You don’t have to go Africa to find Inequality

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


October 1, 2010

I noticed his big toes sticking out of his well-worn shoes.  I didn’t ask his name. I was already talking with Eddy, who had a story of his own. Eddy lives with his brother who has HIV. His sister is somehow supporting 10 children, some with child support and some with governmental aid. He recently found one of his nephews a bike. We talked about our experiences learning how to ride a bike and we discussed the differences between the cornfields of Ohio and the fog of San Francisco. He showed me the six inch scar across his stomach from being stabbed thirty years ago. An hour passed quickly and soon we had moved around the corner and down the street and it was Eddy’s turn for free lunch at Glide.

Eddy was one of many homeless people I talked to as I walked around Tenderloin, San Francisco with nothing more in my pockets than an ID, a map, and $5. I witnessed an almost-friendly exchange between a Police Seargent and Lawrence, a heroin dealer. The Seargent said there are over 5,000 arrests within the six blocks of his region in one year. He criticized the abundance of civil services provided in San Francisco, saying, “When people don’t have to pay for housing or food, what do they spend their money on? Alcohol and drugs.”

Amanda, an administrator at a children’s day care center next door, disagrees. Seven hundred families with working parents are on the waitlist to have their young children enrolled at the free facility.

“Do some people take advantage of the system? Absolutely. You have to ask yourself if you could deny a hardworking family shelter or food because some people abuse the civil services offered. I’d rather help too many than not enough,” she said.

I walked toward the bus at the end of the day feeling conflicted, trying to see the problem through each point of view and wondering what role I could play besides feeling guilty for the hardships I wasn’t born into.

A man in a suit rushed past me. I noticed his shiny black topsiders.

Madeleine Balchan