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Monday, May 4, 2009

San Francisco's Magical Telephone Number and the Angels of "They"

Does anyone know where I can get a pair of these in a size 7?


Once upon a time, there was a little homeless woman with three small beautiful children. As a victim of domestic violence, where ever she turned, people told the mother to call a toll-free number that would put her in touch with shelters that could help her. They, the Angels of They, would know what to do. They could help her and her children.

The little homeless mother did just that.

She called the toll-free number almost every day, at 10am, like she was supposed to. For weeks.

And then, she called the shelters that the hotline told her to. Just like she was supposed to. Not just once. Many, many times.

And do you know what happened next, dear readers? Can you guess?


Here is what happened. When the little homeless mother called these shelters, these were the kinds of replies that she got:

"We don't have any room right now."

"We don't have any room for a family of your size." (ie., one mother, one little girl aged seven, one son aged nine, and a two-month old baby.)

And here are the even better replies:

"Why do you keep calling us all the time?!" (because some people learned to recognize the little homeless woman's voice)

"I told you the other day we didn't have anything for you! Why do you keep calling?"

Now that's helpful!


And there is the truth of the situation. Not for just ONE family, but for who knows how many. Dozens? Hundreds?

On Friday, K finally had a chance to call a shelter that was willing to do an intake for her case. She waited for her call at 1pm (I know this because I called her beforehand to wish her luck).

She started to discuss her situation with the shelter worker, who was then interrupted and asked K if she could call her back to finish the intake.


K called the shelter but they never finished the phone call. So not only was she not able to be helped by this shelter, she wasn't even able to finish her intake call so that the shelter could DECIDE if they wanted to take her case or if they were even able to help her.

And that, my friends, is how the system really works.


I told K yesterday that if one more person tells me to "just have K call this toll-free number and 'They' will be able to help her..." that I was going to punch them. No matter how well meaning they might be. I said if I had a freaking dollar for every person who's told me that already, I could probably have rented them a suite at the Palace Hotel.

K laughed and said, "Now you know how I feel."

Please keep telling your friends about this story, and the bigger and sadder situation that exists in San Francisco. I love this city, but day by day I become more embarrassed by how it can't help the people who need it most.


b May 3, 2009 at 11:41 AM  

I'm surprised that no individuals or families have offered to take them in, since the City does not currently seem able to do the job.

Mental P Mama May 3, 2009 at 11:47 AM  

I think I will fly out there and go punch them in the nose with you. Sending love, Lauren

julochka May 3, 2009 at 12:09 PM  

this whole thing is surreal. reading it actually gives me chest pain and makes me feel a little short of breath (possibly imagining myself trying to have the course to keep calling day after day when i hate making phone calls). this is unbelievable. i hope your continued efforts in blogging about this work!! but what makes my heart sick is that it's surely only a drop in the bucket. there must be so many others out there who didn't have an angel in the form of you stumble across them. it's scary.


Gabby May 3, 2009 at 12:54 PM  

Q- What did they call the sick and the homeless before Reagan?

>A- Patients and clients. Brothers and sisters.

“The bad man desires arbitrary power. What moves the evil man is the love of injustice.” -- John Rawls

Char May 3, 2009 at 1:47 PM  

the sad thing is it is sad for the family...and to some extent I know what it is like on the other side of the phone. not having the room, not having the funds, not having. being burnt out, being taken advantage of, being blind to the one out of so many that needs it more than the other. it's a difficult situation and I want to make it better. but, never lose sight of the other side - sometimes it helps to keep on keeping on.

the answer to why do you keep calling us - is that the worse they can say is no, and one day, the best of possible answers could be yes...yes, we have the room - yes, we have space available, yes. yes. and yes.

Mari May 3, 2009 at 1:53 PM  

This is so heartbreaking. What is wrong with us?

will May 3, 2009 at 2:14 PM  

It's almost impossible to help one person when the system itself is broken, especially in an under funded andoverpopulated situation.

I don't mean the global over population (that too is a factor)- but the population of battered women, the ill, the homeless and elderly and anyone else needing some kind of assistance.

It may be nearly impossible to solve - until we have or find the political will for real humanitarianism.

SE'LAH... May 3, 2009 at 2:25 PM  

Sounds like it's time to step up the game. I understand limitation of resources but this is completely unacceptable.

Prayers sent up for Kelaya and her children.

d smith kaich jones May 3, 2009 at 2:29 PM  

This is just so unbelievable. I have been telling people here about this, and no one can understand. Are there no churches in your area that offer help/shelter? My business sits in a downtown area absolutely surrounded by shelter after shelter after assistance center after another assistance center, all church sponsored. Or perhaps you're already dealing with such entities; I don't know. If not - if you're only dealing with gov't agencies - maybe it's worth a try?


Anonymous May 3, 2009 at 3:02 PM  

Amazing huh, that Goverments can find billions and billions to fight wars, but cannot find the funds to provide shelter for those desparately in need. Something seriously out of balance with this world.

Cartooncharacter May 3, 2009 at 3:44 PM  

The worker at the shelter is an employee; she can't just call K, get interrupted, tell her she'll call her back and then not call her back. That's definitely not doing her job. What happened when K called the shelter back? What reason did they give her for not finishing her intake call? This is insane. Does that worker have a supervisor? Would it help if some of us called and asked to speak to the supervisor? TB, tell us if there's something we can do about this. This is just outrageous. Not that the entire situation and everything so far hasn't been outrageous... ;(

Eternal Lizdom May 3, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

Just a thought... have you (or she) investigated any churches or ministries? Sometimes these organizations have smaller scale operations that are more personable. If she was here in Indiana, I could connect her with someone who could give her that help. A friend and her husband run a ministry where they do exactly this sort of thing- in fact, my friend helps women leave their homes to escape the situation. Helping them make their plan, pack the bags, driving them where they (and their kids) need to go.

It might be an option.

King of New York Hacks May 3, 2009 at 8:23 PM  

I lived in a homeless shelter once, and it was not much help, very dangerous, and felt more like an experiment they were doing because they tried to get everyone who lived there on a medication. I was one of the few "clients" as we were referred to who just needed food, and a place with a roof to sleep in the harsh winter.I slept in a chair and never a bed all that time. The system works in a very greedy and unhelpful way from my own experience.

Yoli May 3, 2009 at 8:47 PM  

Totally enraging. I would show up at the intaker's office. "Oh I know you are busy and just forgot to call me back, so I am here."

I agree with Eternal and have said this before, get in touch with churches. All denominations. There is bound to be someone who can help via that route. I know your time is limited and you have things to do yourself, perhaps another friend might help you call the churches. The church of Scientology comes to mind and I am not making a joke. They are very well off.

Anonymous May 4, 2009 at 8:31 AM  

Homelessness always gets me, but when it involves a family... It is important to share these things with people to make everyone aware.

rosedale's 4head May 4, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

check in with Beyonce; she's showing of a mega 5 million dollar ring--representative of love? or 'just because we can do this'...such a waste...Kelaya and her children are perfect examples of those who can use the flash in a more necessary human manner...

my prayers are with you...

Unknown May 4, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

That is just breaking my heart...I really want to go and kick someone.

k May 4, 2009 at 10:18 AM  

That is unbelievably sad and incredibly frustrating!!!

Jill May 4, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

I just found your blog through BlogHer. Congratulations on being named BlogHer of the Week. What you did and what you're doing is truly inspiring!

Cynthia May 4, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

We have to get to the understanding as a society that hunger and homelessness is unacceptable. These children need support...how can they grow without food, education and a feeling of security? I'm astounded about this situation not only in SF but in all the world. Why can't we organize our finances to include those who have such a great need? Thank you for sharing this story.

Take care, tangobaby, and may we all find the means to help those in need. <3

Tracey May 4, 2009 at 11:06 AM  

Came across your blog randomly. So glad I did - what a powerful story this is. And for your bringing attention to this woman & her children in need is just.. amazing. If I knew where to get you a pair of Dorothy's slippers, I would. God bless you.

Anonymous May 4, 2009 at 11:31 AM  

Ain't bureaucracy grand, TB....

Operaton You May 6, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

Tangobaby, I wish, I wish, I wish... Believe me, somebody got plenty and could help this woman.. I'm sending positive energy your way, always.. Wish I was there to help in some way. But whatever I can do from GA, please let me know...

junglemama May 8, 2009 at 12:53 PM  

Hi . I just happened along your blog. I am in California in the Central Valley and I wanted to know if this woman would be even slightly interested in relocating with her children. Is she spending the night on the street? What is she doing for diapers and such? You can email me at thereed8 at yahoo.com