13 Things I’ve Learned in San Francisco

Kevin Mutchnick

July 11, 2016

  1. It is COLD in San Francisco. But sometimes it’s hot. But sometimes it goes from cold to hot in 15 minutes. Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s a real challenge to know how to dress everyday.
  2. Speaking of the weather, Mark Twain never actually said, “The coldest winter I’ve ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” (But I sure did.)
  3. A homeless young person can beat you (me) in 4 moves despite them telling you (me) they’re “just okay” at chess. (I’ve thought a lot about why I initially expected to win and have realized that my preconceived notions about what it means to be homeless and what it means to go to Duke gave me a bit of a superiority complex. Losing that game so badly was a huge lesson in humility. Shoutout to Nick for starting an awesome chess club at Larkin Street.)
  4. Homeless youth CAN and WANT to learn to code. (As a student of engineering and computer science, it has been a blast supporting the Tech Learning Center’s Coding and Robotics classes at Larkin and finding a common language with youth whose circumstances are different from my own through technology. In a world where technology pervades and younger generations are so comfortable with it, I’m thrilled that Larkin realizes the importance of providing clients with education that is so relevant and interesting to them. This is a step in the right direction toward breaking the barrier between San Francisco’s homeless population, and even those with stable housing, with the “tech elite” who breed resentment among locals for gentrifying and pushing them out of their neighborhoods.)
  5. Every homeless person has a different story. (Working in the Community Center at Larkin has shown me that our clients are not their stereotypes. Everybody has arrived in the Center by such drastically different circumstances that it is honestly hard for me to tell you what they all have in common other than their current housing situation. It’s too easy to see a few homeless people, not talk to them but judge them for what you see at a glance, and through confirmation bias, push them into your often misinformed generalization of homelessness. These are people with stories and experiences we can all relate to. One non-trivial commonality I’ve found, though, is that every client I’ve met wants to be recognized as a person and as an equal.)
  6. The locals call it DP, not Dolores Park, as confirmed by many a client. (This has been a point of longstanding debate among the interns! Also, DP is my favorite place in the city.)
  7. The smallest, most hole-in-the-wall restaurants are where you get the best, most authentic food. (We’ve had some great Chinese and Mexican food in Chinatown and the Mission, respectively, for example.)
  8. About 33% of homeless youth identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, which is significantly higher than the 10% estimate for all Americans. (And based on my conversations with clients, being rejected by family for being open about a non-heterosexual or cisgender sexual orientation or gender identity is a real threat. It’s important to remember that LGBTQ individuals still have an uphill battle to face despite marriage equality being legalized last year.)
  9. People of color, especially Black and Latinx individuals, are disproportionately affected by homelessness as well. (This means, and I’ve witnessed it myself, that queer clients of color face compounding systems of oppression and are dishearteningly all too common among youth at Larkin Street.)
  10. Whether it’s singing along to Defying Gravity in the Castro, taking that cliché pic in front of the Golden Gate Bridge for Instragram or your next Facebook profile picture, voluntarily locking yourself in solitary confinement at Alcatraz, or just having a picnic and people watching in DP, there’s always something fun to do in San Francisco. (To be clear, I’ve done all of those things and more and would recommend them all!)
  11. My peers and fellow interns are some of the greatest and most supportive friends. (Thanks Jailene, Savanna, Nick, Nina, Claire, Julia, Jessie, Jasmine, Jeff, and our site coordinator, Sarah, for being so open and vulnerable at our weekly reflections, so inclusive on our excursions, so fun to be around, and such great coworkers.)
  12. I have to remind myself of my privilege every day and commit myself to using whatever advantages I have been afforded to advocating for and supporting marginalized communities. (Our clients navigate devastating realities including but not limited to familial rejection, severe mental illness, being HIV positive, sex work and survival sex, substance abuse, and far too often, not just one of these, on top of their homelessness. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough never to have to face them, I need to fully listen and support our clients who do daily. This can so easily translate into my life next semester and beyond—working with and listening more to cultural affinity student groups as a Senator for Equity and Outreach on student government, learning about the state of homelessness in Durham (something I’ve never considered before), and just sharing my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned with my peers who aren’t here in San Francisco this summer.)
  13. Although challenging, working with homeless youth is incredibly rewarding. (I’ve been completely shut down by clients and struggled with finding my place at Larkin. However, as time has passed, some of those same clients have approached me with crucial and deeply personal updates about their lives. For example, a client who recently began her medical transition was truly elated to tell me about starting her hormones and how they work. I love working regularly with a small group of clients as we, myself included, learn new programming languages together in Coding and I have to consciously refrain from intervening too much in Robotics because it’s so much fun to help build and control them. This summer has been a fantastic experience and my work has been so meaningful.)

 

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2 thoughts on “13 Things I’ve Learned in San Francisco

  1. You are learning so much – about yourself, about others, and about how all of us are connected. And, more than that, I love that you are thinking about how to continue your growth in the future (see #12). Thank you sharing your thoughts!

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  2. I enjoyed your list, especially #5. I recently began working again in downtown Sacramento and was reminded of the large homeless community that is seen throughout the area. I think a lot about what their stories are and how they’ve survived the streets and often wonder what I could do to help. Keep up your efforts. It can really make a difference in people’s lives.

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