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The past three weeks have been teaching me things that I could never learn elsewhere, and I’m grateful for this learning experience offered by the city and the people.

San Francisco breeds a vibrant and artistic community that celebrates diversity and freedom. Being the origin of hippie (counter)culture of the ‘60s, San Francisco attracts people from all over who believe in peace and love. People can still feel this hippie culture: walking through the colorful architecture, entering some random shops or galleries, peeping at singers playing the guitar at the corner, or simply appreciating how unique every individual there can be.

Haight Street, famously known as the origin of the hippie culture, attracts people who embrace the countercultural liberation and creativity. Working at the Haight Street Referral Center (HSRC), I began to understand the hippie culture and this group of the homeless population I’m working with. HSRC prides itself on being unique from other sites, as it serves a different group of population in a cool neighborhood.

HSRC offers drop-in hours for food, essential supplies, and referrals to other organizations. The homeless youth served by the HSRC come mostly for the food and the community. Observing how they interact with each other and talking with them has surprisingly opened up a new world for me. Some go skateboarding all night to see the gradually dimming city and the lights at the hilltop; some follow The Grateful Dead all over the State; some do yoga and meditation in the forest, the beach, or even in the city chaos, transcending time and space; others are talented and master several musical instruments; quite a few have such a deep understanding of oneself, society, and the universe; and a number are geniuses in physics and math, without even going to college. They are living a life that most people can never understand, as they are so profound and ahead of time.

Through the three weeks of interaction, I began to realize how much the youth and the staff have taught me, and what I learned from them is far more than I could ever offer to them. Most youth at HSRC chose to be homeless, or travelers as they considered themselves to be. For many of them, they have witnessed institutional injustice, suffering, and struggles; they also believe in humanity, resistance, community, peace, and love. They chose to live the life they are currently living, without a stable job or housing, yet being with a group of people who share their boldness, nomadism, loyalty, resilience, and solidarity. Their communal bonding and individualistic expression questions the existence of the social norms and the national sovereignty. This alternative challenges and questions the legitimacy of the mainstream normative way of living, destabilizing the social conformity and queering normativity. This deviation from the system might make people caged in their routine life and roles in the capitalistic society to reexamine how people’s values are constructed and perpetuated, and if their life necessarily better.

When dealing with issues related to homelessness, many other organizations would consider it as a social problem, miserablizing homelessness and praising themselves for saving homeless youth and transforming them into a reproductive labor force or a tiny knot in capitalistic exploitation. Yet the staff at HSRC view their roles as more of supporters. Instead of pressuring youth to get a stable job or housing, the staff respect their own wills, decisions, and plan for the future. The staff treat the youth as individuals on an equal plane and provide helpful referrals when needed, instead of people who need to be saved.

At the same time, however, not everyone chooses to be homeless. Some youth are kicked out of their homes, do not having sufficient care or education for a long time, or lack medical attention for physical and mental health. While acknowledging people’s self-determination, it is important to recognize the unequal distribution of social resources. For youth who struggle all along and try to push themselves out of the place they are living, staff work with them to set up goals, counseling, checking with progress, and step by step, trying to achieve whatever youth want for themselves.