Oral Histories by Nancy Deutsch
from the south. I cook! Shelter just had cereal. The hotels? I think they’re
payin’ for the roaches to stay there. (Now) I cook when I get ready,
sleep when I get ready. I cook most anything. Greens, ham hocks.
I remember Martin Luther King. We’d go to Birmingham. We’d
go to the church and get organized. We had about ten buses. Fire department
would try to break up the crowd. We’d be runnin’ through the
streets and gettin’ wet. After that, you’d just go back to
school. I had to walk about a mile to school. Right down the highway.
Me and about 150 more. The bus would pass us.
I went into Vietnam in ’65. I just signed up. Wasn’t nothin’
else to do. I saw it (San Francisco) from the train, when I was going
to Vietnam and they were doin’ all that demonstrating and stuff.
I was goin’ over to Oakland. From the train to the boat. We were
one of the first that went over there. Work 18 hours, off 18 hours. It
was somethin’ else. It had cooled down for a while. That was monsoon
When I came back I went home. I stayed about two years and then I came
back out on the train. I got sick (in Vietnam). Messed up my liver. The
water or something. They don’t know. I go to the VA. They wanna
do a biopsy. I go out there all the time. Eat out there. It helps. Plus
it helps me get more (disability) money.
There are places around here for free food. Right down the street.
I go to St. Anthony’s. There’s a whole lot of line and stuff.
I went there Sunday. Sunday was my birthday. I took a friend with me.
They brought the food to me. Big ol’ cake.
Sixth Street? Ah, you can’t make that better. Tryin’ to
stop the drugs? You can’t make that. Some of ’em say they
wanna leave, but I still see ’em here. I know a lot of ’em
say they been in the service. I think in about another 15 years it’s
gonna be lookin’ like something. Just watch your back and be cool.
I’m friendly, but don’t take advantage of me.
was livin’ in the streets. I’ve been clean now for a little
better than five years. Before these times I was more or less movin’
from alley to alley tryin’ to find one that had a good dumpster
to hide behind and not be noticed. When they found those bodies chopped
up in the dumpster, I just happen to realize I’d been asleep there
the night before. I think they were prostituting and somebody butchered
them. The night before they found them I’d been smokin’ my
crack and drinkin’ my vodka and cuddling up in a raggedy sleeping
bag. I guess that was more like a wake up. That’s when things changed.
I’d been in a hundred programs... This time there was no program.
I guess I decided I’d been beaten. I had to finally realize there
must be somebody likes me ‘cause I gotta ask somebody with more
power than human to give me some incentive to go on a day at a time.
They (people in San Francisco) don’t need to be scared of everybody.
I’m not sayin’ go out there and shakin’ hands and...
“I’m gonna save you.” They’re gonna have to, maybe
with a little help, save themselves. Somebody gives them a hand, you know?
But no, I don’t think they need to be so scared they gotta lock
their doors and tremble ‘cause everybody down at Sixth Street, they’re
not like that. They’re just easy goin’ people.
They try to mind their own business and they try to be as nice as they
can. I try to follow that myself. I try to judge how far to take it and
when to leave it alone. I think I’m an easier goin’ person
now. I didn’t used to be that way. I try to be little more respectful
of what’s around me than what I was before. You know ‘cause
usually I didn’t have respect for myself. Now I have respect for
myself so I try to respect the next person.
A man learning how to live, that’s what it’s about. Since
I moved in here, it’s kinda nice. You live halfway decent, what
I consider, like a human bein’ should. My nickname is Shorty. I’m
five feet four, maybe 125 pounds. At the most! They ask me, “Shorty,
how do you do it, man?” I say, “One day at a time. I ask God
for help in the mornin’ and I thank him at night.”
time I saw Sixth Street was in 1959. We used to hang out here. I was born
in Springfield, Missouri. I left when I was 16, 17 and I came out here.
I grew up in the Haight Ashbury back in the 60s. All this district (Sixth
Street), the Tenderloin, were for entertainment. It was mostly bars, restaurants,
a place for like the military from Hunter's Point, Treasure Island. Most
of this was a merchant seaman town for people coming in and out of port.
They had Foster's right across the street. It was sort of like a cafeteria.
For seniors citizens. I worked in the commissary. The old Hospitality
House, it used to be rented by USO. They used to give dances for military
personnel. There wasn't much drugs. Not like it is now. Wasn't no AIDS,
no crack. The only (soup) kitchen you had was St. Anthony's mostly for
old, what do call them? Hobos. Now it's all changed. Came back about a
year and a half ago and it just all changed. I say changed for the worse.
The homeless population's getting younger and younger.
Back on Sixth Street, how'd I end up here? My education. I knew people
here. I'm finishing my degree here. Hotel/restaurant management, culinary
department. That's what I'm taking over at City (college) now. I was lookin'
for housing at Swords to Plowshares, the Vets office down on Market Street.
They had cooking facilities, so that's why I moved down here.
I'm 63. Goin' to school is very hard. I'm doin' an essay on John Steinbeck,
East of Eden. I had no idea I was gonna do this. I worked for Department
of Defense and I had enough time in so I retired. Learning makes you a
better person. Stay. Stay in! (school) You can understand other people's
ideas. You can be positive.
I stayed at sea for 17 years. That got old. I've been to every port
in the world. I was a navigator on the civilian ships. Plus, I cooked
for them too. I'll probably start my own business. I'm not gonna work
full-time. I did my career, I done paid my dues. I'm gonna kick back,
enjoy my life before I pass on or expire.
was living at Hospitality House shelter. It did what it was supposed to.
Shelter and counseling and stuff like that. If you wanted to stay on the
mats, you could stay there for 90 days until you got your housing or whatever.
I would go to St. Anthony’s (soup kitchen). I would stand in
line and wait. It reminds me of the pictures that I saw back in the 30s
and 20s of the dust bowl era. It reminds me of what my grandparents told
me. They went through that transition where they went to soup camps along
the way coming into California from Oklahoma.
I asked a politician one time whether they would give up their lifestyle
for one week, without the fancy car, the credit card, and live in a shelter
and do what we have to do for one week. And that politician said “no.”
That showed me exactly the stereotyping that we have in society today.
We’re no different than they are. You know? We’ve got a
broad spectrum of homeless people. We’ve got people that have doctorates,
we have nurses, people who have been in law enforcement that have lost
their jobs and been homeless. Teachers. We’re not, uh, how can I
put this, we’re not a leper. We’re not gonna poison the rest
of society. I get that feeling.
If you’d heard half of the people that I’ve heard. . .people
who were in state hospitals getting shock treatments, people who are still
under psychiatric care, people who went through a bad marriage, people
who have had their children taken away from them. Unless they’ve
been there, they have no idea.
I would tell him (the mayor) he needs to get with the federal housing
people. They need more funding to keep their doors open for people with
mental illness. I was on the board of directors in Portland, Maine, for
the Coalition for the Psychiatrically Labeled. We’re trying to get
a tenant’s board formed here in the building. I like to see more
fair housing for people. More policing. And more treatment for this area,
there’s a lot of drug abuse. I like to see some of these hotels
also get up to code. They’re roach-infested, rat-infested.
From what I understand, when this was a hotel it was pretty run down.
When they had the fire, they reconstructed it. It’s very nice here.
Very nice. I go to Hospitality House and take part in their art program.
Mostly clay stuff, Native American art work. Because of my heritage. It’s
an outlet, to get away from all the noise on the streets and the people
with their problems.
Chui Ling Wong
born in China. At two years old, I came from China to Hong Kong. I liked
school. (I studied) English. I came from Hong Kong since 1996. My mother
was here since 1985. My sister was here too. My son is also here now.
We both live in same room. My son cook. A good cook! My son is 18 years
old. He goes to school now. Study English.
(Before this) I live on Eddy Street. Not very good. Really dirty. No
heat. No kitchen. The restroom is dirty. Share the restroom with so many
people. Just want to change to a good place. Like this. This has heat
and refrigerator and kitchen. And the restroom is clean. And security.
Sixth street? No worry, no worry. Sometimes the street maybe some dirty
things. Change the dirty things.
Sometimes I think Hong Kong (is home) but I also like San Francisco.
I miss my elder son and my husband still in Hong Kong. We've been separated
for four or five years. I divorce. I think I will apply for my elder son.
He's 22. He can't visit here. He's working.
Maybe later I will go to work or do some business. I like (to run)
a coffee shop because I like coffee. Tea also. I miss the tea in Hong
Kong. But here I also go to Chinese restaurant to drink tea.
I am a woman. I am friendly. I like all people. I just talk with Chinese
people; other people a little bit. I like San Francisco.
My son likes San Francisco. I hope he go to do some business with my relatives
in Hawaii. Chinese restaurant. I wish to go
to Hawaii because the view is very beautiful.
from Guatemala and I live here in San Francisco for 35 years. I raised
my son alone. I don't have a husband, no. I have a very, very, hard time.
I raised my son here and now I have two grandchildren, 14 and 15. It's
nice. They keep it very clean and they control very strictly who comes
in, who visits. It makes you feel secure. Especially (at) my age.
Before when you live in some other place, you feel like this is like
a Bayview (Hunter’s Point neighborhood), but when you live here
it's a different story. All kinds of people go by, walk around, back and
forth and nothing happens. People in the apartments know each other, and
they get together. This is the way I feel now. Before, when you say, “Sixth
Street,” Ooh! One MUNI
driver told me, “Ooh, I don't live there even if they give me for
They are nice people, the Chinese ladies over there and my neighbor,
Mr. Chuck, he’s an American guy. He’s very friendly. He's
very nice. We always say, “Good morning, good afternoon.”
And the Chinese ladies, they always say hello too. I only know one person
who speaks Spanish here and he prefers sometimes to speak English.
I’m very honest person and I like to help people if I have time,
too. I like to be happy and talking to people on the bus. You do your
best wherever you go. I can be depressed too, but depressed not going
to help me. The doctor asked, “Do you want to go on medication?”
I said, “No.” Over there (Guatemala) people are not thinking
about stress. Over there it’s not,“Oh, I feel lonely.”
You don't have time for that. You have to be flexible to everybody. All
types of people. All types of backgrounds.
What's most important in my room? My pictures of my grandchildren and
my television. I hope that they go to the university. Here you have to
have university to have a decent job. More open doors for themselves.