The rise and fall of a Polk Street hustler - Page 6

Corey Longseeker is a telling remnant of this gentrifying neighborhood's colorful past
Image by Mirissa Neff

After his string of arrests on drug charges in the late 1990s, Corey always came back to Polk Street after being released. In 1997, he was arrested, diagnosed with HIV while in jail, and sent to a psychiatric hospital.

The most recurrent theme in Corey's letters from this period were finding love and proving to himself that his love was okay. In a poem, he wrote, "God's gift a soul /it was not shattered, battered, but whole / ... My love from within /was not curse ... scattered, tattered, or sin/than [sic] I found I did win /see like yang of yin /by forgiving within /my mind and my kin. I'm forgiving their sins."

When the Rev. Megan M. Rohrer, director of the Welcome Ministry, first met him in 2001, Corey was having "loud, yelling conversations" on the sidewalk outside Old First Presbyterian Church, where he often slept at night. "He was having the conversation of the day he came out to her, and his Mom was always trying to tell him why he couldn't be gay, and why it was a bad thing. He was always trying to have the conversation that that was who he was, and it was how he loved, and he just kept having the conversation over and over and over, trying to have a different result, which never happened."

The organization formed in the late 1990s as a result of complaints about the increasing number of homeless in the area. Rohrer estimates that 98 percent of the homeless who live in the Polk Gulch and come to the Welcome Ministry have been part of the Polk Street sex work industry. Like Corey, they had aged into the general homeless population.

For four years, Rohrer tried unsuccessfully to place Corey in a hospital or get long-term treatment from the city. Ironically, it was the result of increasing neighborhood complaints that he finally found this. "The neighbors were getting really angry and wanted to get rid of the homeless from the area," Rohrer recalls. In 2005, Corey was arrested on drug charges as part of what she characterized as a sting operation.

The breakthrough came when he was arrested and declared mentally unfit to stand trial for the first time since 1997. The court sent him to Napa State Hospital, a secured mental facility where he was required to take medications. "Finally Corey was getting the mental health services he needed," she said.

In the absence of sufficient social services, this has become standard policing practice, according to Al Casciato, who heads San Francisco Police Department's Northern Station. "We do not have a front end to the criminal justice system in the health arena that allows us to take these people and put them in a secure facility," he told the Guardian.

"What happens is that we wait until they get in trouble in order to put them in jail to get them off the street and then try to get them into services. We should be trying to get them into services first, but we do not have the capacity to accept everybody into services." Even after police convince a person to use services, during the long waits due to the lack of services, sometimes months at a time, "they fall back into their pattern of either drug abuse, or if they have a mental health issue, their depression starts to spin out again."

Corey was at Napa State for nearly a year on medications. "Corey make some really good strides there," Diez said. "He was also at his artistic high points ... he built balsawood airplanes that he gave to children." When he was declared competent to stand trial and sent back to San Francisco, "he was like a completely different person," Rohrer recalled. "He was so with it. He was really clear about what he wanted and where he wanted to go."

But Rohrer spent two months navigating the bureaucracy to get Corey the medication he needed, during which he had slid back into schizophrenia and was no longer willing to take his prescriptions.