Stories of the streets
DAVID TOMPKINS: The temporary homeless shelter at Pier 80 was a place for Tompkins to find himself again. “People say I’m changing, but I’m not really changing. When you’re out there, you become something you’re not,” says Tompkins, 56. “I’m becoming me again.” The shelter allowed him to bring his dog, provided him access to a clinic and a place to sleep, and he received the care he needed.
DAWN TOWNER: With her son, David, 34, Towner had been living on the streets for a year when a Homeless Outreach Team found them at Florida and Treat streets and made them an offer they couldn’t pass up: Come to the Navigation Center, where they could not only have a place to sleep but also work with case managers. Towner, 54, and her son nearly missed their ride to the center in the Mission District, but made it. “I had to keep pinching myself because I thought that was the best that it was ever going to get again,” she says. “I was so accepting the fact that I was going to be on the street the rest of my life, and I still can’t believe that we’re here.”
CHRISTINE BOYER: “People around here are great,” says Boyer, 52. “They are very forgiving, and they help us every day. I mean every day. It’s just a normal living. Even though we don’t live in a house, it still feels more normal than it did” when her family was at an encampment on Potrero Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street. Her family now stays in the Financial District. “I keep a sign on our cart that says that we’re a homeless family with a disabled son and that we need food and blankets and clothing and stuff, and there’s always little surprise gift bags outside our cart when we get up in the mornings. Sometimes shoes, sometimes blankets, clothes, most of the time food, and there’s always at least one person a day that comes by and drops off a $20 bill.
JOHN WHITE: With Ariel Young (right), White, 51, moved to Division Street in April 2015, when a few people lived there. The couple, with Young pregnant, moved elsewhere in the Mission District after the Division Street encampment became too crowded. The city cleared Division Street in March, but other encampments have sprung up since.
TONY ROBERSON: “I’ve never seen as many tent cities up under the freeways, out at the park,” says Roberson, who is 63 and became homeless two years ago. he was priced out of his home and sees firsthand the struggles of being homeless. “You got people that are mentally disturbed,” he says. “They don’t have an advocate to speak for them, and they get frustrated and just say, ‘The hell with it,’ and they just go to the streets and that’s really sad . ... Can I see San Francisco getting any better as far as the homeless? I hope and pray. That’s all I can do. There’s a lot of things in the city that need to be fixed, but you got to do them one at a time.”
DANIEL PLEDGER: “I hate to say the American system is failing, but I think it is. I’ve been homeless since August of last year,” says Pledger, 65. “I’m on the shelter list. I was No. 785 on the list, but now I’m No. 564. San Francisco is the crazy capital, but for all that, it’s all right. I think the youth of today have isolated themselves with all their devices, and that has changed the way people treat each other. I’m an invisible man.”