Struggling on the Streets Without the Right to Rest

Lucy is 76 years old, and she is way past tired. Years of living on the streets have taken an irreparable toll on her. She slowly walks down a busy downtown street in San Francisco.

Story by Janny Castillo

With three plastic bags in one hand, two in the other, she wobbles as she walks, concentrating on shifting her weight to lessen the pain in her arthritic knees.

Lucy has a large, stained, duffel bag swung over her shoulder filled with, among other precious things, her medications and her paperwork on her Social Security case. Can’t go anywhere without that, no way.

Head bent and shoulders hunched, she tries to stay out of the way of people walking around her. With no money, she walks where she needs to go. Today she walks 15 long blocks from the alley where she felt safe enough to sleep in last night.

Lucy was making her way to St. Anthony’s to eat and to ask a staff person to call Social Security again. The pain in her back and legs is excruciating. She needs to sit down and take a break soon.

She walks by several blocks of people-filled benches and bus shelters. She can’t go any further, so she lowers herself to sit down on the sidewalk in front of a coffee shop. She whispers softly to herself, “Just for a minute … just for a minute.”

After two minutes, her head slips down onto her shoulder as she falls into an exhausted sleep.

Lucy is abruptly awakened by a young man in a police uniform, poking at her and telling her she can’t sit here, telling her to move on.

Sleeping Homeless woman Photo by  Edal Anton Lefterov

Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov

 

Frightened, she struggles to apologize. “Sorry, sorry,” she says. Fighting the pain in her knees and a sense of deep shame, she pulls herself up to her feet.

She picks up her bags, slings the heavy duffel bag over her shoulder and continues to walk down the street of a city that pays attention to her only when they do not want to see her.

Janny Castillo is the Hope and Justice Coordinator at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland. Contact: jcastillo@stmaryscenter.org. Visit the website at www.stmaryscenter.org

Read Janny Castillo’s article about the campaign to win the right to rest: A Right Delayed Is a Right Denied

Tags:

Society’s Failure to Care Is the Root of Homelessness

In one of the richest places in the world, people become so wrapped up in their own comfort and status that they don’t care about the human beings they are stepping over.

Visionary Art of Leon Kennedy

In Leon Kennedy’s painting, his living friends are portrayed next to long-gone elders and assassinated civil rights leaders. Even death does not shatter the bonds of love and community.

Welcome to Homelessness

The worst thing about homelessness, I sensed, would have nothing to do with bad weather, hunger or sleep deprivation. It would be the way I soon would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

Big Money Spends a Fortune to Fight Rent Control

Wealthy landlords, realtors and developers have teamed up and are spending a fortune to fight the efforts of renters to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, the law that severely limits the rent control options of California cities. Tenants have also launched rent control campaigns in 10 California cities.

Vicious and Cruel Assault on the Poorest of the Poor

Elected leaders of the national tenants union denounced the housing bill proposed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson as a vicious and cruel assault on the poorest of the poor. “Millions will be displaced if these deeply cruel proposals see the light of day. Congress should reject them out of hand.”

The DBA’s Assault on Free Speech in Berkeley

The DBA launched a new poster destruction policy, despite being warned it was unconstitutional by the City Attorney. Tearing down fliers is a textbook example of a free speech violation. No one has the right to make content-based distinctions about what is allowed to be posted or said in legal, public places.