[Hpn] Artists make call to action

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 22 Dec 2000 16:30:38 -0700


Artists make call to action

Published Friday, Dec. 22, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News

Mercury News 

More than 180 life-size silhouettes representing people who died homeless
last year popped up throughout the city Thursday morning, plastered on
boarded-up storefronts, vacant lots and other spots where the deceased once

A coalition of local artists, called Artists Against Homeless Deaths, hung
the black-and-white posters in the Tenderloin, South of Market, North Beach
and Haight districts late Wednesday night.

The grass-roots campaign aims to raise public awareness about the rising
death toll of people left behind in today's exorbitant real estate market.

Malcolm McClay, a 38-year-old performing artist in San Francisco, came up
with the poster project while shivering in the warehouse he calls home on
Third Street. 

``I get up in the morning, and it's raining and it's cold,'' McClay said.
``And then I look out of my window and see someone getting out of their car,
and I think, God, how lucky I am.''

The artists' call to act on homelessness arrived as the nights are getting
colder and longer -- and on the first day of Hanukkah and just days before
Christmas, when people are in a celebratory and giving mood.

The posters are intended to ``make them think about the other reality that's
going on,'' said Bradford Cat, a 40-year-old artist from Los Angeles who is
in town to help the campaign.

But many people walked past the 183 unique, numbered posters without paying
them any heed. And most of the silhouettes posted along Market Street had
been torn down by 2 p.m.

The artists hung the silhouettes throughout the city to help people
visualize just how many lives are being lost.

``If 183 people died last year,'' McClay pondered, ``how many people almost
died last year?''

Silhouette No. 24 stood in memory of Trent Hayward, a homeless man who died
this year in a vacant lot at the corner of Larkin and McAllister streets.
The poster hung next to the tree where he was found.

Chaz Perry, 46, lives just a few blocks from the lot where Hayward died.

The area has faced a flurry of tragic incidents involving the homeless.
Perry said each time another homeless person dies, the neighborhood buzzes
with the news for a few days, but then the discussion stops. And nothing has

Viewing the silhouette, Perry said it's time for people to show more concern
about the plight of homeless people.

``I know them by first name. I see them on a daily basis. Sometimes they're
sleeping in the doorway. Sometimes they're sleeping on my car,'' Perry said.
``Even though they don't have an address, it still is their part of the

Perry said the city government should do more.

``It's so dangerous for people out there,'' Perry said. ``People need homes.
They need sanctuaries. And we can afford it.''

Critics, such as Jennifer Friedenbach, the project coordinator for the
Coalition on Homelessness, complain that the city has ignored permanent

``The mayor's office has focused on drop-in centers, storage -- things that
are all well and good, but that only satisfy merchant's complaints but do
nothing to really satisfy what homeless people really want -- which is
housing, jobs and treatment,'' Friedenbach said.

``We have a situation where the city coffers have been overflowing with the
increase in income from real estate transfer taxes. We've been seeing the
city not using it for housing, but putting it away for a rainy day,''
Friedenbach said. ``The city has done some things, but not enough.''

San Francisco spends $60 million annually on services for the homeless,
according to George J. Smith III, director of the Mayor's Office on
Homelessness. But a bigger budget, he said, isn't necessarily the solution
for getting everyone off the streets.

``What we need more than money,'' Smith said, ``is a little direction and

The effort, he said, must be regional.

``We have to respond to the needs of people who are seeking sanctuary
wherever they come from,'' he said. ``We can use a regional strategy on
homelessness. That can only come from leadership from the state.''


Contact Nicole C. Wong at nwong@sjmercury.com or (408) 718-3108.

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