As I lie here in my tent, smoking the day’s first cigarette, I think of how grateful I am that it’s raining. With the possibility of a flooded tent, soaked clothing and the chance of intensified depression due to the dark and gloomy weather, one might wonder why this homeless gal is so grateful.
I’m grateful because when it rains here in San Diego, which it so rarely does, we homeless people get to leave our tents up. It may not seem like such a big deal to those of you who live indoors. But to us homeless folks, it’s a day off and a chance to rest for once.
San Diego’s homeless population doesn’t get much of a chance to rest during the day. Any time we stop to smoke a cigarette, take a load off or even just to daydream a little bit about how life used to be and what it might be like once again, our little snippet of resting time will soon be interrupted as we hear the words, “Move along.”
Those cold and callous words come from the San Diego Downtown Partnership’s “safety ambassadors.” These people are hired to manage the homeless. They wake us up in the mornings if we are lagging and the real police are too busy to show up. It never fails that once five or so minutes passes, one or more of these rabid relocaters arrives and tells me to move along.
I have grown to hate that phrase and those like it.
“Pack up your things, take them and go.”
“Find somewhere else to hang out.”
“Vacate the area.”
“Don’t sit here.”
They always say someone has called and complained, or that they’ve been told to clear the area. It’s never clear who’s actually the one calling or telling them to herd us around. Just who the hell is doing all this calling and complaining, and when did the public sidewalks become private property?
How is it that one citizen can call the authorities on another, who is just peacefully resting on the sidewalk, and have them sent on their way?
Doesn’t the fact that it’s a public sidewalk mean that the public can use it? Am I not a member of the public? Was I not born in America, and do I not have a Social Security number? Does being homeless automatically take away my status as a public citizen? Am I allowed to rest, or do I just have to keep walking and walking?
There’s nowhere for us to go.
Lately, I have been feeling similar to the sheep in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” when they look up at the sign holding the rules and read, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
I am a 52-year-old woman. I have been living on the streets of San Diego for three years now. Each year it gets worse.
When I first became homeless, the sidewalks weren’t so heavily monitored. Fast-forward three years, and now homeless people are constantly being told to move almost every single time they sit down. It wears down one’s patience, happiness and quality of life. It makes us lose all hope.
Our feet hurt.
Just imagine being physically exhausted. You arrive to a nice shady section of sidewalk, you sit down to take a load off and within a few minutes, a safety ambassador arrives to tell you to move along.
There have been days when I have been moved so many times, I lost count. On those days, I feel like giving up altogether.
There is a sense of impending doom throughout the homeless community in San Diego lately.
We see now that moving us along public sidewalks is only the beginning. We have lost the right to rest in public areas, and now we’re being herded into homeless camps, then tents – then what?