Last day on the streets.
The majority of us decided to put together some of the money we had left, that we made all week, to eat breakfast. After breakfast I decided to go to the SF Interfaith Council meeting that was being held at St. Mary's Cathedral. The theme was, if my memory serves me right, "responding to the homeless on our doorstep". I think they said there was like 200 people from all over San Francisco there. People from different businesses, from different service providers and non-profits, and residents from all over the city. There were speakers from different organizations presenting on different aspects on how to respond to our homeless brothers and sisters. I thought the intentions and ideas for this meeting could have been very powerful and worthwhile. But the meeting got stuck. The vocal audience was stuck on one point and would not let it go.
"If I see a homeless person on my doorstep who do I call? Who is the first responder? What is the number of the person that will respond to these people?"
I couldn't believe my ears. The point of the presenters was to highlight things that play a factor in US responding to those who are in need! Factors like talking to someone who is under the influence, or someone who is struggling with a mental instability, or how to handle escalated scenarios, and many other factors that come in to play when WE respond to our homeless brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, that's not what people wanted. They wanted to know who they could call to respond to the need. They wanted to know who they could pass off "the problem" to. I was shocked. People who work for organizations whose main focus is to help the homeless community wanted to know who they should call to respond to the homeless community! I wish I was exaggerating; I am not.
I wanted to stand up and shout "WE ARE THE FIRST RESPONDERS!"
Yes, I know we are all busy. Yes, I know this is a huge issue. Yes, I know that we all have different expertise and goals. But we are still the first responders. We should have been focusing on how we can better serve the people who need our help; even if it was just to learn how important a "hello" could mean to someone. The meeting was called RESPONDING TO HOMELESSNESS ON OUR DOORSTEPS" not "Here is the number of someone you can call so you don't have to deal with homelessness."
I thought about that meeting all day.
Nighttime came quick. One of the Fools on the retreat was to injured to make it to our usual sleeping spot so three of us decided to sleep on Golden Gate Avenue; right in front of The Gubbio Project next to St. Anthony's. If you are not familiar with the area, there is a lot of traffic that goes through that block. A lot of people sleeping, dealing, and using.
I set up my sleeping bag and knew right away I wasn't going to be getting any sleep that night. I was to scared to even be tired. 20 minutes after the three of us laid down next to the building, a man sat next to me. He looked frustrated and ignored me for a bit. He asked me for water and I told him I didn't have any; he continued to ignore me. A couple of minutes passed and he began getting his supplies ready to shoot up (inject heroin). He cut his empty beer can in half and turned the bottom side over to us as a dish. He began cooking. He put the heroin in and then some salt. He had the lighter in his other hand; holding it under the beer can to cook the drug. He kept swearing under his breath because he didn't have water. I took out my water bottle from my bag and saw I had a couple of drops of water left that I could give him. I said, "hey man, I have some water you can use". He didn't say anything to me just acknowledge he would take it. I leaned over and added the water to the mix. He continued to cook. Every couple of minutes he would try to suck up the heroin with the syringe but couldn't get it. He had to keep cooking. Finally he got it all in the syringe.
He starting tapping his forearm to try to get a vain out. He inserted the syringe and dug around for a bit. He couldn't get his vain. He lifted up his pants leg and began tapping his hamstring to try and get a vain there. He poked around for a bit desperately searching for a vain. After digging around he gave up again. He sat still for a second. I noticed his breath started going faster. I could see his chest rise through his shirt. I started to breath faster too. He stood up and faced the building. He pulled his pants and underwear down. He grabbed his penis with one hand and slowly injected the syringe into it with the other. Slowly but surely he injected the heroin. My heart was racing. Not only have I never seen someone shoot up from start to finish before, right next to me on top of that, but I've never heard of anyone injecting in their penis before. Once his high kicked in he sat back down and began talking to me. He was actually quite friendly.
I talked to him for ten minutes or so before something caught my attention down the street. A guy and a girl were walking in our direction. The guy was hovering over the girl yelling and cursing her out. About 20 feet away from us a car pulled up next them. There was a guy in the car yelling at the guy outside on the sidewalk. They began shouting at each other. The car pulled over and the man ran to the couple; who were now five feet away from me.
My first thought was "this guy can have a gun, you need to run right now." But I was frozen. The two guys were in each others face for a couple of minutes yelling and cursing. And then the first punch was thrown. They started swinging and a brawl erupted. They were fighting right in front of me so I was pinned to the wall. I had to shift my feet every now and then so they wouldn't step on me. The guy who was originally in the car knocked the other guy to the floor. He grabbed his head and bashed it on the sidewalk. He then sat on top of him and started punching him in the face with both arms (one of which had a cast). The girl was having a hard time breathing, she couldn't even communicate properly to the two guys. She was clearly high on something. The guy on top was finally convinced to get off and drove off with the girl. The other guy stood up and threatened to come back with other people.
The three of us looked at each other and decided there was no way we were going to stay there. We got our things and left.
"Each one of them is Jesus in disguise." - Mother Teresa