A homeless encampment in San Francisco's Mission District.

Over 6,600 people are homeless in San Francisco, according to a 2015 count by the city. That includes not just people living on the streets, but those residing in shelters, cars, and other temporary locations. As part of Forum’s “In My Experience” series, and as part of the SF Homeless Project media collaboration, homeless Bay Area residents take us inside their day-to-day lives and share some of the personal stories behind the statistics.

Left to right: Jackie Juarez, Pastor Elaine Amos, Harmonie Taylor, and Mark
Left to right: Jackie Juarez, Pastor Elaine Amos, Harmonie Taylor, and Mark (Amanda Stupi/KQED)

Interview Highlights

On Moving Somewhere More Affordable

“We tried to get out of San Francisco. I would love to get out of San Francisco. But outside of San Francisco, the places are starting to get expensive too. Because they know people are trying to leave San Francisco to find affordable housing, so for them to make money they’re raising their prices.” — Pastor Elaine Amos

On the Stress of Being Homeless

“Are we going to wake up in the morning? Are we going to get shot through our tent for being homeless? Are we going to wake up in the morning and have to move our stuff? It’s very, very stressful every single day, every minute being out there.” — Jackie Juarez

“I cry every night. It stresses me. I deal with a lot of pregnant girls and I cry to see them out there and to see people getting killed, the homeless dying. I talk with them constantly and it’s overwhelming. I cry myself to sleep wishing there was just something that would fall out of the sky where I could just help everyone.” — Pastor Elaine Amos

On What Services Should be Provided

“Psychological services and the opportunity to be able to make money, and if they could somehow lend money to get a deposit down on an apartment.” — Mark

“They definitely need more transitional housing, for youth, coming basically out of the system or foster care or whatever the situation is. They hit 18 and basically the only option they have is homelessness.” — Harmonie Taylor

“When they come out and try to get you to move, have a solution, a place for you to go.” — Jackie Juarez

On Police and City Officials

“Being homeless with the police was horrible, it was very, very horrible. I would have nightmares worrying about the police, about taking my things. They would come hit on your tent.” — Pastor Elaine Amos

“It was DPW. Them and the San Francisco Police Department had taken everything we own… from our medications to our clothes to our cooking, our food. Everything. We were left with nothing. … An officer the next morning, after they came and realized we had slept on the street, with no covers, no blanket, nothing, an officer did give us $20 and told us to get something to eat.” — Jackie Juarez

Harmonie Taylor
Harmonie Taylor (Amanda Stupi/KQED)

On Talking to Kids About Homelessness:

“Yesterday, there were five little boys and they were staring at us and their mom told them, ‘Don’t look at them, they’re homeless; don’t talk to them.’ And I spoke up and told them, ‘Yes, I am homeless, but we will not hurt you.’ And the little boy started talking to me, asking me how I ate and how I did it, and I started showing them my stove, little things that I do.” — Jackie Juarez

“Let them know we’re people too. We have children too.” — Pastor Elaine Amos

On What People Should Know About Homelessness

“You don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain age or be on drugs to be homeless. Homelessness can happen to anyone.” — Harmonie Taylor

“They need to come out and see what’s really going on, instead of sitting in their big glass houses and labeling us all as drug addicts. Come out there and spend time with us, really talk to us, see what’s going on, see the kind of hardship we’re having. Stop trying to put us down, because you never know. You can have all this one day and anything can happen where you can lose it all. It will be gone and you will be right down there with us and we will be the people who are going to help you.” — Pastor Elaine Amos

Related Coverage

In My Experience: Homeless in the Bay Area 30 June,2016Michael Krasny

Mark, has been homeless for about a year; currently lives in his car
Jackie Juarez, homeless; currently lives in a tent
Pastor Elaine Amos, homeless; currently lives in the San Francisco's Navigation Center
Harmonie Taylor, homeless student; currently sleeps on friends' and acquaintances' couches

  • Reverend Lurlean Tucker

    I’m sure that a lot of people who become homeless don’t start out “mentally ill.” Being evicted from home and/or losing contacts with friends and family can push people into a state psychological imbalance. Those only get worse with further alienation and ostracism. Think about what the homeless have to do to survive. A lot have medical conditions, such as ADHD, that would be manageable in more settled circumstances in which the affected party has a reliable support system. It’s hard to believe that such a lack of compassion flourishes in the Land of Plenty.

  • Another Mike

    Despite what many people think, the homeless population is not the same as the “street people” population. I wonder if this confusion bothers today’s guests.

    • Virginia

      Very good point,

  • Giselle Gyalzen

    There is a great organization that supports pregnant homeless women – Homeless Prenatal Program. They support families and work with them long term to get them out of the streets. http://www.homelessprenatal.org/

  • Virginia

    With regard to getting money for a deposit and first month’s rent for housing, why not use the micro lending model that some non-profits have used to finance small businesses across the world? Let’s bring these funds back home to help our homeless neighbors. The micro lending model has a very good record of repayment.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Thank you for one of the most touching and informative shows we have heard to date on the challenges of homelessness. I am reminded of the only-too-true dark quip that “Being homeless is a full-time job!”

    As a nonprofit leader (Star Alliance Foundation for All) who has worked with, and for, the disadvantaged for many years; it is my reasoned wish that:

    1) Governments and agencies get help from trained economists (e.g.: Pro-bono Economists of London and one hopes: their networked affiliates) to analyze the enormous long-term waste created by avoidable human suffering, and to show how it is in the distinct financial interest of taxpayers (via savings on long-term Social Security disability, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, etc.) to:

    2) Build flexibility into their rules to allow for the wiser application of human judgment in individual situations.

    3) Fund teams of expert managers and social workers who, in turn, are “armed” and “handed” with public and private funds to overcome quickly and efficiently the all-too-typical financial hurdles which KEEP PEOPLE DOWN at critical junctures; and instead give them a decent chance for long-term cost-saving breakthroughs.

    4) Provide more systematic, personalized follow-up, to encourage accelerated and long-term healing and productivity for the good of all: individuals and ultimately the entire social and economic environment.

  • Chris

    It seems that the greatest challenge facing your panel is the extremely broad spectrum of people living on the streets– from one far end (physically or emotionally disabled, compromised and simply unable to care for themselves) to another (faced with the housing difficulties, deciding on their own to live in a tent). In between are the varied histories, personalities, and struggles. For those willing and able to get off the street, we should offer them all assistance possible.

  • John R Manning

    Thank you, KQED, for airing this informative and timely discussion, to only a portion of which I was able to listen.
    From my perspective, San Francisco can be seen as a very large hotel, almost all of whose rooms are taken by paying guests (some of whom, to be sure, pay far less than others for equivalent accommodations because of the inequities of rent control — another topic for another time).
    Hotels, when full, do not have an obligation to take in more guests, especially those who can not pay for their rooms. Why we in Hotel San Francisco believe we have this obligation is not obvious to me. Nor is it obvious why we have an obligation to do so when residents of South City, Daly City, Belmont, San Carlos, San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto, etc., etc., do not appear to acknowledge any responsibility to do so.
    Not until we get to another large city, i.e., San Jose, is there any apparent group willingness to address the problem — and, as was pointed out in tonight’s on air discussion, their answer was to demolish the camp, resulting in migration northward to our City.


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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