“Rhonda’s Place.” Painting by Christine Hanlon


by Gloria Carrara

California has been my home for about 10 years now. I’ve lived in the Berkeley Hills, in Healdsburg, in Sausalito and Mill Valley, and I love the San Francisco Bay Area. Mt. Tamalpais is my view, and although I had never even seen a redwood tree before I moved out here, they are now my home.
The redwoods are not just trees; they are beings. Their bark is soft, inviting you to touch them, and they let off a quiet, calming vibration. They grow together in family circles, with the younger ones growing closer to the inner circle for protection. I love living in Marin County, where some residents let the redwood trees grow right through their homes.
Marin County, California, is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live. It is also one of the most expensive places in the world to live. I grew up in Connecticut. It’s a beautiful state, and it is by no means inexpensive to live there, but the San Francisco Bay Area blows us out of the water in comparison.
Almost any little place in San Francisco, or in Marin County, will cost you a couple million dollars. This part of our beautiful country attracts people with money. Professional, educated people from all over the world come to live and raise their children in these beautiful towns of wealth and privilege.
So why are there so many homeless people living on the streets of San Francisco? In the Bay Area, thousands are sleeping on dirty blankets, and in raggedy sleeping bags; and those are the lucky ones. Why are there so many people lying on pieces of cardboard and covering themselves up with newspapers? Are the throngs of people walking by them unable to see?
I have seen many homeless people in cities I’ve traveled to all over the world, but I’ve never seen as many as I have encountered in my time in this part of California. Not long ago, I spent some time in Colombia, South America, in the cities of Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota, and I did not see as many homeless people as I see on our streets every day.
There is an elderly woman who sits in her wheelchair every day, under the hot sun, with a sign asking for money for food. I don’t care who you are, or what you do for a living. I dare you to sit in the hot sun for three or four hours for just one day, begging for food or money, and tell me that it isn’t a harder job than what you do now.
I’m talking about all the Mill Valley folks who drive by her every day on their way to their law office or their architectural office or their tech or engineering jobs, or any other job that isn’t hard labor — and look the other way.
Later, they may justify it to their children by telling them that instead of donating to a beggar who will most likely use the money for their “alcohol or drug addiction,” they would rather donate to the school their kids are attending. Yes, that very rich school that just spent over 50 million dollars on renovations and doesn’t want for anything. Any money donated to such a school that your children attend, is like giving the money back to yourself.
How can people just walk down the street in their expensive shoes and designer jeans, on their way to their $50-per-person lunches — and not care that on the next corner, someone is asking for the leftover food from someone else’s lunch?
I personally have spent a lot of money feeding hungry homeless people on the streets. If there is a hungry person sitting outside of any restaurant I’m going to eat in, I feed them too. How can I not? How can you not? That comes nowhere near the amount of time and money my daughter has spent trying to help. She actively looks for hungry people to feed, and she never has to search long or hard.

“Where Do You Live?” Painting by Christine Hanlon

I just recently finished taking a nutrition class at a local community college. I learned a lot about nutrition, but one of the most important and tragic things I learned is that we have enough food and wealth in this country alone to end homelessness, poverty, and hunger, all over the world. Can you believe that? Can you imagine that?
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. There are 815 million people who do not have enough to eat. Sixty percent of the world’s hungry are women. Nearly one-half of all deaths in children under the age of five are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about three million young lives a year.
Enough with statistics though, because these aren’t numbers; these are people. Women and babies. Hungry, malnourished children.
We’re right back to the issue of the homeless and hungry people right in front of our eyes. I have never had a homeless person tell me they would rather have the money so they can go and buy alcohol or drugs. Everyone I have ever offered a meal to has accepted it and been very grateful.
I worked for 20 years as the Crisis Intervention Specialist for the Hartford Police Department in Connecticut. When police officers found someone who might be homeless, living under a bridge, or in an alley somewhere, they would refer him or her to us, so we could try to help the person in any way we could. So we could help them to help themselves.
I’m not saying that we don’t have a homeless problem in Connecticut. I’m just saying that being homeless in Connecticut can only be a seasonal problem. If someone is homeless in the winter in Connecticut, it can easily mean death.
We made sure these people had options and didn’t have to live on the streets if they didn’t want to. We would locate temporary shelter, and later, low-income housing, and continue follow-up.
So, what are we doing for our homeless people here in the San Francisco Bay Area? The last I heard, their encampments were being torn down with very little warning, and their extremely meager belongings were being thrown in garbage heaps. Scatter the homeless so they are not so visible? So we can make believe the problem doesn’t exist? Is that our solution?
That is why we have such a huge homeless problem in the Bay Area, one of the richest places in the world to live. People become so wrapped up in their own comfort and status that they don’t care about the human beings they are stepping over to get to wherever they are rushing.
No, I am not rich. I am retired and lucky to be able to live in such a beautiful place. How can I afford it? I live on a sailboat. It’s a little like camping, but I live on the ocean, and I see pelicans and seals and otters and blue herons, every day.
It’s still not an inexpensive life, but I only pay one-third of what I would pay for an apartment without half the view like I have of Mt. Tam. Also, I can still afford to see the people around me who are not as lucky as I am. I can still afford to help someone out.
I love California, and San Francisco, and this has become my state, but I am ashamed of the way we treat our poor and homeless population.
Please do something to help. Volunteer at a soup kitchen to see for yourself who some of these people are. Or at a health clinic that serves the poor and homeless, like my daughter does.
Donate money. There are a lot of organizations out there trying to help. If you can afford a $5 Starbucks coffee, you can afford to buy someone a sandwich or some fresh fruit.
Fight for the rights of those who can’t fight for themselves. Be grateful for all you have and get out of your own life for a moment and help someone who really needs it. Thank you!!