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A look at life along 6th St.

SF Public Press
 — Jun 15 2010 - 11:21am

9 a.m. – 11 a.m. 

Shawn Gaynor chats with the homeless

The fog begins to rise off 6th and Mission as amorphous masses of old sleeping bags and packing blankets begin to shift about. The homeless sleep in clusters, clinging to the north side of the street. One by one the security gates of the area's shops slide open, causing a stir among the waking people. Some leave while others slouch off to some yet unopened gate. Shopkeepers stand in front of their businesses in a silent territorial challenge.    

Even the pigeons look hungover on this block – feathers ruffled, eyes red. Twenty-two ounce cans of King Cobra and Colt 45 tucked into crumpled paper bags have replaced coffee as the eye-opening drink here. The Guardian Angels march down the south side of the street – 20 of them, flexing in matching red berets. They don't even exchange glances with the homeless on the north side.

Paul woke up hungry and homeless this morning. He's looking for some spare change to get some food. “I've been down here a long time. Seven years one time, 10 years another. It's gotten a little less violent. It was a hell of a lot more violent about five years ago.” He says he has seen some improvements in the neighborhood, with dilapidated buildings being renovated, and businesses and restaurants coming into the area. Paul says the people are the best part of the neighborhood. “There are so many people here. It's really diverse.” 

Smoking and carrying some quarters in his hand, Jason, a 14-year resident of the area, approaches me for money or a cigarette. “There is no help out here that can change anything. You have to change yourself,” he says, going on to tell me he had bought a radio from one of the neighborhood pawnshops, then turned around and sold it for some money to make it through the day. “I see a lot of desperation down here.” 

Ten minutes later, as if by magic, all of the homeless get up and leave. A stray cart and a few abandoned blankets are the only evidence of their night here.