Last Friday we had this homeless guy cause a big dramatic scene on our little neighborhood street. I keep thinking about it and how unfortunate the ending was for us all. I also keep thinking about what a few people have said to me regarding the incident. "The homeless are like pigeons, if you keep feeding the birds they'll keep coming back" . . .
This is a ridiculously long posting so I’m putting the bulk of it in the extended entry, click through if you're interested. . .
So what happened? It started a few weeks ago on my walk home. I noticed a street guy hosing down my neighbor's driveway using their fancy garden hose (yes, I envy their groovy coiled design). I said, "Excuse me what are you doing?" He replied in a strange skittish and stuttering speech pattern that he was hired by the lady with baby to clean her driveway. Of course that sounded super suspect, but there's not much I can do other than call him out and hope to have made the point that I can recognize his face and have an eye on him. I went inside and he was gone within a half hour. I meant to ask my neighbor about it, but of course I forgot. Last Friday I drove up to my house and the same guy was in the street with a broom. I assumed he was about to start sweeping. A few days earlier there had been a car break-in and the street directly in front of my place was filled with broken glass from the windows. I had half a mind to sweep the glass up myself since I didn't want my tires rolling over the shards, but of course I was too preoccupied to get around to it. I parked my car up on the sidewalk and he immediately came over to my car window. He started going on and on about saving the neighborhood, and all the do-gooding he'd been helping with. He introduced himself as Terry and added in some personal details about being a Vietnam vet and having a daughter. His speech was very irratic and he didn't always make sense let alone stay on topic. Clearly he's pretty messed up, either high or off his medication. He asked about Max who I was taking out of the back seat, which creeped me out. Anyway he says he'll sweep the street with the broom the neighbor lent him (making me think again that he had some sort of neighbor reference) if I'd give him a little compensation. Seemed reasonable since I wanted the glass swept anyway so I said yes and asked him how much. He said fifteen hundred dollars and my car. Huh, funny guy eh. I figured I go in the house and call my neighbor to see what arrangements she had made with him. As I took my things out of the car he spied the Tupperware container filled with left over fruit from the playgroup I had just gotten home from and asked for some. Sure I thought, I can spare a little fruit. Ooopsie, that's where the feeding the birds part came in. I then go inside and call my neighbor. It turns out she did pay him $2 to clean her driveway and she had lent him her broom. But she then confessed that he'd been really getting weird and impossible to shake and that her husband was disapproving of her having gotten involved with him and wanted him gone. While we were on the phone we're both watching him out our front windows. He'd started freaking out in the middle of street. He was lying down grabbing his legs, swinging the broom through the air (not sweeping at all!), flopping over and over from back to belly, screaming to himself, and trespassing on other neighbors property. Then he started looking really spastic and as though he was in serious pain. It kept looking worse and worse. Finally we agreed that we should call the police. Luckily my neighbor said she'd do it, though she was fearing retaliation by Terry. Another 10-15 minutes of freaking in the street transpired and finally the police and medic team arrived. Of course as she feared the police go right up and knock on her door showing Terry exactly who called the police, swell. So they then assess Terry by asking him questions and determine that although he clearly is on drugs and has serious psychiatric issues he doesn't meet their criteria for taking him in for an evaluation. I'm learning that here in San Francisco you have to be dying or waving a gun to get any real "help". They shoo Terry off (yes he takes the broom but leaves other random personal effects) and then the police leave. Not even ten minutes later he’s back and in the middle of our street screaming again, great eh?! The police were really helpful and effective and we feel soooo much safer now? My neighbor and I get on the phone again and now we're actually freaking out not knowing what to do and realizing we have no recourse. We’re still watching him out our window and comparing notes. He started to sweep up the glass, but most of the time he was just being a total maniac and it was obvious that he was pissed. Unfortunately I still needed to go out front to put my car in the garage because I had left it on the sidewalk this whole time since I was operating under the false assumption that Terry was going to sweep the street and all would be well. I summoned up the courage to go outside and face him. Interestingly enough another neighbor, a guy, was loitering on his steps surveying the situation. I have to confess that it felt safer with his eyes on the scene. Terry came toward me and starting complaining about someone having called the cops. I asked him if he was ok and said that he looked as though he didn’t seem well. He said he was fine just having trouble with pain management. Of course I wasn’t about to prolong this experience by engaging in any unnecessary conversation, so I just ignored all his continued utterances and said thank you for sweeping and handed him $3. I then jumped in my car and quickly parked it in the garage. When I got out of the car and started to go up my front steps he got in my face and started complaining about the money. He said it wasn’t enough, and that he needed new boots, and that he’d done a great job sweeping stating that it was such a difficult job and really he deserved more. Holy shit I thought this guy’s really off his rocker and potentially a real problem I may not be able to shake. Have I mentioned that my husband was out of town too? I'm home alone with a baby and a lunatic homeless man on my front steps and the police say there's nothing they can do - well until he actaully harms me or commits a crime. What a potentially scary Catch 22. Not really knowing what to do I just flipped into my hard ass mode, since my soft helping side had gotten me into this disaster, and said in a really harsh tone looking straight into his eyes said “we’re done” and then walked inside. Luckily about another 15 minutes later he gave up and left. I saw him on the next block about a half hour later on my way to dinner but I haven’t seen him since. I keep thinking about how sad it was that that by trying to help I had just created more problems for myself and my neighborhood. And even more sadly I wasn’t really helping Terry at all. Scenarios like this one are happening all over San Francisco everyday and there appears to be no solution, solid consensus or enough money to fix the problems. Fucking hell.