A familiar face on the streets of the Castro over the years has died. His name was Barry LeBlanc, and you may know him as the gray-bearded guy who would often pull up his cart in the afternoons and sit at a table outside the former Bagdad Cafe or at Peet's Coffee on Market Street, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes, and drawing on a sketchpad. As the Castro Biscuit notes, he was an accomplished illustrator who is said to have taken to the streets out of heartbreak years ago at the loss of his partner to AIDS.
Barry died last week, on January 18, at the age of 53 of unknown causes. He was often seen sleeping by his cart in a doorway along Noe Street. A small memorial for him has now been set up near the flower stand on 16th Street, behind Books Inc. and SliderBar, and a memorial for him is planned on Saturday.
Commenters on Castro Biscuit have noted that they knew Barry as a kind and gentle man who often smiled to passersby and never asked for money. He survived on the kindness of others who knew him, and expressed gratitude for that going back decades on the street. One commenter in particular, whose mother was friends with Barry, had expressed concern about his physical state last week, and it sounds as though the city's Homeless Outreach team may have failed to follow up quickly enough.
My mom lives in the Castro and has been friends with Barry since she first arrived years ago. My partner and I got to know Barry through her. I was always amazed by how much a part of the community he was. When his cart would be stolen, neighbors and friends would replace whatever he’d lost. He seemed well cared for-for a man that lived on the street. One year we gave him some warm clothes including specially-requested sweat pants -- because when he got frostbite on his fingers he could no longer fuss with buttons and zippers -- the same reason he had to stop his art. One cold year we gave him blankets, socks, and a large, warm sleeping bag, he gave us smiles and so much gratitude. I was embarrassed to not be able to do more for him.
I did call 311 and the Homeless Outreach Team last Friday. I explained that my mom had called me Wednesday and Thursday nights concerned about Barry. I went by to check on him on Friday and found him in a bad state and knew he needed help. The Homeless Outreach Team assured me they would go out and check on him. I emphasized that he was not a drunk or an addict and that he’d been in very bad shape for at least 3 days. If they had told me they couldn’t help or that they’d leave him there to die on the sidewalk, I would have called 9-11 instead. I’ve heard at least one other neighbor also called on his behalf. I’ve also heard that both the Outreach Team and the police left him there -- so incapacitated that he was exposing himself to passersby and he was unable even to clutch the $87 well-meaning folks had shoved into his near-dead hand. Why, how, a city as rich as ours manages/bothers to have service providers and public health/safety officers that would just let a human being in obvious need die in the night, face down on the sidewalk, for neighbors/friends to find on their morning walk to work -- it is beyond my ability to comprehend the callousness.