I’ve been thinking a lot about how we homogenize and scorn houseless people. Without knowing their stories, the people on the streets are casted aside as an eyesore unworthy of hospitality and attention.
Before moving to San Francisco, I’ve heard all the horror stories. I’m sure you have too. The Tenderloin is where you go to get mugged, stabbed, crack. Stick to the cupcake boutiques and brunch spots on Valencia. Don’t turn left onto Turk.
The Tenderloin loomed in my mind as an opaque cast shadow countered by high-rise development and trendy bars. Walking to my first job interview at CounterPulse, I was not at ease.
But in my first few weeks at 80 Turk, that shadow lightened. Dark smudges of vitriolic speak were colored with fresh perspectives – a vibrant history of jazz clubs, speakeasies, Vietnam-era refugee shelters, and safe havens for the LGBT community.
As I met with our noble neighbors, such as Central City SRO Collaborative and Hospitality House, the Tenderloin’s cast shadow became eclipsed with community resilience, family, and activism: an intricate constellation of everyday struggles and the arduous path toward justice.
Leaving work one day, I got a nosebleed on the bus, rushed off into the street and into a McDonald’s restroom.
While I navigated through crowds of repulsed and neglectful faces, blood running down my face, a houseless man opened the store door for me, got the restroom code and unlocked the door, then brought me napkins.
I realized that sometimes the most compassionate people are those who receive the least compassion.
I’m not sure if I’d do the same if I were in his shoes, as I might have been too busy on my commute, distracted on my phone, or assumed someone else would help.
But I can interrogate my civic ethics and strive to be a better human. We all can.
Justin Ebrahemi is the Outreach Manager at CounterPulse.