Wealthy San Francisco is where elderly homeless women sit at bus stops all day waiting for shelter beds.
By Evelyn Nieves
March 12, 2014
The sanctuary at Saint Boniface Church looks like a Red Cross center after an earthquake. People are sleeping two to a pew, spread out on blankets on the ceramic floor in the back of the church, or slumped, chins on their chests, on chairs by the old confessionals.
It’s noon, but that’s like midnight in the upside-down world of the people who wait awake all night in alleys, under bridges, in doorways and, more and more, on the sidewalks, for somewhere they can sleep in peace. At 6am, when Saint Boniface opens its massive oak doors, a few dozen people are already waiting to get inside. They keep straggling in all morning, claiming their spot on hard benches designed to keep people awake. Some take a break late morning and get on the block-long lunch line across the street at the St. Anthony Foundation, which feeds 2,600 people a day. Others sleep the sleep of the dead until 3pm, when everyone has to leave to survive another day and night on the streets.
Yes, this is San Francisco, booming techtropolis of new brew pubs, fusion cuisines and $2,000-a-month studio apartments. It’s also a city where elderly homeless women sit at bus stops all day waiting for shelter beds; where an encampment of 10 homeless men and women kicked out of a patch of dirt next to an overpass now live under that overpass; and where pup tents are popping up on leafy, tree-lined streets.
The city has been getting lots of attention since the Brookings Institution announced last month that San Francisco is the nation’s capital of growing income inequality, with more haves next to more have-nots than anywhere else in the country, even New York. The culture war in neighborhoods like the Mission District, the heart of the heart of the high-tech bubble, has gotten fierce. Resentment over the big white buses that pick up and drop off workers from Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to the Mission, is so pervasive, it’s almost a cliche. Reporters hoping to document the divide keep dropping by, from all over. The other day, a Japanese news crew and a French freelance videographer jostled for position at a busy corner on Mission Street. Both wanted to film workers getting off a Google bus and an elderly couple peddling Mexican pastries on the corner at the same time. Haves, have-nots, bingo.