Shelter shuffle - Page 10

Inside San Francisco's confounding system of housing the homeless
Photo by Charles Russo

What he worries about are the people who become dependant on them and refuse housing offers, although he's also thinking about ways that shelters could be more amenable.

"I'd like to look at the next step with Homeless Connect to try and institutionalize that in the way we do business specifically in the shelters," he said, imagining a shelter pilot of one-stop shopping for services.

But just three weeks into his new job Kayhan was reaching out to constituents to try to figure out what isn't working. He told us, "What I'm trying to do since I came into this position is be on the street and measure the impact the system is having on those that are on the street day in and day out and try to see what part of the system isn't working properly or needs to be resourced differently so that we don't see homeless people, long term, on the streets."

One night at MSC, in the bathroom before bed, a young woman tells me her story while I brush my teeth and she washes off her makeup. Not too long ago she drove here from Florida to meet up with her boyfriend. They were hanging out on the street one night when a cop came by, cited him for an open container, and discovered he had a warrant. Now he's in jail in San Rafael.

She started sleeping in her Suburban while she looked for job and a place to stay. One night while she slept, parked at Castro and Market, she was hit by a drunk driver. She lifts a hank of long blond hair and shows me a bright pink tear of stitches above her temple. An ambulance took her and the drunk to the hospital. Her totaled car was towed. When the hospital found out she had no place to go, it sent her here.

"Now I'm in a fucking homeless shelter," she says, genuinely aghast at the situation and truly lost about what to do. She has her bed for five more days.

She could get a job. She says, "I have hella references," from working in restaurants for years. She could sleep in one of her friends' cars, but it seems like so much work: waking up in the car, going to a resource center or shelter to wash up, then going to work.

We joke about living in the shelter. "Yeah, you can come over," she imagines telling her friends. "Dinner's at 4:30."

"You've got to leave by 10," I say.

"It'll be fun. We can hang out and smoke on the patio," she says.

I don't know what else to say, except "Good luck." I know what it's like to chase a boyfriend to San Francisco. I remember sleeping in my car when I was 21, during a strange time between graduating from college and getting a place to live for the summer in a town where housing was tight. I think about my little sister, packing up her Subaru one day and taking off to Miami, where she didn't know a soul. You have a little money, a lot of hope, and that youthful sense of invincibility, but sometimes it all comes down to luck.

I bid her good night, pack up my toiletries, and wipe my face with my shelter-issued towel. It smells vaguely of bleach and shit.

Bryan Cohen contributed to this report.