On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was struck by the disparity just a few blocks apart. We were driving through town to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and meet relatives for dinner. We passed the massive concrete of the business district, viewed glimpses of Chinatown and North Beach, a heavily Italian neighborhood, and kept going. Further on, our borrowed TomTom device took us through a neighborhood teaming with activity. A couple of men sauntered down the street, beer cans in hand. Another literally wove his way across an intersection, while still another sped up and yelled something back to the weaver. A Sikh squatted against a brick wall and dropped a piece of his dinner, which looked to be contained in a foil wrapper. Women were conspicuously absent, and bars conspicuously adorned every ground floor window and door. it was the kind of neighborhood I wanted to notice every detail, yet at the same time, not be noticed noticing.
Just a few blocks north, the scene changed. More modern structures. Trendy diversity. Happier looking ethnic restaurants and businesses. Advertisements with clean, young, beautiful people of color. We crossed the bridge and entered a tunnel painted with a rainbow around the entrance. We looked at the view of this shining city in the evening sunlight. Ahhh, how beautiful!
I wondered later how many of the people in the "in-between" neighborhood were born into families who had planned for them, were ready financially to support them, had parents who wanted them and took time to understand them, learn about what they were going through at each stage in their lives, volunteer at their schools, help them through tough times, take them on vacation and buy souvenirs....Not that all those things are necessary to become a well-adjusted adult who is contributing to society, but they sure don't sure as heck don't hurt.
When people say that these residents need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, I always remember what my grandpa said: The presupposition to that statement is that the person has boots. Some people think that homelessness and drug-addicted lowlifes and poverty aren't their problem, but I disagree. Social issues like this are everyone's problem. They cost our entire society in lost income, crime, incarceration, medical services, not to mention, it's just the right thing to do to care for our neighbors, no matter which neighborhood they live in.
When I was in DC this spring, I met a young man who said he was a Professional Idealist. I tend to think along the same lines--you know, shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you'll land among the stars type of thing. And this is where I am regarding comprehensive sexuality education, because, call me crazy, but I tend to think that if everyone had complete and accurate information about their sexuality, relationships, and safety, and it were offered in a safe, caring, culturally relevant context and environment, it might make a difference how many people ended up with nothing else to do on a Monday night but saunter down a street filled with bars on the windows, drinking beer and looking for trouble.
So, I'll keep on keeping on. Because "someday, we''ll find it, the Rainbow Connection--the lovers, the dreamers and me..."