I arrived in San Francisco last Tuesday night, and took the BART subway train to the stop nearest my hotel (which was about 4 blocks away).
I exited the escalator at street level carrying 2 bags, and surely looked confused as I looked for street signs that would help me determine my location.
I was a sitting target.
No sooner had I stepped off the escalator when a kind, homeless, person approached me to offer assistance … with the expectation that I would pay him for the consultation. I tried to resist by telling him that I knew where I was going, and that I would find my way.
While looking down the street I had intended to follow, he said, “Don’t go down that way, there is drug dealing going on down there.” To which I responded, “Oh, I ain’t worried about any drug dealing on the street, I think that’s the way I want to go.”
At that point he got insistent and a bit aggressive, saying “Listen, I am the best dressed homeless person in San Francisco … you should go a different way.”
Well, I did not want to argue with him … and I appreciated the fact that he was not just looking for a handout, that he actually provided directions for an expected tip … so I pulled out a dollar and said, “Okay, what way do you want me to go?” It was nearing dusk as I headed in the direction he suggested.
Today I am returning home, and when I left the hotel for the walk back to the BART station I decided to walk through the neighborhood that my homeless consultant tried to steer me away from. I assumed that he had mentioned drug dealing to ingratiate himself for the purpose of earning a tip, I reasoned that it was merely an effective sales technique. And I knew that there was nothing to fear when I got a half block away from the hotel and passed a young couple pushing a baby carriage.
Then I turned left on Eddy Street.
Suddenly the crowd looked different. Not only were there a number of homeless people gathered in the area, several other individuals were standing on the sidewalk not looking drunk or disheveled. As I walked toward those standing on the sidewalk, no one moved to get out of my way. They gave me a long stare, but one unlike the type of stare that a homeless person gives you.
Honestly, I felt a little fearful at that moment.
Instead of walking into the street to bypass the unmovable crowd, I decided to squeeze through a small opening. I was pulling one suitcase behind me, and I had one large bag slung over my shoulder. As I made my squeeze, the bag on my shoulder smacked a tall dude right in the back.
Fortunately, that was not the end of me. I apologized, and continued on my way.
As I spied several homeless people scattered in front of me, I thought, “What will I do if they all ask me for money at once?” I actually carry a pocketful of change in the city so that I always have something to give, but I did not want to create a scene and gather a crowd around me. So I did what most people in the city do, I stared straight ahead and quickened my pace.
I realize that there are a lot of con artists on the street, but homeless people are just like home-full people in that they need to feel trusted and appreciated.