The rise and fall of a Polk Street hustler - Page 7

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

"It was like watching Corey emerge in this beautiful way and then to disappear," Rohrer said. He's never been back on medication, and his condition has not improved.

Rohrer was able to find him housing in a nearby SRO hotel through the Homeless Outreach Team, instituted in 2004 as part of Care Not Cash — part of a dramatic move indoors for the homeless in the area. It was an improvement from the streets, on which the supportive "street families" had now broken down. But it's unclear whether Corey is capable of living on his own, or whether the case managers assigned to him are sufficient.

"They weren't there," Diez says. "Because I was vacuuming his floor, I was cleaning his sink, I was taking his dirty clothes out. As much as I hate to say it, Corey needs to be in a medical facility where he can have some psychiatric help."

When I visited Corey in his apartment a few months ago, cartoons played on the television, the only piece of furniture other than his bed. His walls were bare and the sink fastened to the wall was clogged with brackish water. The carpet was filthy with cigarette butts and a mouse ran over my feet.

BOTTOMING OUT

Now, with major budget cuts across the board, services are being cut at the time when they are most needed. This will have a tremendous negative impact not only on people like Corey, but also on business owners and service providers in the Polk neighborhood.

The Welcome Ministry will lose big grants next year, Rohrer said. Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, says that budget cuts in the works will have a "huge and dramatic impact" on people like Corey and will "devastate" mental health treatment services — with as much as a 44 percent reduction in the publicly-funded mental health treatment system and similar reductions for substance abuse treatment.

Ann R.P. Harrison, director of New Leaf, a mental health organization that serves 1,500 LGBT people a year, says they recently reduced staff hours and the amount of services offered, and, like most nonprofits, are looking at up to a 20 percent budget reduction starting July.

Toby Eastman of Larkin Street Youth, which serves youth under 25, says that $100,000 in HIV prevention services cuts from the Department of Public Health mean "significantly reduced the prevention staff." Eastman expects the cuts to increase next year, at a time when she sees other smaller agencies closing their doors.

Diez and Rohrer take away different lessons from their experiences with Corey. Diez says he has "hardened" about homelessness and has stopped talking with Corey. "I was an enabler for him, which I didn't like doing but I was always hoping that what I was doing was helping him," he said. "But maybe not. Corey made choices, and maybe they weren't good choices. And you can't blame that on the city. It's gotta go both ways." Once the keeper of Corey's Social Security card, money, and other personal items, he has now handed that responsibility to Rohrer.

Rohrer sees a failure of the social safety net. "There's a barrier to getting mental health services that seems like it's set up so that people will fail," she said. "Places that accept MediCal or city patients can take two months before they can get an appointment. The hospital does not even have the capacity to help those police deem a threat to themselves or others."
"There were gay bars here, and there were affluent men, and that's not here anymore," Diez said. "The bars are gone, those people who went to those bars don't come anymore, and Corey's just a remnant. He's just existing. He's surviving.