This is Wes. He has chosen to live among San Francisco’s homeless for the past 41 years. Only out there does he feel best able able to provide direct help to those in need. Known on the streets as “Uncle Wes,” he is Irish-Mexican, one of thirteen children, and his family is split nearly evenly between its three host countries. Wes has battled addiction, spent time in San Quentin, lost a son and daughter, and is in terrific daily pain from chronic back and hip ailments that have seen him endure a dozen operations. Because of his former addiction, he refuses pain killers. While his suffering is nonstop, he rarely lets it show.
I’m lucky enough to spend my Tuesday morning with Wes walking the streets, meeting, talking to and learning directly from the homeless, and having my spirits lifted by a man who refuses to quit. Wes is by no means a saint, nor does he pretend to be. What he is is a person who gives everything he has — every last bit — to his convictions.
There are eight other members of my SUPER NICE CLUB who have volunteered with me to help pioneer a new program with San Francisco’s North Beach Citizens agency. We are meeting with homeless or recently sheltered people who are working to rehabilitate themselves and get back into the society that, for so many reasons that we are trying to understand through direct experience, currently underserves them. While it’s labeled as a “mentorship” program that is intended to help the homeless, it’s already clear to me that there is a mutual mentoring happening that is going to uplift everyone involved.
In the short time I’ve spent with Wes, I have to tell y’all, the effort does not feel Super Nice. Not remotely. Instead, it makes me feel Super Ignorant and Super Selfish for not doing more over the years.