I got a call from Paul Skilbeck, a local resident who is worried sick about the well being and the whereabouts of a 69-year-old homeless German woman called Elsie.
Elsie typically spends her day sweeping the streets. but Skilbeck tell me she was sounding suicidal, yesterday (September 17) morning, after someone took all her stuff, and she was left with nothing but her brush and pan.
And today, Elsie has disappeared from her usual spot, after getting extremely drunk last night. Oh dear.
Skilbeck reports that all of Elsie’s worldly possessions—her bedding, clothing, food, everything—got taken around 8 a.m., September 17, after she left them neatly stacked against the side of a building, opposite St. Luke’s Church, outside the old Kinko’s building on Clay Street, near Van Ness.
According to Skilbeck, Elsie, who is about 5’ 2”, has gray hair, which comes to her collar. She wears a gray fleece top and blue jeans. She has been homeless for about five years.
Elsie is well-known to local businesses and residents, says Skilbeck, who slips her money from time to time, because, as he puts it, “she’s a useful member of the community.”
“Elsie is very neat and tidy, she doesn’t smell, she cuts her own hair and she really has her stuff together,” says Skilbeck, who spoke to Elsie yesterday, after her stuff was taken, when she was leaning against the wall, on the corner where her stuff disappeared, visibly distraught.
“All she was left with was her broom and pan,” Skilbeck said. “She'd been sweeping the sidewalk at the other end of the block and was unable to return in time to prevent the garbage men from putting everything into their compacting truck.”
Skilbeck thought the culprit might have been Golden Gate Disposal, which operates in this area, but he says they deny having anything to do with the removal of Elsie’s property.
(Calls to Golden Gate Disposal’s office were unreturned as of the time of writing this blog, but hopefully, they'll call soon.)
This is what Elsie, who turned 69 on September 8, told Skilbeck after her stuff went missing::
"I wanted to make it to my 69th birthday,” Elsie said. “ I have done that, and now that I have lost everything, I do not want to go on any more. That is it. I will sweep this sidewalk, then I will get drunk, and tonight I will cut my wrists or take some pills. I do not want to be here tomorrow."
Skilbeck tells me that several residents in the Van Ness/Clay St neighborhood expressed dismay at Elsie's loss.
“She was offered money by some, which she accepted, food by others, which she also accepted, but her grief over losing everything she owned would not permit her to accept any replacement items.”
Skilbeck says that as the afternoon progressed, she drank herself into a stupor and at around 1 a.m. lay down on a piece of foam somebody had thrown out for her.
“With no blankets to keep her warm, and the temperatures dropping to 50F, she risked exposure and illness,” said Skilbeck, who placed a blanket over her at around 2 a.m.
Tessa Jones from the City’s Department of Public Works confirms seeing Elsie yesterday and finding that she was very distraught.
“I had to do a clean up on Polk Street,” Jones recalls. “I always talk to her, but she told me that she didn’t feel like talking, because someone had taken her stuff. She insisted it wasn’t DPW, she thought it was Golden Gate.”
Charlotte Grimes of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services told us that it would be better if DPW had taken it, “because they would have held it for her at 2323 Cesar Chavez. If DPW doesn’t have it, I couldn’t tell you who would have it.”
Grimes adds that when people call 311 about garbage on the street, a request gets put out, and someone will come get it, someone like DPW or Sunset Scavenger. It usually takes them 2 or 3 days to pick it up.”
She suggested we write a referral to Goodwill and St. Anthony’s, saying we spoke with Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, so they will please help her.
Grimes also suggested that if we see Elsie, we tell her to go to 43 Fell Street, the Mayor’s Homeless Outreach Team, so she can get housing before the rainy season sets in.
In the meantime, if anyone has seen Elsie or her stuff, please give us a shout, or email.