare and social services operation.

SF spending on the homeless increases constantly (with an every growing bureaucratic infrastructure eating up most of the increases), but the good citizens of SF just can't seem to get it through their heads that the more you reward something, the more of it you get.

Every homeless bum in America knows that the best benefits, coupled with the best weather, in all of the United States are in SF. So where, at some point or another, do most of them decide to check out the scenery?

Uh huh.

We pay for it, and we're getting it, good and hard. Of course, stupidity should be painful.

And the only answer anybody can seem to come up with is that we need to spend a lot more money on the homeless.

Posted by: William Quick at August 6, 2016 5:33 PM

We are short timers out here so my wife took me to a Parade in San Francisco to see what it is like.

She also lived here for a while in the late 70's, and it was what she told me to expect. I guess it was like a accident on the highway, i just had to look.

There was Debauchery, mental sickness, open exposure of children to naked old white men placed in front of them by the city's elected who are smarter than us and other politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank riding in the parade to show support of this sickness.

I guess since the children where there showed it must have been more for their parents pleasure than the kids welfare. I am happy that the sick congregate in the cities like Frisco though, it leaves places like Muir Woods like Snakepit Kansas wrote to go and enjoy. Along with Mt Diablo, Point Reyes and such.

And yes the winos shit everywhere and yes the city smells like that.

Posted by: eclectic kelvin at August 7, 2016 6:40 AM