I honestly do not think that anything would have prepared me for what I would see here in San Francisco.
I thought that having grown up in a rural area that was riddled with poverty I had seen the worst of the worst, but my first day at Larkin Street was a real wake-up call for me and put a lot of things into perspective. Walking down the streets to the building where we work, we pass homeless people each and every day, I thought that it would get easier to see them the more we passed through the area, but honestly it has not. I do not think I will ever be able to be numb to the stench of urine on the streets, the human feces smeared on the concrete, the woman passed out on the curb with a needle still in her arm, or the mother rolling a blunt in front of her stroller.
Being here in San Francisco for only 1 short week has made me think very critically about the issues concerning what it means to be homeless. Having spent time getting to know some of the clients here at Larkin Street and hearing their stories has been eye-opening, but very difficult at the same time. The people that come through this organization are just like anyone of the people in my group; they like anime, they like music, they have hopes and dreams, they laugh at corny puns, they love to dance, but the only thing that makes them different is that they are homeless. Getting to understand how nuanced and complex homelessness can be has made me realize that society really has a construed view of homeless people. The stereotypical image of a “homeless” person is the mentally ill vet that came back from the war too traumatized to function in society, ended up on the streets, became addicted to drugs, and spends their days and nights harassing the general public. While there are individuals that are like this, each and every homeless person is unique and has a different story. Many of these stories were revealed to me while just sitting and talking with clients; from being kicked out because they were gay, to running away from an abusive home, there is no one type of homeless person, and they deserve to be treated as such, and at the end of the day they are human just like you and I.
One of the hardest things for me has been seeing how bad gentrification and the income gap has become here in San Francisco. The Tenderloin is about a 4 block area and the streets are covered with homeless people struggling to find a place to rest their heads. But, immediately after you step out of the Tenderloin, the change of scenery is so drastic it was jarring the first time I witnessed it. The setting changed from an area poverty to an area that was so wealthy that many of the people in my group could not afford any of the shops on the block. The people living in these well-off areas are selectively blind to what is happening just down the block and it truly is frustrating and sad.
My one goal and hope for my time here at Larkin Street is to help if even just one person realize their potential and help them onto a path to recovery. Even though my time here at Larkin Street is very short, I can already feel this work and this organization pulling me back to San Francisco.