[Hpn] San Fran -- No home, no Castro -- Castro eats its young

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 24 Jul 2002 09:37:25 -0700

(Note: the STREET SHEET article the Examiner refers to appears afterward.)


San Francisco EXAMINER
Publication date: 07/24/2002

No home, no Castro

Of The Examiner Staff

The Castro district, long known for its acceptance of gay people, is now
becoming intolerant of another group of historical outcasts -- San
Francisco's homeless.

Local merchants and residents say they are trying to rid their once-tidy
neighborhood of hordes of homeless people moving in.

"The community has been overrun," said San Francisco police Officer L.
Frazer, reflecting the sentiment of the community she has patrolled for five
years. "You can only be taken advantage of for so long."

Permanent pariahs from the Tenderloin -- aggressive heroin- and crack
addicts with criminal records -- have become the new wave of the Castro's
street population, she said.

In the past, gay kids booted from their parents' homes made up the bulk of
the Castro's homeless, said Frazer.

The community, for the most part, tried to help them out, she said.

No longer. 

Storefronts on Castro Street are plastered with "No Trespassing" signs that
ask police to eject people resting in doorways.

"I always tell them to move," said Linda Zeidan, owner of Valley Pride &
Market on Castro Street. "They sleep here, they pee here. It's terrible."

Tourists who spread around dollar bills are attracting the homeless crowd,
said John Pesch, a Castro Street resident for 31 years. His morning walk
begins by stepping around men huddled on his stoop.

Cowan Conaghan -- who is gay and young -- used to be homeless on Castro
Street. But the 25-year-old will no longer step foot in the neighborhood
because locals have treated him inhumanely.

He recently overheard a local gay storeowner and gay police officer happily
commenting at the dearth of homeless folk around.

"Except that one right there," said the merchant, pointing to Conaghan.

Conaghan thought the gay community would embrace him, regardless of his
economic status. He was profoundly disappointed.

"These people in the Castro want me and my kind exterminated like roaches,"
wrote Conaghan in the homeless-produced publication, the Street Sheet.
"Because that's what we are to them -- ugly, soulless creatures that make a
mess of their little gay utopia."

Some local businesspeople say the issue has little to do with being gay. In
any affluent community, the haves push out the have nots, said Bobby Pin, an
assistant manager at Starbuck's on 18th Street.

"It happens in the Marina and Russian Hill just like here," Pin said.

Chance Martin of the Coalition on Homelessness agreed it is a citywide

"The best they can accomplish is herding the homeless from one area of town
to another," said Martin. "Until there is affordable housing, or, at worst,
sufficient shelter capacity, they're going to keep playing the same game
over and over."

But while many homeless feel there are neighborhoods hostile to them, there
is growing sentiment The City is generally a splendid place to be without a

"It's the best place around to be homeless," said Michelle Eigen, who was
standing with her girlfriend, Nora Jensen, on Tuesday in the Castro. Both
girls touted The City's many services, nonprofits and churches.

"You're not going to go hungry," Jensen said, "you're not going to go cold."

E-mail: asanders@sfexaminer.com

Castro eats its young
by Cowen Conaghan

Sitting in front of Harvey's on Castro Street, resting my aching feet after
a long day of lugging around my heavy backpack, I experienced a disturbing
epiphany. I realized that the so-called gay "community," which I had
considered myself a part of since the age of sixteen, did not recognize me
as one of them, did not want me among them, because I am homeless.

This realization occurred when I was witness to a conversation between a gay
man and Officer Jane, a dyke police officer notorious among homeless youth
in the Castro for constantly telling us to "move along."

The exact progression of the conversation escapes me, but the content
remains fresh in my mind. The man asked Officer Jane how work was going, she
replied that it was going well, and the man replied with, "Yeah, it's nice
-- hardly any homeless at all." Officer Jane agreed, "Yeah, hardly any." And
then the man turned around and looked at me and said, "Except for that one
right there."

What really got me was that they made no attempt to hide their conversation
from me -- they discussed their pleasure with the lack of homeless people as
casually as they would chat about the weather. Right in front of me, as
though I were an inanimate object and not the unfortunate subject of their

So I yelled out, "Just talk about me like I'm not even here, that's nice."

The man turned around, the smug, congenial smile wiped off his face, and
stared at me silently for about ten seconds. I took the opportunity to fill
in the silence and added, "I'm not even a person, it's true." He continued
to stare, wordlessly, in complete disbelief that I, an inanimate object, a
faceless piece of street trash, had spoken to him. I'm sure he wondered to
himself whether I was a figment of his imagination, perhaps a manifestation
of his guilt, before turning back to Officer Jane to continue their friendly

I sat there, trembling inside, blood boiling, not out of anger, but the
sudden rush of understanding. These people in the Castro want me and my kind
exterminated like roaches. Because that's what we are to them -- ugly,
soulless creatures that make a mess of their little gay utopia. We're not
individuals possessed of intelligence and emotion and personality, but dirty
specks on the sidewalk, portions of a collective garbage heap that needs to
be carted out to the dump. It's a beautiful day in the Castro when the
homeless are away. Decent, apartment-renting citizens can finally enjoy
their consumer-driven, whitewashed gay-borhood.

The affluent, predominately white denizens of the gay ghetto known as the
Castro want homeless people gone, by whatever means necessary. They could
poison us all, or ship us off to concentration camps, or relocate us to
other cities so someone else can figure out how to deal with us. I honestly
believe that many of them wouldn't give a second thought to any of these
solutions. Sure, go ahead and kill 'em all, so the neighborhood can be
pretty again.

Several merchants on Castro Street have put up signs in their windows
telling people not to give money to panhandlers. This is supposed to
discourage homeless people into going elsewhere to make their money. The
Castro Merchant's Association spent over $1000 of the city's money on this
anti-panhandler campaign. A thousand dollars that could have gone towards
services for homeless people was wasted on trying to make them disappear.

A large number of supporters of Gavin Newsom's ridiculous "Care Not Cash"
initiative hail from the Castro. They believe that taking cash aid away from
homeless people will make them flee San Francisco in droves, thus relieving
Castro residents of their burden. These people apparently have so much brain
space taken over by workout regimens, club music, diet fads, and overpriced
fashion items, they don't even realize that taking money away from people
who are already poor will only create more homeless people.

Castro residents opposed the opening of Ark House, a transitional housing
center for homeless queer youth. Their reasoning was that these presumably
drug-addled, loud, destructive teenagers and young adults would disrupt the
domestic tranquility of the Castro neighborhood. Ark House was eventually
opened, and no such thing occurred. Ark House residents, for the most part,
are trying to get their lives on track, and are required to stick to a
curfew, as well as a daily schedule of activities.

Why is the Castro turning its back on future generations of the queer
community? Why are they devising strategies to get rid of us, instead of
reaching out to us and providing services to help us get back on our feet?
Part of it, I believe, is that the gay community, particularly in the
Castro, is so consumed with self-image that they must disassociate
themselves from anything that may tarnish their reputation for beauty,
success, and perfection. The gay community in this day and age is less
concerned with activism and community and liberation, and more concerned
with wealth, beauty, and fun. Homeless people, queer or not, just don't fit
into that equation.

I don't seek pity from anyone for being homeless. I don't feel that I'm
worthy of pity, in fact. I have everything that I need to survive and then
some. I don't have all the comforts of home, but I'm realizing more and more
that I don't need material things like television, a microwave, or even a
bed. What I need, and what I have now, is a community of good friends, and
lots of free time to express myself creatively and to participate in
activism and community organizing. I'm homeless and poor, but I'm far from
miserable. In fact, I'm having the time of my life and making a difference
for others in the process.

The only thing that really bothers me about being homeless is being stripped
of my humanity. When I had a home and I was hanging out in the Castro,
people didn't see me, because I was not a classically beautiful, wealthy
young gay man. Now they see me, and they think, "Ugh, look at that homeless
piece of trash. I wish it would go away." They don't even stop to think that
I could be one of them. It doesn't register a blip on their gaydar. I
couldn't possibly be a queer, I'm a non-sexual, non-sentient being, like an
amoebae. Too crazy or too stupid to hear or understand when they're talking
about throwing me away.

They're shocked to hear that we have a voice that isn't spewing nonsense or
profanity or pleas for spare change. What they don't realize is that we have
a voice that can empower and educate people into rejecting their
self-absorbed consumerist lifestyle and embracing real community instead. We
have a voice that can challenge anti-homeless initiatives like Care Not Cash
and keep the likes of Gavin Newsom out of the mayor's office. We are not
stupid, we are not silent, and we are not expendable.

I have not been back to Castro Street since that day.

Originally published in STREET SHEET
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740-voice  415 / 775.5639-fax

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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