San Francisco Civic Center A Homeless Encampment

By | May 7, 2021 | 0 Comments

I grew up in San Francisco; my wife was born there. But when we went up the stairs of the City Hall years ago to get our marriage license, it was a different city in a different country.

Back then there were few homeless. This was not because there was less poverty – there was more. This was not because there was less racism – there was more. This was not because there was less mental illness – there was as much. This was, to some degree, because there was less drug abuse. But it was mainly because homeless simply were not tolerated.

Back then, it you went downtown at night, you would find people sleeping in doorways. We called them “bums.” From time to time, the police patrol wagon came around . We called it the paddy wagon, in an un-woke reference to Irish. Two cops would get out, put on heavy leather gloves to prevent lice infestation, and push the people into the wagon. They would be taken to jail and booked on public drunkenness or vagrancy. A nurse would check them, and those who were ill were sent to the County Hospital for free treatment.

The rest would be sentenced to 30 days on the County Farm. There they would be cleaned up, dried out, and given a clean bed and healthful food in a rural, quiet environment. Those who were able would do farm work, raising all the vegetables for the county jails and hospitals. Some would be rescued from the streets. Some would not. But for 30 days they would be off the streets. And they would have been taught that living on the street would not be tolerated.

And most important, children would grow up without having to step over prostrate human beings. Children would not become accustomed to ignoring people who might be sleeping or drunk, or on the other hand might be ill, injured, dying, or dead. We were not raising a generation of citizens who would be apathetic to human suffering and need.

Things have changed. Now we are raising such an apathetic generation. How that generation will care for us if we become homeless, disabled, or old remains to be seen. But I would not be optimistic that kids who grew up ignoring horizontal human beings would somehow mature into caring, concerned individuals.

Some see the formerly beautiful civic center of San Francisco as defiled and degraded by a homeless encampment. I see a terrible, destructive lesson being taught to our young people. What do you see? Or do you just turn away and see nothing?

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