August 16, 2018, Sandy and the Blue Hands


Nelson and Francine met in front of Martin de Porres, a soup kitchen, on Potrero Avenue; our meeting point before we launch into the surrounding neighborhoods to find our guests, the men and women living on the streets of SF.

We drive up and down rugged streets and dark alleys we find an individual or a clump of folks who look to be in need and then we slow down and ask them “Anyone want a warm burrito?” Almost all eagerly accept.

That night, an older woman, Sandy was standing in front of Martin de Porres, rifling through a pile of rubbish.

Francine approached her, and Sandy eagerly accepted a warm burrito and a bottle of water. Francine noticed Sandy was in stocking feet only. Sandy complained all the shoes that she had found in that pile had soles that would fall off, and she showed Francine how, within a step or two, they would start flapping.

One of the ways we try to help people get off the streets is to put then in contact with their loved ones or family members. Urban Angels SF does this by collecting some information about the loved one or relative and then we pass it onto Miracle Messages who has volunteers who are able to find people. The only requirement is that our client needs to have a cell phone in order for us to put him or her in contact with the relative or loved one.

Francine asked Sandy if she wanted to contact her relatives. Then she started to wail.

“I had a cell phone, but it got stolen,” she said. She also lost the $125 she had pinned to her coat pocket. She had planned to send that money to her son in the Soledad State Prison, so he could buy a TV to relieve the grimness of his solitary confinement.

It turns out she had been keeping company with the kind of man who preys on vulnerable women. He took advantage of her napping one day to relieve her of her cell phone and cash. Predictably, the man disappeared.

She longed to contact her daughter and her son. But without a cell phone, she felt helpless. She was helpless. And so were we with respect to our ability to help her. If only we could find a way to get the men and women living on the streets free phones and free phone service.

So this time, there was nothing Francine could do but give Sandy a hug and promise to be back in two weeks with another burrito.

Of course, Francine had no way of knowing if she and Sandy would actually meet up again because people living on the streets are being pushed around so much my the police and unhappy neighborhood residents. This seemed obvious to both Francine and Sandy but was left unsaid.

At the end of our rounds that Thursday night, we came upon two young men who were living under a couple of trees not far from San Francisco’s Animal Control Center.

They eagerly accepted our burritos and bottled water. And we noticed that one of them had blue markings on his hands. Slashes of cerulean blue on each finger of his hands that were painfully swollen.

Nelson pointed out that the brochure we were giving them from Project Homeless Connect,, indicated sources for medical help. We urged him to see a doctor because it was clear that he had a very serious infection.  

“Yes, I should do that. These hurt pretty bad,” he said.

 We were left with the realization and feeling of despair that there was no way for us to know if he was able to get badly needed medical attention. Should we have driven him to the ER?

Nelson Barry III