Conversation and Compassion in San Francisco

As I return to St. Louis after attending the American Immigration Lawyers Association Annual Conference in San Franciso, I am left to reflect on so much….. Compassion and humanity first.
It has been years since I have been in San Francisco – while it is a beautiful and welcoming city, I was struck by the high number of homeless people in Union Square, where I was staying.
In the short 10-minute walk from my hotel to the conference, I saw 15-20 homeless people – each day. Some were sleeping on tarps on the floor, some digging through trash, some trying to warm up in a bus stop or local shop.  I was so sad and curious about this population.
At one of the bus stops on my way to the conference, I saw an older homeless woman struggling.  I handed her some cash and walked on.
I was startled by another young homeless man near her….  I didn’t expect him.  I greeted him but kept walking.  He caught up to me and we started talking.  He asked if I would mind helping him buy something. I was running to the conference but I was curious what he wanted. He asked if I would buy a blanket for his girlfriend.  I apologized that I had to go but I gave him some money to get what he needed.
He told me his name was Sion.  What does that mean I asked-he told me it means “to lead.”  He had a good handshake and good eye contact.  I asked him why there were so many homeless people in this city.  As a city of hope and tourist attraction, many come here for the good weather and acceptance and tolerance they find.
I asked him how he ended up homeless on the street. He was a manager at a local Best Buy.  He had a wife and a four-year old son. One day his wife and son were shot in a random drive-by shooting.  His wife died first, followed by his son.  What followed was a “very deep depression.”  I can only imagine….
I don’t think he had any immigration issues, but I gave him my card nevertheless and told him to call his family and contact me if I can help him.  Sion does not belong on the streets of San Francisco.  He promised me he would contact his family and reach out to me.
This short conversation led to greater compassion and understanding-for that, I am grateful.
You never know what you will learn at a conference…. sometimes you learn more on the walk to the conference than you think.
While Sion’s issues did not pertain specifically to immigration, I was struck by the immigrant experience and how like many homeless people came to San Francisco with hopes of a better life, so too do immigrants that come to America.
“No one should be forced to live like animals just to cross into the United States,” says United States citizen Ms. Rodriguez who lives in Mexico because her mother was deported from the US when she was 9 in a New York Times article (click here to read).
Yes Ms. Rodriguez, you are right.
It is inhumane how asylum seekers are treated in Nogales, Mexico as they wait for credible fear determinations to see if they will be admitted.
In the meantime, they sleep on pizza boxes and fear being assaulted or being a victim of theft or worse.  Not to mention the additional risk of losing their children….
In America, if we see a dog or cat on the side of the road, Americans stop to assist them – they may take them to the closest shelter or even take them home.  They try to meet their immediate needs – do they need food? Do they need shelter?  Are they safe?  We don’t ask for their papers or tags…. we don’t ask where they are from or whether they have been.  We don’t ask them why they came to our door.  We just help them…. that is we do.