Sheriff is this older gentleman that we’ve witnessed live a quiet, mostly solitary life at Elm & Van Ness, near the San Francisco Cooking School, for five years now. Next to the old McDonald’s – that’s been his spot this past half decade, and who really knows how long he actually has been out there, rain, cold, or shine….
He stuck out to me the first time we saw him because he was wearing a gold star badge on his belt, like a sheriff. The guy’s taciturn, yet cordial. The first couple of years we noticed his stoic presence and would try to engage with him, he’d receive what we had to give, whether it was conversation or food. He kinda stopped after I offered him a few pairs of never-worn socks we had bought for Halloween (they were sporty white knee-highs, like the ones you’d see in a proper ’80s movie or the Red Hot Chili Peppers wear, and we needed only the one pair for a costume – but I digress). I can’t imagine the socks might have offended, but after that, he never took anything else from us.
Pro tip: New or gently worn socks (meaning no holes!) are among the best gifts one can offer our brothers and sisters who are out on the streets.
Anyway. Due to his proximity to the elementary school nearby, at first I thought he was a volunteer helping to manage security or traffic on little Elm Street, but, yeah…no. He is neither officially nor casually part of either school’s operation and, based on our experiences with him and to my knowledge, he isn’t and hasn’t been a threat or a nuisance to any students or to any passersby.
Sheriff doesn’t have much in the way of personal belongings. He pitches a small tent on the sidewalk after the sun sets, in as unobtrusive a manner as possible and, come morning, he makes his way north and up the street to the Burger King across from us or to wherever he goes to get himself clean, as well as meals that I should hope are better than daily Whoppers. To this not-so-casual observer, his day is mostly spent in contemplation of the hustle and bustle of the road.
It’s endearing to me to think about how he stopped
taking receiving charity from us. I realize he’s probably out there by choice because, again, it does seem like he has had steady access to local resources to keep himself going all this time that we’ve been in the neighborhood. So it speaks volumes to me that he would rather not take and let whatever we have to share go to someone else.
I worry about this man. Obviously because it’s winter, and we are having some rollercoaster weather around these parts (surprising warmth on Friday, followed by an icy cold and windy weekend), but mostly because I recently clocked that the tent in which he sleeps had been vandalized, tagged, more than likely at night while he was in it trying to sleep and be at peace.
It boggles my mind that some of us treat our needy with such little compassion (but, then again, I am not surprised), and in the City of St. Francis, no less.
But Sheriff endures.