Societal Paramedics needed to Render Aid against new AIDS Crisis, Homelessness

We treat homelessness in San Francisco as if it were the new AIDS crisis. But we should treat homelessness in similar fashion to when we confronted the AIDS crisis here.

The similarities between how people infected with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 90s were FIRST treated by society, and how we currently treat today’s homeless, is simply a crying shame.

However, if we use the AIDS crisis as a guide, we can get the upper hand on homelessness just the way we did in the fight against AIDS.

Earlier this year, a medical trade convention announced it was looking for a new city to hold its annual convention. After 30 years and spending an estimated $40 million per year here it is fed up. The reason given by this unnamed trade convention was the dirty and unsafe streets in San Francisco for its convention goers.

I’m skeptical.

People in the medical field have dealt with the most unsightly aspects of human life. But now, a medical trade group is treating San Francisco’s homeless crisis like those who panicked in the early days, or years of the AIDS epidemic?

The one thing I admire most about the medical field is the way they look to find cures for what ills us. With compassion and understanding needed to heal the sick, physically and mentally their fearless approach is their sugical uniform. Now, a medical group is acting like a fearful society.

Who can forget how even the innocent, like Ryan White, was treated once it was learned in his community of Kokomo, Indiana, he simply wanted to return to school after being diagnosed with AIDS?

Born with hemophilia, this teenager contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. But fearful residents went to great links to keep Ryan out of school, despite the Indiana State health department ruling that he could attend school with no threat to infect others.

His community of Kokomo held an auction in the school gymnasium to raise money to keep him out of school in one incident. But shooting a bullet through his family’s living room window was too much for the family. So, they moved at the end of the school year 30 miles away to Cicero, Indiana where Ryan was welcomed. Thank God, he experienced the compassion and understanding needed to concur any challenge before he passed, five years after his diagnosis in December of 1984.

In the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, it was not that much better. Some nurses refused to help AIDS patients. Adding insult to injury, many of the loved ones were not even allowed to visit due to the fact they were not “Family” members. When your family disowns you simply because you were homosexual was bad enough. But these same families were demanding hospitals enforce policy against non-family visitors.

San Francisco and many other cities of the world woke up. Throwing out the window all old protocol for people dying with AIDS was replaced with the strategy of compassion, understanding, and creativity to name a few new tools to fight a crisis.

Removing restrictions on who can visit these dying patients was key. But dedicating an entire floor in a hospital to care for AIDS patients and creating the first AIDS outpatient clinic in the world were among the finest moments of San Francisco’s first steps taken before the medical field reached first base in offering life saving drugs.

Today, though there are still great challenges, we see clearly the strategy of compassion and understanding paying off.

How did the world get the upper hand on some of the great plagues? Bubonic, Smallpox, Malaria, Cholera, Polio, and leprosy to name a few; murdered hundreds of millions throughout the world.

Nature eliminated some of these diseases but, God has given us humans the only antidote that works against the plague of homelessness. That antidote pumps the spiritual blood that we all tend to take for granted from time to time. In other words, I’ve witnessed San Franciscans treat the homeless as if just saying “good morning" would somehow infect them with the disease of homelessness.

I recall witnessing a man get stabbed in his groin. Blood began to gush out of him like water out of a fire hydrant. I thought he was a goner even though it took no more than two minutes for the paramedics to be on scene rendering aid. Later, when I learned that he survived the stabbing he told me how that was possible: “The paramedics continued working on me because they continued to feel a very faint heartbeat” he told me.

In the San Francisco November 2018 election their are several ballot measures designed to create more affordable housing and housing for the chronically homeless. But we will never get the upper hand on homelessness in America by building more homes.

The 2010 San Francisco censes determined there were 805,000 residents in The City. In 2018 it is estimated there are 884,000 residents living here. Over the same period it is estimated that there was 7,000 homeless. So, did 79,000 newcomers step over the 7,000 homeless to grab 79,000 vacant places to live in The City?

It is when we wake up and stop treating the homeless like a certain medial trade group, and begin to treat the homeless as if we are the paramedics called to render AID.

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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