I’m sitting at an airport lounge waiting for my flight back to Europe, contemplating last couple of days. After my psychotherapy training and completion ceremony in Mendocino, I decided to stay in San Francisco for a few days and revisit the city I loved and knew quite well as I spent a month here in 2005.
I arrived late afternoon to my rented apartment on Mission Dolores, not too far from the house in Haight-Ashbury where I stayed so many years ago. Same night I only ventured close by the apartment to a used bookstore, something I always do, and a quick dinner in a near by Japanese vegan restaurant.Next day I woke up early (it was still dark out), did my meditation and, filled with anticipation and excitement, went out for a nice long run as soon as I saw daylight.
Neighbourhood was just waking up, kids on their way to school, people rushing to work with their take out coffee/ tea. On my run in and around Mission Dolores park I have also noticed quite a few homeless people, some sleeping, some walking around but thought it was because of the park so I didn't think much of it. After the run I had a coffee and breakfast in a local café and finally left ‘the hood’ to explore the city. I didn’t have big plans apart from a lunch date much later, so I decided to walk the charming residential streets I remember and explore city’s nooks and crannies.
But as soon as I left the park behind me and familiar streets I run through just a moment ago, I started to notice homeless people everywhere. Literally everywhere – nicer streets, shopping streets, dark alleys (just not in super rich neighbours as I later found out). People of all ages, all colours (even though, truthfully, darker complexions were in majority). Some streets had actual tents on the pavement. The more I walked towards downtown the worst it got. Every five minutes there was someone talking to themselves and often shouting at some invisible presence only they saw. Smell of piss and weed was everywhere as weed it’s now legal now in California and even though I am for legalisation, this just made everything even stranger to me. As I walked I felt my body tense up even though my rational mind told me that most of these people are not a danger to me and are just poor lost souls, but I guess the pure unfamiliarity of the situation made my nervous system think otherwise. What I saw actually broke my heart and puzzled my mind as I couldn’t wrap it around the fact this suffering, hopelessness and inequality exists in such a prosperous, rich city. Shameful. Disgraceful. Horrid. I don’t remember SF this way. Did I just not notice before?
Yes, I am sure many of these poor souls are drug addicts, but so many are not. I saw a white man in his 30’s who looked just like any other man walking past me on his way from work break. It seemed at first he was just sitting on the pavement resting, which is why I noticed him as it struck me as odd, until I came closer and saw that his clothes were warn out and there was a sleeping bag and some belongings neatly folded next to him. What broke my heart the most were the young people. So many of them. Some walking around talking to themselves, some going through rubbish bins, or like one boy of just over 20 who's image will stay with me for a while, just sitting on the pavement hopelessly staring down at it as if ashamed to be where he is. This particular one was holding his dog in a tight embrace, as though he's holding on tightly to the only precious thing he has. In Mendocino I there were also some young homeless people and I spoke to one of them who had a dog. 'Her name is Freya' he said. ‘She’s wonderful. She keeps us sane’. He had beautiful blue eyes with no hope in them. What do you say to that?
The walk I looked forward to so much was anything but joyful recollecting a time passed and ended up with an anxiety attack I haven’t experienced in years now. But, this post is not about that. The city I looked forward seeing so much made me uncomfortable and sad. It had this low, at time aggressive vibe. Vibe of no life.
The people of the city walked on as is used to the presence of those poor lives. Most of the time they would stare at their phones anesthetised and detached, tourists running around with their shopping bags turning their heads, crossing the street.
The social injustice which I haven’t seen this close-up in a long time is present everywhere in the world, but the extremes are painted in such vivid colours here in the US that it’s impossible not to notice. Suffering is everywhere. Injustice and inequality is everywhere. There are millions of homeless roaming the streets and then there are million dollar homes on Presidio Heights and Noe Valley where even tourists are band from. The ultra-rich and privileged live in their bubble up on the hills not understanding or wanting to understand that those unprivileged living on the streets never stood a chance. One of them (some tech CEO) recently wrote to the major with this complaint:
‘The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.’
Wow. This is what kind of a human liberal capitalism breeds. The unhuman human. The human who doesn’t want to see the pain and suffering. The human who believes those people are there because they didn’t go out and earn it. The forgetful human who had a fair start and had already paid his student loans and now doesn’t remember how impossible for most is to study in this country.
The government is throwing money into this ‘problem’ pretending it’s doing something but not admitting that is just a bandage which doesn’t even hold. The problem is much deeper and it goes into the deepest foundations, false promises and lies we are constantly fed. Everywhere, not just here.
For the change to happen and this unjust world start to heal we all need to wake up. I keep saying this and I will keep saying this until I can't speak no more. We need to stop looking at our phones and distract ourselves with shiny new things and stupid TV shows and start challenging the system. We need to start seeing that power is in the hands of people. We need to cultivate compassion and kindness for all, not just our family. We need to start thinking, caring and doing whatever we can to end this suffering and injustice. We need a revolution - one which starts in our hearts and minds.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK