The March 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Truth About Care Not Cash

Resistance to Brown's Curfew

No Millionaire Left Behind

Bush Policies Punish the Poor

Bush Rigs U.S. Society for Rich

SOS! Save Our Services

Faith Reflection on Bush Budget

Plan to End Homelessness in Ten Years

Counted Out in San Francisco

Artist Portrays Act of Giving

Berkeley Protest Demands Shelter from the Storm

Transformation of Dignity Village

George Wynn's Homeless Fiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.


Back to the Streets

A book by George Wynn

Review by TJ Johnston

"Last summer under the shade of a tree on the Boston Common, I spoke often with a man who'd been homeless for ten years. He was in his late fifties and had an alcohol problem. He described the daily humiliating routine of checking in and out of the shelter at night and morning. Food and clothes were available to him as well as a bed. Yet when he got up to leave he'd say, 'Back to the concentration camp.' He was so articulate about his life in the shelter that it was as if he'd allowed me to visit his reality."
-- from "Poverty and Language," by George Wynn

The reality of this unidentified homeless person mirrors that of George Wynn's characters in Back to the Streets, a collection of stories, essays and poems in which he fabricates a vivid reality of society's dispossessed. It has just been published by Freedom Voices in San Francisco.

George Wynn has been writing for the street papers of North America for over seven years. Many of the stories and poems in Back to the Streets were first published in Street Spirit. In 1997, he won first prize in the Boston street paper Spare Change's essay contest.

Many of the stories are set in Boston and some were first printed in Spare Change; they've also seen publication in Bay Area counterparts Street Spirit and Street Sheet. "Exiled and Eyeless" and "Dinner in Chinatown" depict Beantown's gentrification impacting on those not affluent enough to live in the Back Bay neighborhood or attend the city's universities.

But the travails of the down-and-almost-out aren't just confined to New England environs. They fit just as easily in Texas, Seattle, Montreal or, for that matter, San Francisco. Wynn reminisces of the San Francisco of his youth in his poem "Radio Trance": "Restless Tenderloin room/ On Golden Gate roof/ Listening to Stella Dallas/ Dusty silver radio."

Wynn was born in Russia, grew up in San Francisco and lived in Boston for 23 years. Upon his return to the Bay Area, he observes the proportionate increase in homelessness and hostility towards the homeless. In the poem "San Francisco, New Year," Wynn beseeches:
"Who swallowed up peace?/ What happened to love everybody?/ What happened to the new age?"

He displays the grit in this picture: "Hobbled men piss between dumpsters/ Grizzled men piss on every corner/ Restless Men in Blue-clean shaven-/ stampede homeless folk through Tenderloin/ alleyways to Market Street encampments/ Without pity/ Tinged with blood."

In "UN Plaza: A City Attacks The Poor," Wynn points out that such harassment of indigents belies San Francisco's image as a beacon of tolerance. The Proclamation of the United Nations (founded in S.F. in 1945) is etched on UN Plaza. The lofty ideals espoused are but mere words in a city where the desperately poor have their human rights ignored.

However, the humanity of Wynn's fictional outsiders is acknowledged. Behind every person written off as a statistic in a head count, there is an individual's story, and Wynn aspires to detail that person's own narrative.

Aside from immediate housing, each person longs for a human connection. When it is received, it could take the form of language lessons (and food) in "The Chinese Teacher" or even justice afforded an ex-football player who is falsely accused of avoiding payment on a meal.

In this milieu, literary references abound. Wynn's street characters read and cite Camus, Proust, Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Nikos Kazantakis. Literature is a respite, compulsion or redemption. Note Dexter from "Keyboard Jockey." A former journalist, he doesn't let his hard times deter him from writing or taking the young narrator under his wing.

In his essays, Wynn charges the reader to recognize the humanity of the persons who experience homelessness and teaches us to heed those who want to write about their condition. His language is obvious and lucid and urges the would-be street writer toward similar clarity in his/her advocacy. By the same token, he also recognizes that the voluntary silence of the homeless person is also valid and must be respected: "While personal experience of the homeless may be related vividly or kept private, language in defense of the homeless and advocacy for the homeless must be direct and aggressive."

Wynn acutely observes the hopes and despairs of the downtrodden and, need it be said, his book makes a damn fine read.

Back To The Streets by George Wynn is available from Freedom Voices, San Francisco. See

Lonesome Tracks
by George Wynn

she has a gold soul
with no party to go to
or De Maupassant necklace to wear
she has seen too much, she has suffered
the counterblow of homelessness
she is your mother, your sister, your daughter

invite her home, invite her to a party
when she's blue and lost in memory
wrapped around a bench
like a woman grasping for a former lover

the faces change -- painted
unpainted but the weighed-down
undiscovered women of Gauguin's dreams
come and go up and down Market Street fog
like the historic green and orange F street cars
only the street cars are not lost

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Editor : Terry Messman

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