Sto­ries of the streets

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - Pho­tographed and re­ported by Lea Suzuki

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.”

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