Saturday, December 02, 2006

far from tender

I was back in the Tenderloin yesterday doing a bit more research for a project I am working on. Every time I visit there, I am always struck by how desperate it is - it's filthy, the streets are filled with the homeless, with people who seem very ill, or high, or both. The businesses that line the area are a mix of converted SROs (a type of extremely low income housing) liquor stores, and porn shops. People are everywhere, yelling, talking to themselves, asking for money, working some deal or another.

Truthfully, it freaks me out - the lack of hope and the utter desperation is so loud it hurts.

I take note of those who are going through this district rather than living in it. They walk fast, head down, eyes averted. Purses clutched. They are going somewhere else. Those who seem to live in this area are slower, a bit more conversational. I too, am heading somewhere, and I am on the move.

We literally step over a few people as we go. One man is lying on some cardboard, bleeding from his head. I notice he has no shoes. We see two men dragging a third who can't walk - it's impossible to tell whether or not he is temporarily or permanently unable - it looks pretty bad either way.

A woman stops me - starts in on a convoluted story about needing a specific amount of change to get somewhere - I stop her, no need to sell me on your story - and hand her some money. I feel strange hearing her justify her begging, and stranger still as she yells god bless you three or four times as I walk away. I already know sister. I do. And I am sorry. I'd rather you were blessed instead.

We reach our destination and get to meet with some very good people trying to do some very good work. Ideas are tossed around. It gets us closer to where we want to be. We wrap up and head back.

On the way back to the car we notice a man in a wheelchair. He is doubled over limply, his head is at his ankles, a rope tied around his middle keeps him attached to his chair. He is in the middle of the sidewalk. People swerve around him, glancing maybe, but nothing more. I wonder if he is dead. He seems dead. I stop and say this is so fucked up. My friend says this IS so fucked up. But we don't know what to do. We stop and gently touch his shoulder, not knowing what the hell we will do after that moment. He jerks and groans and yells. It scares me, and I feel helpless. My friend quietly says Jen, let's go. There is nothing we can do. I leave, ashamed that I allow myself to buy that as an excuse, and ashamed I remain.

We keep going. I look back. He is upright now.

This IS so fucked up.

I notice this is my 100th post. That means I've been waxing on about drool and the streets for a while now. I don't know what is different between the time I started and now. I wonder how that man slept last night, and if he ever feels warm and safe. I wonder about that woman, and if she ever feels blessed.

I want it to be different than this.


Anonymous said...

You're right. It IS fucked up. And there are lots of us who wish it was different.

The fact remains that every culture decides its highest value. This one has chosen. Compassion and humanity are not very high on the priority list. Shame on us!

And that's what's truly "fucked up."



Anonymous said...

I agree. Although it's been years, I remember that emotionally, the Tenderloin is a tough area to 'see' and most just want to get through it or avoid it. The whole area desperately needs more help and resources and attention, but after the recent outcry over the proposed changes to 'improve' the Haight-Asbury district, I can't see it happening in the near future.

Deezee said...

I am amazed at the depth of your compassion, that you don't have to protect yourself with blinders. That's part of your uniqueness.

Once I worked at a school for emotionally distrubed kids as part of one of my college classes. I left each day sad and demoralized in seeing the struggles of these kids. Their pain became my own. I couldn't separate.

And I saw that I wasn't suited for this kind of work, that I couldn't remain strong and helpful in the face of it all. And I felt guilty about that, but had to be honest with who I was.

I admire your strength in all the work you do. I'm sure I'd end up a withered shell of a person cowering in the corner whimpering. Your strong voice serves all those you write of.

fin said...

I liked reading that...even if it made me a little sad.

flutter said...

It saddens me, that we think this is a purely American's not. As human beings compassion is lacking.
A lot of us wish things were sad that even more just don't care.

acumamakiki said...

I lived on Sutter between Taylor and Jones and the tenderloin was my close neighbor.
I admire you so much for your work and your ability to do good and help and not be beaten down by all that you see.

meno said...

It sounds like the area hasn't changed in the 15 years since i was there.
It is so awful to want to help and to be utterly unable to do so in any meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

It IS....
I stopped by here earlier in the evening, & read the first few lines & thought to myself, "I'll come back when I can give this post it's due & proper." As I sat composing myself from my 'day', I was flipping through the tele & up pops a show on Discovery Times or whatever about, yup, The Tenderloin. Weird.
So, I've read your words and feel for you & feel for those who really do need - in a country with so much. Indeed, beyond fucked up.

Deb said...

Goddess Jen,
This is so hard to read and think about, it IS so fucking fucked up. It hurts some of us so much we can't stand it and need some comfort, some room to breathe, to make some space to contain the pain. It is too real and too sad and part of what makes it hard for me to get up some days.
Thank you for being kind enough to touch him and hold the belief and do the work that makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

I've been a silent reader of your blog for a few weeks. The first time I read one of your posts, I immediately had to go back & read more. I've been touched each time I read a post & all I keep thinking is that I don't do enough to help.... anyone really! In my past, I've been a keen fundraiser for womens health issues, an operator on a domestic abuse helpline & a charity worker. But what do I do now that could help someone else? Nothing. I have a thousand excuses why I don't but they don't mean shit!
I know its a cliche (or is it a line from a film?) so don't worry about the words, just listen to the sentiment "You make me want to be a better person".
Keep at it Jen.

sunshine scribe said...

I too wish it was different. My own work in the social services sector makes me so angry and frustrated with the world on a daily basis.

You are a compassionate amazing woman and I am honored to read your blog.

KC said...

Ditto deezee and hev.

Jen, you are inspirational. And you serve as a reminder to many that we can and should be doing more.

You have made changes, in each one of who reads the strength and compassion in your words. Amen, sister.

Jenny said...

You make me cry. You make me want to do something.

Today I'm going to go through my closets and find some warm clothes and coats to give away.

I wish I could do more.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is way fucked up. Why is it that private agencies need to step in to provide services? Because of crapped up gov't priorities that don't put people first. There's really no reason in hell that people should be living like this in this rich, money-wasting country. Empty out a damn Macy's and let people live there.

Jo said...

The good work you do and the thoughts you provoke by writing amaze me. I live in a place where you don't see homeless people. I won't say there are none here, but, if there are, one does not see them. That said, it is hard to remember, when living in a place like this, that there is such a thing as homelessness and hunger. Your writing inspires me to remember those less fortunate and to do something about it, even though I don't see it around me. Thank you, Jen.

Penny said...

I looked up the Tenderloin district on google. Wow. My city isn't like that in any area. It's got it's homeless, but it doesn't look as hopeless as that. Or, maybe it just doesn't look as hopeless as that.

What happened to all these people?

I saw a man holding a sign yesterday on a busy intersection that said, "Hungry. Please Help." I wanted to bring him into the car, because it was so cold, but I'm a woman with a child and it's just not safe. I wanted to ask him, how this happened to him.

Then, I found this.

And realized that, whatever his story is, whatever the reasons are, whatever the belief systems, values, politics.. he is still hungry. That most basic need is not being met.

Why is important, but I felt bad that the only part I could have helped with in that moment.. the how was, at the same time, not something that I could do anything about as a woman with a child in the car. And, as the light changed, a couple dozen people seemed to feel the same way.

It's so sad, Jen.

Anonymous said...

There are good days and there are bad days in the struggle.


Kira said...

I was really struck by how they deal with "the homeless" when I went to Berlin Germany in the mid nineties. It is illegal to be homeless there!
They put all the would-be homeless up in hotels if they didn't have housing for them. There were many in the hotel that we stayed in. Some had drug and alcohol problems that probably wouldn't be getting better any time soon, if at all. but it was more humane than letting them suffer in the outdoors. Much more humane to give these people a roof and a stipend.

crazymumma said...

I am not trying to suck your light hon...I only came by here after posting my most recent entry (tonight sunday) and I am amazed at the similarity of subject.
It IS so fucked up. I hope he has somewhere warm. I hope mine does to.

Momish said...

We have some areas like this in Philly, and I am sad to say that I try to avoid them. I am not as strong as you, nor as compassionate. Yes, it IS so fucked up, too fucked up for me to handle at times. I applaud you for being so aware and active as much as it hurts! Your bravery is inspiring, it really is.

A truly moving 100th post, as one would only expect from your heart, mind and soul.

Haley-O said...

You are such an empathetic person. I am, too, and it's so hard. We feel the pain of the people around us, the sadness. Thanks for this post. Thanks for caring and writing about it. Thanks for inspiring us all to do something....

penelopeto said...

my friend, that's some heart you have.

Anonymous said...

I used to see this a lot more when I lived in the city (Seattle). I don't "see" it now, but when you live in a small community, it is interesting that everyone knows your business - and everyone tries to help somehow.

It is fucked up, I agree. I know with 100% certainty that I could not do your job. You are an amazing woman.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you do it. I get frustrated to the point of inaction just by trying to get a fucking high school built here in my town. And yet that seems like a piece of cafeteria cake compared to making sure everyone in the United States has a home. So I admire your determination and your steadfast beliefs and I hope some of that rubs off on me!

Nancy said...

You amaze and inspire me. Some of the things that make me fearful, you tackle head on.

I love coming hear to learn. I will take whatever I can learn from you about compassion and love for our fellow humans.