Maurice: I think this work is really important. I’m passionate about San Francisco, as Mary says, I was born and raised here. From a harm reduction perspective, my goal, a lot of time, is to bring a piece of humanity back to people. Most of the time that people come into my office they’ve seen a thousand therapists. They’ve been forced into therapy, since we work with a lot of young folks that come from different parts of the country, and they have terrible experiences with therapists.
They come to me and they have a litany of diagnoses that are, if you hear them and you understand them, you’re like, “These are all ridiculous.” So they’ve been over-pathologized, they’ve been medicated, they’ve had terrible experiences, they’ve been locked in facilities, and they give it another shot. They give it another shot because someone has told them that myself or our other therapist, Joy, is nice.
So it goes along with the line of trauma and socializing. I think it’s our job, at least mine as a therapist, to offer people different experiences. Hopefully better experiences. I’m not the best therapist in the world, but I do like people. I think this work is really important for people to, sort of, figure out where they’re at, and where they want to be, and how much we can support them doing that.
Mary: I keep doing it because I’m really stubborn, and I do still love the work every single day, right?
Mary: I feel really lucky all the time that I love my job no matter how difficult it is. But like Maurice was saying about, kind of, bringing humanity back to people and seeing people, actually seeing people. Acknowledging someone’s existence is huge and it leads to this self esteem that makes it possible for people to be seen enough that they can think about a future.
I always tell the story about one of the merchants on Haight Street that just bought a store. And he had come to this ridiculous neighborhood meeting that the Haight’s notorious for, where there was just all this vitriol and hatred. And he was appalled. He was like, “This is not what I thought the Haight was when I bought my store here.” And we’re talking about interacting with folks who were homeless.
And he’s like, “I have these kids outside the store and I don’t really want them there when we’re open.” And I’m like, “Oh, do you know their names?” And he was like, “What?” And I’m like, “You know who they are?” He was like, “No.” And I’m like, “Oh okay, well maybe tomorrow be like, ‘Hey my name’s so and so, what’s yours?’” And then you say, “Hi”—let’s say it’s Joe—you say hi to Joe all week long, “Good morning Joe how’s it going?” Maybe bring Joe a coffee, I don’t know, it’s your choice, right.
But after you build some rapport with Joe you can be like, “Hey Joe, maybe could you not hang out right here in front of the store when I’m open.” And you know what? Joe is probably going to move because you’ve built this respect and relationship with him. Anyhow, so that guy called me a few weeks later and he’s like, “I feel so stupid, I don’t know why I was so caught off guard by your simple suggestion, but obviously it totally worked. And I feel like a much better neighbor.”
And I always say if people can’t give money, actually the gift of acknowledgement and a little conversation is so much huger. It’s such a really profound thing that people don’t think about. It has the power to give people their value back that has been taken from them by being ignored day after day, in plain sight.
Maurice: Back to that humanity piece, actually seeing someone.