Hole in the street - Page 3

How one homeless man's death impacted the various Haight Street communities he looked after

He was like a sober guru to me — I knew him as a very stable, rock-solid person."

Then, around 1998, things started to go downhill. His AA sponsor died of cancer; his wife left him; and the VA screwed up his bipolar meds. Cummings became increasingly isolated. He stopped attending meetings and moved out of the Haight, first to work as a building manager in SoMa and then to pursue a love interest in Mill Valley. "I went over to visit him one day, and he was drinking Coors," Scheer says. "This was my mentor from AA, so it was a little bit shocking." When Scheer left that evening, Cummings gave her a few of his belongings, including a stack of blankets. "I thought that was significant, because he always took care of me," Scheer says. "Blankets symbolize warmth and comfort, and he had always given me that. That was the last time I saw him before he ended up on the street again."

Cummings returned to the Haight around 2000, but this time he was drunk and high and incoherent. "When you're that kind of addict, you don't just start drinking a little wine," Scheer says. Cummings eventually ended up at the horseshoe pit, where he was reunited with some old AA friends who had also relapsed. And that's where he lived for the last seven years of his life.

Despite recent city efforts to abolish camping in Golden Gate Park, Cummings continued to live in the bushes, often changing location to avoid getting caught. "It's completely illegal for people to live in the park," Rose Dennis, director of communications at San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department, told us. "But if you've been on the streets for seven years, you become resilient."

Alioto told us she has no problem with homeless people not wanting a roof over their heads. "If a person truly wanted to live on the street, there is nothing we can or should do," she told us. "They have a constitutional right to live and travel."

On the outside, Cummings the homeless guy was nothing like Cummings the sober guru, but he continued to help people with drug and alcohol problems. "Peter helped a lot of kids get out of bad situations," Jerry told us. "He was in the Coast Guard, so he knew all the vital signs. He saved a lot of lives, including mine — twice. I owe him a pair of Levi's from the time I bled all over his after falling down a 30-foot cliff."

Cummings apparently overdosed just a few feet south of the horseshoe pit that had seduced him back into this lifestyle. The week after Cummings died, the Hayes entrance of Golden Gate Park was eerily quiet. "The park is like a cemetery," Jerry said with tears in his eyes. "Everyone's walking around like corpses." His homeless friends scattered to mourn the loss of a friend and source of nourishment in their own way. "When you're living on the streets, people are dying left and right," Scheer says. "And when that happens, you just want to get loaded and forget about everything."

Residents of the North Panhandle didn't have a reason to stop here anymore either." I used to sit on the bench and just talk to him," Christian Blaafjell says. "He was crazy, but he was great. I miss him." Even Andrews is well aware of the impact Cummings's passing will have on the community. "He was the leader of this pack," he says. "I don't know what's going to happen to these guys over here." He pauses. "Hopefully, they'll leave."

The sight of Cummings limping down Hayes Street might have looked bad for the city, but the services he offered to its most fallen people were indispensable. "Maybe he was just doing his job," says James Warren, a friend from Cummings's AA days. "Maybe what he learned from the program, he took to the streets.