The morning commute to Larkin Street Youth Services starts like many other commutes: with a bus ride. Bus rides are nothing special. We try to keep our balance as the bus starts and stops and focus on the music playing through our earphones. However, when we get off the bus, our walk to work is a constant reminder of the problem Larkin Street is trying to combat. We walk directly through the Tenderloin, a district in San Francisco that has the highest rate of homelessness in the city. Every morning and afternoon we walk past people sleeping on cardboard and frayed blankets. We pass individuals of all ages trying to live their lives in incredibly adverse situations. Needles, mostly capped, are scattered on the sidewalk. We were told not to wear open-toed shoes to work because of this.
Writing this, I am not complaining about how unsafe our walk to work can be, nor I am complaining that it makes me uncomfortable. In fact, it is exactly that discomfort that makes me constantly aware how pressing the issue of homeless is in San Francisco, and how important the work that Larkin does is to the homeless youth population. Walking through the Tenderloin twice a day might make me uneasy, but I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to live there out on the street because you cannot afford to pay the high San Francisco housing costs.
My journey through the Tenderloin keeps me from becoming desensitized to the homeless population, since it can be so jarring. In another district, it could be easy to ignore a few people sitting on the sidewalks, wrapped in blankets and carrying all their belongings in a single bag. But since we can pass by up to a hundred people on our way to and from work, it is almost impossible to ignore the fact that so many people are without housing. This, plus the work we do at Larkin, keeps me highly aware of homelessness and how it can affect anyone. Working in the Tenderloin has changed the way I view homelessness, and hopefully because of this I (and all of us that work at Larkin) can be more compassionate and understanding towards the youth we serve.