Gated Communities and Homeless Dinners | Robin Sparks

Gated Communities and Homeless Dinners

Hey there…

Where in the world am I now?

Home. Really home. With my parents in Northern California. As you may have surmised from last month’s blog, I am with my mother who is undergoing chemotherapy.

photo shot last week while driving down Columbus Street in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco

With the soundtrack of Bonanaza, Walton Mountain reruns, and the preaching of Dr. Phil droning in the background – my father is an avid TV watcher – I am mining notes that comprise the story of my search for home.

Sometimes an experience I’d forgotten surfaces. Here’s one found today, circa 2004, San Francisco.


An old friend from my Tahoe days visits me in San Francisco. We haven’t spoken in over 4 months, pre-Brazil.

“Karen” has a new condo in the East Bay with a private lake, a tennis court, and “it’s in a gated community,” she adds with emphasis.

“What are you afraid of?” I ask, genuinely perplexed. After all, she lives in a suburban town the likes of Mayberry.

“Are you joking? Haven’t you been watching the news?” she says. “Didn’t you hear about that guy who was killed at the Giants game and what about that woman who disappeared last week in Oakland?”

“Yes, I heard. Repeatedly until finally I turned off the TV. Don’t watch the news,” I plead. “They bombard you with the occasional horrific event, and because that’s all you hear, you begin to believe it is the norm and live in fear that you will be next.”

Karen looks at me oddly.


I accepted an invitation for one of Marc Bruno’s monthly dinners in North Beach for the homeless. Bocce Cafe donates the space and much of the food. Other restaurants like the North Beach Cafe and Washington Park Bar and Grill prepare desserts, salads, bread, and drinks. The purpose of these meals Marc says is to give the homeless a feeling of community by sitting down to dinner with their neighbors.

And so tonight I am dining with people I normally see emerging from a blanket on a street corner.

They are memorializing Punky who died last week at age 28 of liver failure. A tall lanky man stands and introduces himself as Macaroni and talks about what a kind soul Punky was and how he was the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone. He adds that they are all going to miss him, “but hey, he is in a better place now.” Then one after another they share how Punky touched their lives.

It is not all that clear who is homeless here tonight and who is not. I am mindful of small talk like, “So where do you live?”

It’s a fine line between us.

I sometimes worry about how I’ll pay for my apartment. (ok so it’s a luxurious worry).
My newly divorced friend has been looking for a job for 6 weeks.
An ex boyfriend buys an SUV so that he can sleep in it if ever he should lose his home.

After the dishes have been cleared, Macaroni stands to announce that he and Dougie need 35 cents each for cab fare. A man at the next table says, “Do what I do and sneak on the back of the bus.” A woman dressed in ski cap and layers of clothes says, “Or look on the ground for a bus pass.”

We, neighbors all, walk to our homes – some under roofs and others under the stars.

Coit Tower towers over North Beach and Telegraph Hill in 2004

Comments are closed.

Design by Likoma with WOO on WP

var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www."); document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));