SF Mayoral candidate goes homeless for a week: Jim Reid FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 18 Mar 1999 19:23:41 -0800 (PST)


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"Reid came home with a few ideas. If nonprofit homeless organizations get
city money, the city should send undercover checkers to see how people are
treated. Put some homeless folks to work doing laundry or building shelters
for their fellow homeless. Build affordable housing, however humble. Bring
shelters up to basic code, with smoke alarms and sprinklers, because the
homeless are flammable, too. Bring all the disparate homeless services
together, coordinate efforts." -- from article below

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/1999/03/02/MN8213
2.DTL&type=printable
FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - March 2, 1999 Page A3

     GOING HOME SADDER BUT STREET-WISER

     Scott Ostler

Jim Reid went homeless for a week in San Francisco to see what it was like.

A few days into his adventure, Jim was waiting in a food line when he
caught a glimpse of a real homeless face. It was scruffy, of course, but
Reid also saw sadness, despair, anger.

The face surprised him because it was his, reflected in a window. It wasn't
the friendly, go-get-'em face he has come to know fairly well through
shaving.

When you're in the gutter pecking with the pigeons, it's tough to look like
an eagle.

Reid went homeless during a cold snap, because what was he going to do,
change his plans because the weather got ugly? Phone his travel agent?

He put on old clothes, evicted himself from his comfy apartment and hit the
skids.

Why? Why not? Everyone talks about the homeless, but much of it is pure
babble. It's like guys sitting around talking about the pain of giving
birth.

Reid has an agenda. A year ago his best friend died of a heart attack at
43. A silent alarm went off. Reid, 46 and a successful contractor for 20
years, retired. He decided that instead of devoting his life to earning
money to buy stuff, what the hell, why not work to create change?

I'm not sure Reid's focus is razor sharp yet. He ran for supervisor, got a
fair amount of votes, and now he's running for mayor, announcing today on
the City Hall steps.

Last year, he graffiti'd a cigarette billboard to protest the message and
the city's nonenforcement of cig-ad laws.

The judge gave Jim a month of home detention, but he opted for a month in
the city jail, to see what it was like. He staged a hunger strike to bring
attention to his tobacco protest, so they threw him in the slammer's psych
ward.

But he's no psycho. He's just examining the problems so he can help solve 'em.

``When I was a contractor,'' he says, ``if I couldn't solve the problem, I
didn't get paid.''

And the homeless have problems. Like blankets. Nine nights in shelters, and
Reid scored a blanket only three times. They were thin and holey.

Not that it was cold in the shelters. But the blanket is a cocoon, your
home within the home for the homeless, where you get a short cot, no
pillow, and you're packed together like chocolates in a box.

Reid says people cough like crazy in the shelters and tend not to cover
their mouths, and there are lights on all night.

``I covered my head with my jacket,'' he says. ``Keeps the light out, and
maybe the germs.''

Simple dignity was hard to come by.

``Half the people you deal with (at the shelters) are really good,
caring,'' Reid says. ``The other half are burned out, rude.''

He found dignity at St. Anthony's in the Tenderloin.

``They go out of their way to be polite. Glide (Memorial) is just as good.
At `A Man's Place,' they had a program I wanted to participate in. They
told me to see the man in the glass office. I knocked on his window and he
shooed me away.''

Little problems become big on the street. Laundry. It might cost you $5 to
do a load at a Laundromat.

Bathrooms. The Main Library's rest rooms are getting trashed. The
port-a-Willy pay toilets on the streets are OK, but too often Reid found
'em occupied by drug-shooters and hookers with clients.

Contrary to what your local panhandler might tell you, Reid says food is
not a problem.

``If you're homeless in this city, it's impossible to starve,'' he says.
``There's so much food. So if someone on the street says they're hungry,
either they're new in town or they're lying.''

He compiled a mental Michelin guide to food and shelter. The Episcopal
Sanctuary at Eighth and Howard gets high marks.

``The cook has a pot belly and I guess he wants you to have one,'' Reid
says. ``Very nice guy, and he really loads you up. He gave me six hot
dogs.''

Reid came home with a few ideas. If nonprofit homeless organizations get
city money, the city should send undercover checkers to see how people are
treated.

Put some homeless folks to work doing laundry or building shelters for
their fellow homeless. Build affordable housing, however humble. Bring
shelters up to basic code, with smoke alarms and sprinklers, because the
homeless are flammable, too. Bring all the disparate homeless services
together, coordinate efforts.

Reid met one man who was scornful of his expedition.

``He told me I couldn't experience the hopelessness of being homeless
because I wasn't hopeless.''

The man was unclear on the concept. People like Reid are the hope for the
hopeless.

END FORWARD

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**


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