Homeless for the holidays - Page 3

Changing demographics in the Bayview complicate city efforts to open a shelter there

On a typical night, 80 people rest in chairs at this Bayview drop-in center next door to the site of a proposed 100-bed shelter.
Photo by Xochitl Bernadette Moreno

A client of Mother Brown's talked about being homeless in the neighborhood her family had been in for generations. "My grandparents are the ones that migrated from the south, that came up here to work on those shipyards," she said. "Think about that parent who is working at McDonalds, or working a low, minimum-wage job. They can't afford the new housing that's coming in, that's being developed. Yes, we love it. We love to look at the property that we cannot live in."

Both sides made passionate pleas, but shelter supporters won over the Budget and Finance Committee.

"It's very rare that I get moved from hearing public comment. I hear a lot of public comment, and sometimes I feel like my heart is hardened to everything. But not today," Avalos said.

Farrell agreed: "It's rare that you get touched here, because we do hear so much public comment all the time. And the personal stories are pretty incredible."



Inside Mother Brown's cool blue walls, there's no shortage of incredible personal stories. Lonnel McCall took a break from helping to cook dinner at Mother Brown's kitchen to describe what the place has meant for him.

"I didn't have nothing, not even ambitions. I felt I was a loser. I had no self-esteem," he remembers. "I was smoking crack under the bridge and all that stuff."

He now has a job as a hotel chef and lives in a HOPE House home. He rolled up his sleeves to reveal cuts and burns, the battle scars of a chef.

"These are my cook wounds," he said, "instead of dope wounds."

But for a period, McCall slept in the chairs. "It's hard. Your ankles swell up," he said.

Wade Verdun also slept in the chairs and went through HOPE House.

"I've got my own place now, got my own car. I'm no longer on drugs. And I've got a two-year-old son," Verdun said. "This place saved my life, to tell you the truth." Smiling, he patted his belly. "I've never been this fat. Trust me."

If the shelter does get built, Westbrook hopes, it can lead to more happy endings like McCall's and Verdun's.There are already too many sad stories.

On Dec. 19, candles lit the dusk on the steps of City Hall in a vigil for the homeless people who have died in San Francisco. The vigil was organized by Night Ministry, a crisis intervention and counseling service that operates in the Tenderloin from 10pm to 4am. Reverend Lyle Beckman, director of Night Ministry, said that he got the names of 22 deceased homeless people from the Department of Public Health, but knew it was low. During the vigil, attendants came forward with the names of more dead, until the number reached 100.

Beckman said the crisis line gets busy this time of year. "We always see more conversations around holiday time," he said. "When people have memories of it being a family time and then they're not connected with their family in some way, it can bring isolation and loneliness."

In a city of chosen families, Mother Brown's "children" have found a way to heal that kind of loneliness. Perhaps McCall put it best when he described the first time he came back to his native Bayview and found Mother Brown's after decades of isolation.

"When I came in through the door — this is God's truth — I felt like I was at home," he said. Soon, people like McCall may find a bed, too, when they walk through that door. Maybe for Christmas 2015.


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