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Hunger on 48th Avenue

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Today on my way to our neighborhood store, I noticed my neighbor was sitting out on the sidewalk. I'd recently heard that his wife was diagnosed with cancer. They are a 60ish, mixed race couple, both seem to be involved with alcohol and our block has gotten used to the sound of sirens as ambulances go to their Section 8 apartment at least twice a month. They are fragile looking people. Today, sitting on the sideway, my neighbor looked dazed and he seemed more sober than he might want to be. I asked how things were going. He said, not too good. I asked, have you guys eaten today. He said, no. We ate on Thursday. Today is Saturday. This is San Francisco. My neighbor is sitting a block away from a busy tourist thoroughfare. He's probably not sixty but today he looks much older. I buy them a bag of groceries I can't afford and get my phone out. First I called the San Francisco Chronicle. I used to have a friend there that covered the poverty beat. But today I talk to someone new. An editor who can't understand why this couple can't take care of themselves. "But, have they asked for help?" "But, couldn't the money they spent on alcohol feed them?" "I'm not understanding what you mean." I finally tell her, come out and look at their faces and decide for yourself. When you are that overwhelmed, you can't move. You need a hand. Let me give you my name and number in case you understand later. I can wait although, I don't know if my neighbors can. She really didn't understand that there have been maybe 25 professional people who've interacted with this couple in that last few weeks who should have known they would need help because they were having trouble fending for themselves. Doctors, nurses, intake administrators, EMTS, firemen, police, landlords, neighbors. Who am I leaving out? So much for human interest at my local paper. Okay. So then, I called a string of city hall numbers (none of them manned) and then a string of charities. I hope someone calls me back. It's hard enough to be poor or alcoholic or to be dealing with cancer. Having all three happen at the same time would overwhelm anyone. This is Saturday, so it will take time for someone to call me back. I don't know if I have enough in my account to feed us all until Monday morning. And I want to know that our people, here in the Paris of the Pacific, have something more than my light wallet that we can count on. I want to know, as I sit here in this $400,000 dollar condo, that there is a logic to the way we apportion our resources, whether we're talking about empathy or taxes. I want to know that my neighbors will eat this week and not go hungry on our ever more genteel block. This is our neighborhood and it's ours to keep or to lose. Or maybe, ours to fight for.

 

Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.

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