[Hpn] inyaface chunky style pt. 2
Fri, 01 Dec 2000 17:40:26 -0700
POOR News Network deconstructs the new housing program in San Francisco
I had already envisioned its sight before I opened the pale door held
together by incongruent strips of wood. The stench of abandoned viscosity
smothered my nose when I stepped into the small, forlorn room. I quickly
mixed a milky abrasive the label of which claimed to be stronger than dirt
into a liquid whose label portrayed a man whose head was shaven completely.
The result was a product that could probably have annihilated the most
hardened of scum. After three hours of scrubbing mucous and crud from the
walls inside the room at the Jefferson Hotel, I felt the environment was
safe for me to sleep.
Vulgar sounds on the other side of the door invaded my sleep like the teeth
of a lion piercing the flesh of an African wildebeest. A loud thump on the
door brought me to full alert as I moved quickly to the door. The person at
the door held crack cocaine in his hand as he blurted out the price of his
bag of death. I snapped back with threats that I was the master of this
house and that I did not want to be disturbed. He replied on that April
night in 1999, while five or six people sat in front of doorways smoking
rocks in their crack pipes, that the Jefferson Hotel ³belonged to the dope
man² so I had no rights.
It has been over 11 years since that rude awakening at the Jefferson Hotel
on Eddy Street had welcomed me to San Francisco. It was a hotel in which I
had never thought I would have to sleep. There are many other hotels in San
Francisco that operate like the Jefferson. They are like bordellos with
organized drug dealers, prostitution and unsanitary living conditions.
However, as of Wednesday, October 4, 2000, the Jefferson can no longer be
classified as that kind of hotel.
The Jefferson is one of five (5) hotels in San Francisco whose residents
have adopted a new attitude because the Board of Supervisors approved a
proposal to launch a Master Leasing program which affects every part of the
life of the tenants of the Jefferson. The program was spearheaded by the
Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Coalition on Homelessness.
³This program at an extraordinarily low cost has brought conservatively 350
vacant units (and overall 800 units) onto the real estate market because the
hotels that had been leased prior to this did not maximize the permanent
residency,² stated Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, to me in an
interview as he discussed some of the strategy that was involved with the
development the Master Leasing program.
Before both the dot.com boom and surge in the economy, hotels such as the
Jefferson had charged rents which were tied to the income that a person
received from General Assistance or other fixed income. Since 1997, however,
all of the residential hotels in San Francisco had begun to charge
unaffordable rents and the housing shortage had tightened. Hotels were no
longer accepting referrals the prevailing system at that time due to the
rent increases. Out of this dilemma was born the concept of a Master Leasing
³I think that there are aspects to what the Tenderloin Housing Clinic is
doing that are beneficial for people to get into housing. I think it sets up
a scary situation when the only way a poor person can get housing is through
a social worker,² Paul Boden of the Coalition on Homelessness advised me
during a telephone interview.
Since both Paul Boden and Randy Shaw, two people who have advocated for
social change for years in San Francisco, view this program as a
constructive move toward affordable housing, it could probably be safe to
assume that the program would have passed through without a hitch, right?
The Master Lease program went through intense scrutiny as part of the budget
hearings. There were many concerns by members of the community and
community-based organizations which forced the Coalition on Homelessness to
request Board of Supervisor President Tom Ammiano to place money in reserve
that had been earmarked for a Master Lease program at the Hartland Hotel,
the first Master Lease program to come on line. In addition, the Coalition
on Homelessness subpoenaed all papers related to any shelter policies by any
agency of City government under the Freedom of Information Act. These
processes by the Coalition on Homelessness caused a cooperative meld of the
Department of Human Services (DHS), the Coalition on Homelessness and the
Tenderloin Housing Clinic.
After all the players in the attempt to find affordable housing for homeless
and impoverished people had begun to interact, the Master Lease program
began to take form. The Coalition on Homelessness submitted a detailed
report that recommended the course of action for the program. I asked
Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness about the position
paper and what it included?
³The Coalition came up with recommendations around how access [to affordable
rooms] should work for Master Leasing. We took the issue before the Board of
Directors of the Coalition on Homelessness, the Substance Mental Health Work
Group and other service providers who tried to get leasing.² Jennifer
continued to recount the developments of the process that brought
respectability to five of more than 100 residential hotel buildings in San
³During the time we were in negotiations with DHS, there were only one or
two people getting referred from the Department of Human Servicesı PAES
program and/or shelters to hotel rooms. The process was slow. Rooms were
vacant while people slept on the street. The Department of Human Services
wanted to handpick people in shelter case management programs or employable
in their PAES program. After the Coalition on Homelessness and the
Tenderloin Housing Clinic negotiated the Master Lease program with the
Department of Human Services as a solid unifying force, the Hartland,
Jefferson Seneca, Mission and Vicente hotels were approved as sites for San
Franciscoıs Master Leasing program.²
The approval for these hotels means that these buildings are no longer
managed and/or operated by their owners. These buildings are managed and
maintained by employees of City Housing, a nonprofit in San Francisco.
However, any major repairs are the ownersı responsibility. Residents of
these hotels pay their rents to City Housing, which uses it to pay the
monthly lease to the private owners of the hotels.
I asked Kerry Abbott of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who actually is
eligible for the Master Lease program? ³Originally, only people coming out
of case management for 30 days in shelters and those on PAES were eligible.
Now, people working with any community-based agency can be referred.² Kerry
stated that this system is much better than the earlier policy.
I asked Paul Boden why have only five buildings out of 100 signed onto the
Master Lease program?
³I am glad that there have only been five buildings to sign on at this
point,² stated Paul with an expressionless tone. ³The access is not broad
enough to satisfy the Coalition on Homelessness. If you are not able to go
to work, for example, you cannot access these hotels.² It seems the policies
around the Master Lease program are not yet satisfactory.
With a surge of renewed interested, he went on to state that, ³If we use
government money to lease a building, then there should be a long-term plan
to own that building and any homeless person should have an equal shot to
access the building. Furthermore, there should be made available, if
government money is used, direct access to housing throughout for people
Thereıs been much handwriting on the walls of the Jefferson since that day
in 1999, when I was told that I had no rights in my room. Today, however,
thanks to the master plan of both the Coalition on Homelessness and
Tenderloin Housing Clinic, if the walls could talk, they would say to me,
³Welcome to your clean home, master!²
(Kaponda is a staff writer with POOR News Network. Visit the POOR crew
online at: http://www.poornewsnetwork.org)
Thelma and Louise of the Minor Leagues
It was coming up on midnight, and this was about a week or so before the
Giants finally clinched in late-September. Had second thoughts about heading
down to the Irish Bar in the Tenderloin, mainly cuz I was headinı outta
town the next day for a three-day trip Reno, and I always like to travel on
a full stomach and a lotta rest. We should all have it so good.
As you mightıve surmised, things arenıt all A-OK at back at The Seedy
Mission Flat, where one of my gamble-aholic roommates, The Mayor of Capp
Street, had dropped a pair of tough games over the weekend to the last-place
Padres. Donıt know what he owes The Bookie, but my guess is, the way heıs
ranting-n-raving and carryinı on, workinı on the Old Man tryinı to get
everybody evicted, Iıd say itıs probably close to a thousand or two AND HE
DOESNıT EVEN WORK.
Howıs he gonna pay, especially since he got cut off from Workmanıs Comp? I
dunno, but before I left the house today, he said that when I get back from
my trip, as soon as I pay my rent, Iım gonna be hit with a ³30-day notice.²
Gee, thatıs nice oı the guy. Usually he tells me I gotta be out in three,
kinda like some batters I know when they go up against Russ Ortiz.
So, against my better judgment, I work my way through the Tenderloin. At
this hour, you gotta have eyes in the back of your head, but after so many
years, you sort of get that Sixth Sense of when trouble is lurking about.
You know that cat hidinı in the doorway, And you know better than to let
some hooker go riflinı through your pockets while she does her
come-on-babyı routine. Gotta just keep movinı four beats to the measure.
Check back every now-n-then for a Muni, but there isnıt one, which doesnıt
surprise me, cuz this is back when they were talkinı about goinı ³On
Strike² anyway. Iım kinda for the drivers on that one. I mean, givvum the
money, it ainıt like weıre building homeless shelters or anything like
[ital. ³that²]. Believe me, if the Old Man goes along with his Mayor of Capp
Streetıs son on this one, Iım ass-out on the street, and thereıs no place
left to go but them busses.
I betcha fifty cents that if I pick up todayıs paper, thereıs something
about somebody, maybe as many as 60 people, getting displaced by last
nightıs fire, or some other hotel over in Oakland that was ruled
uninhabitable. And forget about all whatıs going on in The Mission, with
Dot-Com talkinı about movinı into the Mission Armory. We got hella protests
goinı on over that one. The Mission Armory? That place has been closed for
years and was home to summa the greatest boxing this townıs ever seen way
back when, at least thatıs what the old-timers tell me. Woulda made a great
shelter, and weıre gonna sell out for this? It pretty much parallels all
whatıs goinı on throughout The City: Hell Yes to Business; Screw the People,
especially low-income, families, minorities and artists, and where the
average two-bedroom apartment goes for $2,200, if you can find one, and the
only way your gonna get that is if you got perfect credit history and no
prior arrests or evictions.
The Irish Bar sometimes closes around midnight, but I know my bartender is
puttinı in extra hours cuz heıs had it with the high rents, and says heıs
headinı back East. Me, Iıve got a $50. Itıs all the get-outta-town money I
need, cuz this guy, a Retired Air Force Firefighter, treats me like his own
son, and he picks up all the tabs, from the Nice Hotel all the way down to
the fish-nıchips at Foleyıs at the end of The Strip, which is the best Iıll
have til we go back next year. Considering the hellhole where I stay, where
yelling and slamming doors were all part of the norm in the morning, I can
use a get-away like this.
So I take a seat at the end of the bar. Thereıs a few people two guys,
both regulars, and two women, who I donıt know from Adam or Eve, at the far
end having a pretty lively conversation. Me, I just wanna be left alone; try
n sort things out, unless, of course, Jack wants to give me another one of
his free lessons in baseball. Swearda God, Iıll put him up against anybody,
and that includes anybody in the Hall of Fame.
³Can you spot me a Budweiser?² I say to the bartender.
³No² he says, making me sweat a little, more than I am already cuzza this
mid-September Indian Summer heat wave weıre having. ³But I can spot you a
This guy, heıs too good to me.
So Iıve got my dinner in fronta me, and it doesnıt take long before some guy
wanders into the bar and comes looking for a handout. I take that first sip
before looking back over my shoulder and say, ³Buddy, any other day you
mighta had a chance, but I got news: today Iım beinı evicted.² Before I
could add a ³So you go figure it out,² he goes, ³Yeah, man, but Iım already
out on the street!²
The bartender comes over, leans on the bar and puts out his policeman ³halt-
sign,² and the guy shuts up on the dime: The Power of the Bartender.
The two of us talk baseball, about who we thinkıs gonna the World Series,
and ³whoıs the best third baseman in the game since Brooks Robinson.² He
says Robin Ventura. I say Mike Schmidt, a 10-time All-Star who set 14 major
league records with the Phillies.
At the other end, the two guys are working on the two women, who Iıd say are
probably in their mid-30s, give or take. One of the guys is a Culinary
Academy student, and the other guy, Frank, says heıs a pediatrician, but he
also works as a ³freelance gynecologist.² Hey, donıt laugh. This guyıs
dead-serious. And the two women... well, theyıre talking about their ³itchy²
What kinda place is this? Iıll tell you, itıs a place where I can duck those
lame-ohs back at The Seedy Mission Flat, thatıs what.
By now itıs after last call, ten minutes tilı two in fact, and I forgot to
tell that earlier, my buddy Jack got a little heated on this shift. Somehow,
he let the Tall Redhead con him, let her ³learn how to be a bartender²
off-ın-on during these past two hours. And oh yeah, just so you know, none
of us guys ever left our stools during this whole time.
I kinda wondered what was goinı on with these two earlier when The Redhead
and her ³partner², a Fraulein with a German accent and black hair whoıs
probably A Blonde from the Bahamas by now, made a bee-line for the womenıs
restroom and said it was ³female bonding time.² Thought they might be goinı
in there to blow a line, but as it turns out, they were hatching a plan.
The bartender comes from behind the bar, goes up to The Redhead and says,
³What are you, some sorta Devil From Hell?! Thatıs my living. Those are my
wages. Iım not playinı. Give me back my money.²
Apparently, Redhead got into the tip-basket, and according to the Bartender,
made off with all of $180, leaving only a single, solitary dollar bill. If
you know bartenders, they donıt like to pocket the money before shiftıs end,
thinking that all that money attracts moı money, so they let it build
instead of doing like I use to do: when it gets to $60, put $40 away. Safer,
just in case of a hold-up.
Well, suddenly the game is changed. The Two Guys slowly get up off their
barstools, and the three of us blockade the front door. ³Nobody leaves until
that money gets put back,² says one of em. Hey, nobodyıs goinı anywhere,
and that includes this Thelma and Louise of the Minor Leagues. Oh, theyıre
good. Probably already got bumped up to Double-A by now. They had the whole
thing cased, real fly-by-nighters. We played this waiting game, us standing
there, them accusing each one of us, even though it was so obvious what had
happened. And they were smug about the whole thing, too, like ha-ha-ha.
Finally, Jack decided to call in the bulls at about 2:40, and when the cops
show up five minutes later, they pretty much said the same thing I did:
³Forget the money, thatıs gone, hid in such a place that no oneıs likely to
find.² Yep, Thelma and Louise called the bluff and won, since nobody was too
keen on getting a female officer to come out and do a cavity search.
I know one thing: when I get to Reno, ainıt no way in hell Iım gonna bet
roulette, cuz all youıve got there is Red or Black, and Iıve just seen how
both of em donıt think nothinı about stealinı you blind.
RESIST THE CRIMINALIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS!
Picture yourself poor or homeless and in need of mental health treatment,
which most research agrees that about one-third of all homeless people need.
You go to a health clinic or the emergency room trying to get help and get
told ³Sorry, we canıt help you,² or, if youıre lucky, youıre offered an
appointment looming two months into an uncertain future.
If you were living on the sidewalk, might you feel depressed, suicidal, or
even hallucinating? But wouldnıt you still know you need help?
How would you feel if you couldnıt get any help?
Now, just imagine if after youıve been denied help that you voluntarily
sought, you are then arrested because of your behavior. What if the police
took you to a hospital where you would be strapped down wrists, ankles and
head to a table, and injected with dangerous drugs? Or youıre arrested,
and after youıve been booked the sheriffıs deputies put you in a ³safety
cell² stripped naked and humiliated by 24 hour scrutiny?
As awful as these all-too-common dramas are for homeless people with mental
illnesses, the dramatic can turn tragic in a heartbeat: what if the police
feel threatened by your actions and use deadly force against you?
Answer: you would gasp your life out on cold pavement knowing all of this
happened because you couldnıt get the treatment that you tried to get.
The stigmatization and criminalization of mental illnesses endangers more
lives every year. How many more deaths can we tolerate?
The Coalition tried to address this problem by advocating funding for police
crisis intervention training training to instruct officers on how to
humanely and non-violently treat people with mental illness yet the police
department has yet to implement this training and its procedures. We demand
that the police fully implement these procedures so that the lives of
mentally ill people are not put in danger by our so-called peace officers.
We demand that the civil and human rights of homeless people and be
protected. We oppose involuntary outpatient treatment and commitment.
We demand that voluntary community-based consumer-directed mental health
treatment be made available on demand. People know what they need, but this
only helps if their voices are being heard.
Voluntary mental health treatment on demand will also save the city money.
It is far cheaper to treat someone in a clinic, rather than with the
expensive and restrictive emergency psychiatric services needed if someone
is neglected until theyıre in crisis.
On December 12, the Coalition on Homelessness will be having an action
protesting the criminalization of mental illness in San Francisco. Nearly
50,000 of Californians with untreated mental illnesses are homeless. The
City and County of San Francisco must take notice of our demands for humane
treatment of persons who are mentally ill, homeless or both.
We seek community participation in this action and support for these
demands. We aim to get the attention of city agencies that can do something
to end this needless suffering and risk. We need to convince the Mayor and
the Department of Public Health that so long as these issues will not go
away, neither shall we. There are so many homeless and poor people in this
city that are in desperate need of these services, and there just arenıt
enough to go around.
In such a wealthy city in a time of economic growth, this is unconscionable
and utterly unacceptable. We must all be outraged at this lack of caring
exhibited by these failings. We must be willing to support the most fragile
members of our community by making available the voluntary treatment that
they so desperately need.
No one pays any attention
to the guy who digs in the trash
by strada everyday
except for people like my cousin
who change directions
to avoid his smell
he mumbles to himself
drags his bare feet from one garbage pile to another
to drink whatıs left in coffee cups
his torn shoes
barely cover all his toes
filth wraps his ankles
filth as black as the dirt on his clothes
filth as old as the holes in his blue blanket
that he carries everywhere
his hair turned to dread locks
woven into his beard
he puts all his paper bags
filled with dumped yet edible food
on the news stand
to pick up a nickel from the ground
a nickel Iım too lazy to bend over for
he never begs for change
"We must find out what words are and how they function. They become images
when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the
image of the thing itself."
- W.S. Burroughs
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740 - voice
415 / 775.5639 - fax