Homeless in San Francisco

At first you think there is a surprising number of people drinking coffee at street corners In San Francisco until you realize that is their collecting cup and they are soliciting for alms. San Francisco appears to have a serious homeless problem: people are thick on the ground. Sadly, several people I saw were obviously mentally ill - one woman separating people down the street, like a boat cutting waves on the sea, obviously deeply disturbed. Another black man, dread-locked, sitting on the kerb energetically talking to himself or some imagined other.

It is both sad and disappointing.

For someone of my age and disposition, this is a legendary city. I am not old enough to be a 'child' of the Sixties, but I did inherit its breaking dreams, that haunted the 70s and beyond. I learned meditation at the feet of the Maharishi, well at least one of his long haired, Afghan coated, students. I read my first gay literature mostly emanating from here especially Armistead Maupin. The culture, as imagined here, carried hope for a greener, more tolerant, peaceful world. 

That it sowed many fruitful seeds is a truism, that it seems to be now singularly failing the most vulnerable - the mentally ill and dispossessed - is a shadow cast on that fruitfulness (and undoubtedly my wholly unrealistic image of it)! Though I expect, like Oxford, it may attract people precisely as it is seen as, at least, a charitable place. It is 'good patch' as one homeless person described it (Oxford) to a friend.

However, it does seem to be the measure of our failure to embody a just society: our treatment of this most vulnerable of groups and in a society of such obvious resources it is doubly disappointing (as it is in the UK). Charity is never enough.

It is undoubtedly a beautiful city, wrapped around this extraordinary hill bounded bay. I walked from my hotel through Chinatown (even the local public library is a Chinese one) with its corner food shops, eating places and antique shops with dusty Buddhas and crumpled scrolls down to Fisherman's Wharf and its fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge and of Alcatraz prison and I dangled my hands in the Pacific. 

I am looking forward to exploring it in the intervals between work. 


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