root - Posted on 03 September 2009

A Sequel to "Whose Budget? OUR BUDGET!"

by By Thornton Kimes/PNN

Part 1: Moi?

I started seriously wanting to conquer my 3-to-5-year cycle of employment-to-crash-landing-and-start-over-from-scratch (from the proverbial grassy roots, the streets) Summer 2008, after the end of the Goodwill job mentioned in “Who’s Budget? Our Budget!”

How does “success” in life, by anyone’s standard, happen when you don’t have a coherent “this is how we do it” handbook in your head—-primarily put there by parents? I was born a middle class white guy. The white’s still there but the middle class status got squeezed out like lemon juice into ice tea over 30 years.

I was allowed to quit and not succeed at many efforts after turning 8 years old and being a Christmas season Nutcracker recital clown. A terrified clown. Boy #3 of what began as 4 boys in a ballet class I wanted to be in for all of 5 seconds of jealousy over my sister being a ballerina. We mutinied at least once. Didn’t work. We lived.

My parents quit too--divorce. College was a family thing and it became my thing too, except that I didn’t understand how much work any success requires at the adult level of the game of life. Didn’t work.

I lived. The silver lining is that like many people I’m stubborn about surviving and finding ways to rescue myself—-with a little help—-from both self-inflicted and Capitalism-inflicted failure and doom and gloom.

The San Francisco version of Economic Doom And Gloom 101 and the Budget Ballet of Horror (you know what I mean—-ballet is at least as mysterious as opera without a guide who speaketh the language), the Gavin Newsom Show—-with or without Stimulating Stimulus Stuff to Stymie Sticker Shock and Giant Sucking Sounds—-makes bouncing back from demolition, disruption, despair, doom and gloom, so much tougher than it has to be.

I’m reminded of what it was like to be homeless in San Francisco in 1989 and 1994. Gavin Newsom has re-set the computer clock back to the Bad Old Days that got us the Gospel of Social Services According to Frank Jordan, Art Agnos and other Patron Saints of Not Allowing The Dirty Horrible Aggressive Panhandlers And Other Bad Poor People To Spend Our Tax Money The Same Old Same Old Way blah blah blah alakazam alakazotz Care Not Cash not lots of care and cash not lots.

The only difference is now all the shelters that exist (which, of course, aren’t enough) are linked by computer, and all the shelters that exist are under the thumb of you-know-who and the staffs of all the shelters that exist are so demoralized and overworked (remember that word “decimation” from “Who’s Budget? Our Budget!”?) they don’t have much reason to accurately count empty vs. full beds—-so we have a constant low-intensity-conflict war of words over beds and people wanting to fill them often don’t.

Part 2: Us!

In 1989 and 1994 I wandered the streets with crews of homeless friends met by happy accident until I respectively left town and decided I’d had enough “vacation time” the hard way and it was time to do what I had to do to get employed, housed, etc. Several times in ’94 it seemed like my bed for the night would be cold concrete except for 10 or 11p.m. late night luckiness for me and other folks leading to floor space at what is now Next Door Shelter.

The only time I’ve actually slept out was one night in some bushes in a park in Denver, CO, after a friend of a homeless friend went Mini-Me Incredible Hulk on us for some reason probably having to do with alcohol, and destroyed the door of his apartment we’d been hoping to crash in for the night.

In 1989, to get one particular shelter for a week at a time you walked to a church in Chinatown hoping to be early enough to get the limited largesse ticket to the Ozanam Center on Howard Street. Ozanam was half night shelter for homeless men and a detox center. That was an “interesting” experience, trying to sleep while someone on the other side of the building “entertained” (us…) the staff trying to admit them to detox from various substance abuses. Ozanam was also a daytime drop-in center. Now it’s detox only.

There used to be a small shelter on Ellis or Eddy Streets in the Tenderloin (it’s hard to remember exactly where) behind a security gate and a walkway to a door you passed only if the ticket lottery worked in your favor. People there kept trying to convince me I snored so they could sleep. I didn’t believe it. I do now, but you have to wake yourself up from almost-sleep to get to that particular strange-sounding truth.

Next Door Shelter used to be Multi-Service Center North. In 1994 you could get case management beds, but temporary beds could also be had on the same upper floor that was, at the time, dominated by a fearless semi-volunteer, semi-staff member (I never quite knew exactly what his status there was) latino gay guy who didn’t take any crap from anybody and also made the chaos considerably more bearable (at least to me) by the force of his outrageous personality alone.

Other folks pulled the crooked straw and slept on the floor downstairs, along with the less than 10 lucky late nighters filling up unused space.

If that’s the system you have, what you’re used to enduring, and it makes some sort of sadistic sense, well, okay, you can and will endure and survive and the most stubborn (and lucky) will move on to something better. The rest will just suffer.

If that’s the system you have, computer linked and effed up even when the local and national economies are nice and fluffy, people can and will endure the worst crap humans do to other humans (until they don’t and die), but in this 21st Century in a city that howls to the heavens about being “WORLD CLASS”—-can’t we do better? Can’t we do it even if the city budget makes metaphysical giant sucking sounds?


I have one clue what we can do in the short term until the various Federal Stimuli tickle the nation and start Making It All Better, though that clue includes a long-term poke in the eye for some folks.

Sometimes I take the #49 MUNI bus from Eddy Street and Van Ness Avenue, a block and a half from my SRO hotel, to get to Poor Magazine. Eddy and Van Ness. Big unused empy building in front of bus stop. CLUE!

Part 3: Brave New World?

I’m working on my personal “doing better” project. The San Francisco welfare PAES (Personal Assisted Employment Services) program offers clients 3 options after going through 5 weeks (it used to be 12. Long. Weeks. Of. Boredom. and. Occasional. Weirdness.) of mandatory meetings and computer lab mini-job website surf-a-thons: 1) look for work immediately cuz yer ready dang it!; 2) enroll in a job training or on-the-job-training and/or internship-hopefully-leading-to-employment thing; 3) counseling therapy before either of the above.

Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Sanity sounds like a good thing to me. I chose Door Number 3. I wonder if we’ll ever go through some national form of Capitalism Therapy?

My PAES case monster, ah, um, manager, told me scare stories about the therapy program, no doubt to save San Francisco a few dollars by encouraging me to, as Monty Python loved to say—“Run Away!”, join the circus, get ah jhob. I’m well aware of how I got to this place, sometimes it feels odd to do this therapy thing, but I’m also not interested in making more bad choices and decisions—-while San Francisco, California, and the country don’t quite know what’s what either.

When I was still a client of Goodwill in early 2005, just before the confusing, excrutiating process (confusing only because prior to this experience I’d never waited longer than 1 to 2 weeks to know if I’d been hired) that led from discovering I could go after a position as a full-on employee there to actually hearing I was ready to rock ‘n roll, one of the employment specialists asked me a question depressingly familiar to anyone who’s been through any of “this."

Would I try to get hired to be a fast-food industry worker just to git ah jhob, make ends meet, etc., while using days off to find something better? I said no. I’d rather be homeless and back in the Next Door shelter than do something I knew without a doubt I’d hate. They stopped pushing that idea.

The E.D.D. “One-Stop” little shops of employment horror, specifically the one at Cesar Chavez and Mission Streets, are and were a mandatory visit to the Twilight Zone about the same time. I’d scored very well at speed and accuracy on word processor keyboards (funny how speed tests make you feel like you’re about to be a disaster but you’re hands are magic typing stories like this one…) in the Goodwill computer skills classes. I was not so speedy for the E.D.D. test.

What followed was…sitting waiting for my name to be called for well over an hour. I called attention to this and the E.D.D. staff didn’t have a clue who I was. The Goodwill employment specialist crew only acted befuddled by the whole thing (Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny…).

Fast forward to today. Several months ago Mark Williams was part of Poor Magazine, an SRO Collaborative tenant rep, a man with way too much stuff to do—-including making his PAES case monster happy.

He got a job with Episcopal Community Services (who I met with recently only to discover that they weren’t offering much in the way of training programs and their computer lab was only doing basic skills classes…) working at their Sanctuary shelter, vanished from Poor Magazine and I’ve seen him only briefly twice while using a computer or making a phone call from a Collaborative phone.

PAES put pressure on him, but he’s not unhappy, is doing well and being an advocate for people’s stories to be told effectively, if at all possible, by the mainstream news media.

More folks need happy outcomes, less stress, less crap, indifference and interference from any and all of the power players they must deal with-—directly and indirectly.

That’s what I’m looking for too.


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