Who's Going to Say They're Sorry

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, October 2015

When we as a society finally understand that the people who have been living on the streets are our brothers and sisters; that they are vulnerable, treated inhumanely day and night, are ignored, and are criminalized unfairly ...

When we realize that they are worthy of more than mini-homes, overcrowded shelters, or no shelter at all; that they deserve more than our scorn, our impatience, our fear ....

When we see that those who struggle with mental illness or chemical dependency are parents, children, siblings; are afraid just like we are, have dreams just like we do, need love and care, and to be seen ....

When we get that race and gender are constructs and diversity is to be celebrated, enjoyed; that not everyone has the same experience in their body; that we as a society have criminalized and moralized people for who they are ....

When we finally wake up and invite people from the streets into houses ...

Who will apologize to them for the years of neglect and indifference? Who, on behalf of society, is going to say, "we're sorry for not recognizing your humanity and prioritizing you?"

Training in Awakening

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2015

I wanted to take a moment to respond to the incident that happened a couple of weeks ago when a cop was tasked with waking a homeless person up who was sleeping on a bus that had come to the end of its line near Ocean Beach.

The task of waking up homeless people is one that is not relished by the Gubbio Project staff and volunteers, but one in which we have become experts. We wake our unhoused neighbors up from the sidewalk in the morning at 5:45 am, from the front of the church when they fall asleep in those pews reserved for mass and prayer, from out in front of the church during the day, and finally from the pews at 2:45 pm when it is time for us to close. We must wake up 100 people a day that don't necessarily want to be awakened.

It is not an easy task, and probably our least favorite. It takes training, patience, compassion, more patience, time (that we sometimes don't have), and a bit of humor. And so it is with this expertise, and compassion for the 'awaking officer,' that I offer my insights on the incident.

In response to the characterizations from the Public Defender's Office that Police Officer Chu had "lost his temper" and that his actions were a "reckless and unnecessary escalation of force," Police Chief Suhr defended Officer Chu saying that he was acting as he was trained to do. While Suhr is probably speaking truth, it only makes the matter worse. It begs the question of anyone who has seen the video , And
what training is that?

A better response would have been for Chu to admit what the Public Defender's Office said was true - he did escalate the situation. It is understandable. Most people have had to put up with someone who was drunk. And it would be hard not to sympathize if Chu came out saying "I was impatient, and in my effort to accomplish my task - to get Mr. Warren off the bus - probably hurried him along too much. I got triggered when he insulted me, challenged me and offhandedly threatened me."

This self-knowledge and analysis is what I would expect of my staff if we had an incident here at Gubbio. Is it too much to ask this of those who are entrusted with the safety of the whole city?

Mr. Warren played his part in this incident. But he did not deserve to be beaten, pursued, and pepper sprayed, and then to spend two weeks in jail. He owes an apology to be sure for the way he acted, but he certainly deserves an apology as well.

Along with training in CPR/First Aid and working with folks who have mental health issues or suffer from addiction, I offer the staff training in knowing their triggers and in de-escalating situations. We use these skills every day. Wouldn't it be great if, after Chu's (suggested) acknowledgement of getting triggered, Police Chief Suhr could defend his apology saying "he was simply doing as he was trained."

Those We Fear

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2014

Fear of people who are living on the streets is a very real thing. When I have talked with other churches about the possibility of them allowing homeless people to sleep on the pews of their church, their first response is often fear. There is the fear of what the neighbors and/or parishioners would think and do; fear for the schoolchildren, and of the parents' reaction, if there is a school; and fear of the drug use by some of the homeless folks.

The biggest fear, however, seems to be of the people themselves. I get it. Everyone has seen someone disheveled on the corner yelling loudly at a nonexistent enemy. And at St. Boniface, there has been the occasional mass that has been interrupted by someone having an episode.

But for every one person living on the streets who is shouting, there are 99 more who are not. Or 999 who are not. The Gubbio Project is celebrating being open for 10 years this April (2580 days of providing sacred sleep!). And while we have had some instances of uncertainty and instability with some of our guests that has made us rightfully fearful in the moment, we strive daily to see that those are isolated incidents and to see each person for who they are. The fact is, we have never had a serious incident of violence in the 18,060 hours in which an average of 75 homeless, bone-tired, beautiful, cranky people have shared space together.

Statistics like this should challenge the notions we and society have about our homeless brothers and sisters. People without homes are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. They are harassed, beaten up, assaulted, ignored, and stolen from. One reason I want the churches to take our neighbors living on the street in, is because they need safe places to be. Another is because I want the churches to take the lead in showing that what we should fear most is the damage that clinging to our stereotypes and fear of homeless people does to us, and to those we fear.

Accompanying The Queer*

by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, July 2013

In the most recent homeless count in San Francisco in January 2013, an additional question was asked for the first time of one thousand of those who are unhoused: what is your sexual orientation. The results showed that 29% of those living on the streets identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ).

Given the above statistic and Gubbio's mission of welcoming all our brothers and sisters who live on the streets, it is no surprise that The Gubbio Project, and hence St. Boniface Church from 6 am to 1 pm each weekday, is chock full of people who do not fit within the gender or sexual norms laid out by society, nor the Catholic Church, for that matter. It is a daily occurrence that we ask someone using the women's bathroom if they identify as a woman, and/or explain to questioning or upset guests that if people identify as female, regardless of their exterior trappings, we allow them to use the women's bathroom.

Daily, several couples of various gender combinations lay down next to each other in the back of church, often snuggling before they fall asleep. Each and every day, someone shares with us the pain of being rejected because of how they look or who they love (see article below), and often (though not often enough), they share the joy of finally feeling safe with someone, or getting put on a list for the surgery they need to make them look more like they feel.

To accompany the Gubbio guests, those who are struggling with addiction issues or mental health issues, or those 30% who identify as LGBTQ, we need to be able to cry with them and to rejoice with them. We cannot weep or celebrate with our brothers and sisters if we are thinking (or God forbid, saying) "God loves you, but you need to change." It is a most unhelpful message that people have been hearing their whole lives. A better second half of the sentence would be "and so do I."

It is no secret that LGBTQ folk do not often feel welcome in Church. I am glad to say that from 6 am to 1 pm every Monday through Friday, they are welcomed by this Project into this church with open arms.

*Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. No offense is meant by this term that has been largely reappropriated by the GLBTQ community from its form as an anti-gay epitaph.

Reflection by a Staff Member

by Emma Fenton-Miller, May 2013

Over the long weekend I saw a news article about a homeless man who died on the sidewalk around noon on May 10th at the corner of Market and 3rd. The article made clear that while crowds passed by this man who obviously needed medical attention, no one stopped to help him or called 911. Instead, at least one person used their phone to take a video of him as he bled to death. Help was finally called, too late, by a sanitation worker whose job it was to keep that piece of sidewalk clean.

I think most who hear this story are disturbed by our collective "back-turning" on those living in extreme poverty. It probably stuck in the minds of a few, brought them down a little and reminded them that the world is kind of messed up, adding to their cynicism but perhaps not to our collective action.

My first reaction was to wonder if the man who died was someone I knew, since when I left work on Friday a friend told me of how he was very sick and had been vomiting blood, which brought the situation close to home. This is the case for many, such as those who have family members living on the street, those who work with or are friends with someone who is homeless. For many who know someone who is homeless the cardboard thin abstract that is "homeless person" no longer distances in the same sort of way.

Instead of a depressing parable of the disconnection in our society or just a sensationally sad story, it is actually what happened to a real person. While I think it is important and needed to keep looking at the big picture in such an instance, it occurred to me that I should first simply and deeply feel for this person because in a profound way that's what was lacking.