Michelle visits the Civic Center twice a week to go to the Farmer’s Market at UN Plaza.
“I come here every Wednesday and Sundays because my best friend works over here selling produce. I come and do my best to do a little work when I can. You know, stacking the boxes and just trying to do whatever I can to be useful but she always says, ‘Oh, you don’t have to do any work because your work is just being here and doing what you do’ which is more like music. She calls me a ‘human jukebox.’”
Michelle loves music, particularly anything made by the Beatles.
“I sing a little bit when the mood hits and I play the piano. I have a Yamaha, it’s a small keyboard and take it out here and play. Like mostly blues and a little jazz. And I love the Beatles tunes. They wrote a lot of really pretty melodies.”
Michelle says she’s been coming to the Civic Center for a long time and relied on the area during a difficult period in her life when she was experiencing homelessness.
“I just like coming here and being here. I’ve just spent so many years out here. When I was homeless maybe ten years ago, I’d come here and there used to be a big tent over where there’s green [Civic Center Plaza]. I used to sleep out there sometimes.”
Despite having to sleep outside, Michelle says Civic Center Plaza was the safest place for her in the City.
“I felt like it was more safe than any other place just ‘cause I knew a lot of the people that were there…My late husband and I, we’d go to the transit building and sleep there when we wanted to sleep inside because of the weather but that wasn’t really a good situation. I don’t know if we were allowed to sleep there or not allowed.”
Michelle felt as though it was ok for her to sleep in the Civic Center because she and her husband did not get hassled or kicked out.
“There’s always that shadow of a doubt and it’s kind of an uncomfortable feeling sometimes of being on the fringes. I remember when Ricky, my husband, when we were going to all these hotels and trying to get a space and ‘Oh we’re all filled, we’re all filled, we’re all filled’. It was really hard trying to find a place so a lot of times we ended up sleeping outside.”
When Michelle and her husband had housing, they still came to the Civic Center to hang out with friends. She says it’s one of the reasons why she still visits the space now.
“When we lived on 6th Street over between Market and Mission, we used to come here usually about four o’clock. Like on Wednesdays at four and a little earlier on Sundays, we’d wait for my friend to get off of work and we all go out to eat or something.”
Michelle says the Civic Center makes her feel good.
“There’s the stimulation of having people out here and people are friendly for the most part. You know, they’re not gonna do me any damage and there’s a lot of musicians here.”
Michelle currently lives in housing for disabled seniors by Forest Hill Muni station but she is worried about losing her studio. For the most part, San Francisco makes her feel good too.
“Except for the squeeze on trying to find a place to live. You know, that was always hard and now that I have a studio, I’m doing my best to keep it. With the crunch on housing, it’s difficult but there’s a lot of good people here and there’s a lot of social services…There’s the clinics over here, Tom Waddell [Urban Health Clinic]. I’ve been going to for more than twenty-five years. There’s the Housing Coalition. If they try to kick you out of a place for not paying rent or something, they [Housing Coalition] will help you. So there’s a lot of services here and the weather is great. I was born and raised in Detroit. Of all the places I’ve lived in the country, I think this is the best.”
Michelle says Civic Center is still as welcoming as it was before but people have changed.
“For the most part [Civic Center is welcoming]. But people come with a lot of money and I just wish people were more friendly here. When I was with Rick, we were together for twenty-five years and we would say ‘hi’ and a lot of times people would just keep walking and ignore. And I’d think, ‘wow, you people are rude’ because you know, we’re both used to people being more friendly. It seems like a lot of times people don’t really have time to answer you or say hi to you.”
If the Civic Center public spaces were inaccessible, Michelle says it would be a lot harder for her to adjust now than it would have been in the past.
“I’ve just been into the routine of coming here for many years. And before I got more settled and had my sleeping bag out here and everything, I was in a lot better health. I had both legs and I could do a lot more. Now I just kinda rely on coming here for socializing. I come here because I know people that work here and I try to be part of the little community here.”
During the interview, Michelle had several people stop by to say hi to her. Over the years, she has gotten to know a lot of people in the area.
“Sometimes people will say ‘Oh you know me’. In 2000 or right before that, for a few years I worked as a detox counselor for people who were triple diagnosed with AIDS, substance abuse, and mental health. I worked with a lot of people here. It was nice to be able to do something positive. Improve people’s lives in a positive way.”
Michelle is happy to be in San Francisco and to have access to the Civic Center public spaces.
“I’m glad I’m alive here. I’m glad I’m living here. For the most part, I really appreciate being able to be here and be myself. It’s nice to be able to do that here. I would say that out of all the places that I’ve been, San Francisco and right here has been the most accepting. It’s kinda like the best places.”