I realize that these travel journals lean toward the comedic. Yet I was literally propelled out of bed last night with a force beyond myself to write this post regarding an observation I made after I landed in San Francisco. I was always struck, whenever I traveled to our San Francisco office, by the number of homeless so visible on city sidewalks here. It’s been a few years though, and nothing has changed. Some of these people clearly are struggling with mental illness and wander through the streets talking and approaching you. But last night I was struck more by what I saw than what I heard. There was a man walking down the sidewalk in long denim shorts. It’s chilly here in San Francisco. Fifty degrees or so. And this man’s legs were bare from nearly his knees to his ankles. What caught my eye though was the state of the exposed portion of his calves. Black and blue. What I can only describes as near holes in his legs with bruises and damages and injuries that I couldn’t imagine the cause. The only word that sprung to my mind while I was typing this post was “brutalized.” It looked as though his legs had been through a war.
As a mother of three, often bruised, toddlers, I reach for band-aids and Neosporin and kisses to fix boo-boos. But here was this man, picking up tid-bits from the sidewalk, nearly side-swiped by my cab driver as he stepped off into the street, who needed so much more than that. He needed a doctor. And I wanted to take him to one. Someone to tend to his wounds to keep them from further infection. Someone to bandage his injuries, partially for healing and partially so I wouldn’t be forced to look at them
I found an article, as I was writing my post, that said the number of homeless hit a record high in San Francisco last year. They are home less. Without a home. I can’t fathom that. No matter how poor we were, we always had a roof, even if it was with my grandparents. We always had an option. In reading the article about the homeless, the one this man with the beaten legs had triggered me to search for, I discovered that there are 1.5 million children in American without homes. These are kids without a home. Can you just take a minute to internalize that statement? While your children are tucked in their beds, there are millions of Americans without a home, a roof, a bed, a bathroom, a doctor, a safe place? The wait list, WAIT list, for a shelter in San Francisco is six months. The wait list to find a temporary place where you can sleep on a cot and take a shower is SIX months. Six. Months.
It’s not just San Francisco. It’s everywhere. But this man, with no access to a home or a doctor or a band-aid, reminded me that it’s in my backyard no matter where I am. That person, the nameless guy with the sign at the intersection, he has a story. He has a need. And we’ve all become immune. Or at least I have.