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: Visit the website at

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


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