A Cup of Coffee

When I became poor, I learned that there are big jars of sugar and entire pitchers of milk available free to anyone who buys a cup of coffee. You can add enough sugar (carbohydrate) and milk (protein and fat) to relieve your hunger for a couple of hours.

The cup of coffee was a way to rent a table at which to sit while I waited. And beyond these reasons, coffee assumes a special importance when you are as poor as I.

by Howard Tharsing (Dasman)

 

Yesterday afternoon I sat at a table on the sidewalk in front of the Maxwell’s House of Caffeine on Dolores Street at 17th in San Francisco. I had spent my last two dollars on a cup of coffee and sat with my two bags, one of which holds three days worth of clean clothes, while the other holds my papers, the books I am reading, stationery, stamps, notebooks, tools (tiny LED flashlight, screwdriver, etc.) and toiletries.

I had spent my last two dollars on coffee for a couple of reasons. For one, I was tired and yet not ready to rest (that is, I had no place to rest, no place to go except the street). For another, I wanted to stay within a few blocks of where I was while waiting for a return call from a friend who lives around the corner.

The cup of coffee was a way to rent a table at which to sit while I waited. And beyond these reasons, coffee assumes a special importance when you are as poor as I.

I grew up drinking coffee black. I even believed in the moral superiority of those who drink coffee black. I looked down on those who polluted the brew with cream and sugar as weaklings who could not take the real thing.

But when I became poor, I quickly learned that there are big jars of sugar and entire pitchers of milk available free to anyone who buys a cup of coffee. If you can get the barista to leave enough room in the cup, you can add enough sugar (carbohydrate) and milk (protein and fat) to relieve your hunger for a couple of hours.

So there I sat, sipping my meal and reading the novel I had checked out from the library.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an African-American man pulling himself along the sidewalk sideways. He approached me deferentially.

“ ‘Scuse me, sir,” he said. “I’m not tryin’ to rob you or nothin’.”

“Oh,” I said, “I know that.”

“Do you have a dollar or a quarter you can spare?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t,” I said.

He had not paused for my reply but continued his probably oft-repeated appeal.

“ ‘Cause I just got released —”

I cut off his pitch.

“Yeah, I got released two days ago,” I said.

His tone of voice changed completely, no longer pleading but simply direct and familiar. “From where?” he asked.

“Bruno,” I said, dropping the “San” from the name of San Francisco County Jail 5, which is in the city of San Bruno, and thereby establishing my bona fides as a former inmate.

“And now I’m homeless,” I went on, “and this cup of coffee is my dinner.”

He looked at me kindly as he slid past me, continuing to sidle down the sidewalk on his way. As he passed me he leaned in close, tapped me gently on the shoulder with a closed fist, and spoke softly, close to my ear.

“Take it easy,” he said.

“You too, brother,” I heard myself reply as he walked away.

It was the first time in my life that I had ever called a black man “brother,” and I had done so instinctively, without thinking.

As much as I might have wanted to use that term in the past, I had always felt self-conscious and afraid of giving offense. The shame of privilege had restrained me. That shame had kept me from expressing a common humanity into which my incarceration had now set me free.

_______________________

 

Hurrying Past a Brother or Sister

by Michael L. Palmer

On the way to work I saw a homeless man flatten a piece of cardboard he had retrieved from a recycling bin. With intense concentration he wrote on it his plea for survival.

I walked by another homeless man who was securing things to his bicycle. I think they were all of his worldly possessions. He complained, talking to the air surrounding him, about being harassed every morning by another man who stood in an alley across the street.

I watched people hurry along the sidewalk. I saw some of them descend below the street to the BART station where they will board a train that will take them to their place of work.

Hurrying to the train out of fear of becoming one of those who hold up a cardboard sign on the sidewalk, gazing into the eyes of those who pass by, hoping for salvation. Hurrying out of fear of becoming one of those they avoid, one of those they wished did not exist.

Writing for the Street Spirit: My 17 Year Journey

Writing for Street Spirit has awakened in me a sense of responsibility toward others. Street Spirit is a way for people silenced by big money and big media to have a voice.

Animal Friends: A Saving Grace for Homeless People

“I wrapped her in my jacket and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

Tragic Death of Oakland Tenant Mary Jesus

Being evicted felt like the end of her life. As a disabled woman, she saw nothing ahead but a destitute life on the streets. She told a friend, “If I’m evicted tomorrow, I have no choice but to kill myself. I have no resources, no savings, no money, and nowhere to go.”

They Left Him to Die Like a Tramp on the Street

Life is sacred. It is not just an economic statistic when someone suffers and dies on the streets of our nation. It is some mother’s son, or daughter. It is a human being made in the image of God. It is a desecration of the sacred when that life is torn down.

Joy in the Midst of Sorrow in Santa Maria Orphanage

This amazing priest not only housed 300 orphaned children from the streets of Mexico City, but he also took care of 20 homeless elders in his own house and started a home for children dying of AIDS. Father Norman also ran a soup kitchen that fed many people in the village.