Today’s Chronicle brings us an excellent, uplifting must-read about an unhoused couple who’ve been given a free place to stay in a ritzy neighborhood — but the residents have hardly been unanimous in rolling out the welcome mat.
The cycle of homelessness is damn-near impossible to get out of, particularly for people who’ve been trapped in that cycle for ten years or longer. These heartbreaking stories rarely end well for the unhoused, and often tend to bring out the worst among people with secure housing. But if you could use a palate cleanser from stories of SoMa condo elites fighting homeless shelters, we urge you to read today’s Otis R. Taylor, Jr. column in the Chronicle about a couple living on the streets of Oakland for ten years, but offered a free place to stay in the exclusive East Bay community of Piedmont.
Meet Greg Dunston and Marie McKinzie, whom Taylor profiled in January over the pair’s continued homeless status resulting from a years-long disability back pay dispute. The disability claim was denied, even though McKinzie does legitimately suffer from scoliosis and a vision impairment. That story caught the attention of Piedmont homeowner Terrence McGrath, who has an empty in-law unit with its own separate entrance, kitchen, and bath. McGrath just figured the hell with it and invited the couple to live in his in-law, rent-free, for as long as they pleased.
“It was hard for them to believe that someone they didn’t know who had more money than they could ever imagine wanted to help them. What did McGrath want in return?— Lizzie Johnson (@lizziejohnsonnn) May 2, 2019
Nothing, McGrath said.”
This @otisrtaylorjr column is a must read:
But as you might imagine, suspicious neighbors in the affluent, 75% white community started reporting this strange new couple to the police within days, and continue to do so. “When people have called, we’ve not even responded,” Piedmont police captain Chris Monahan told the Chronicle. “We’ve called them and said, ‘Oh no, those are the people that live in the house. [The homeowner is] trying to help them.’”
McGrath’s generosity is rooted in his own experience growing up poor and on welfare, even though he’s now a millionaire real estate investor and developer. “It’s helped bring me back to my roots as a young kid,” he told the Chron. “I cannot avoid the responsibility I have to life around me. I have a personal obligation to take responsibility when I see injustices. And to me, this is a clear injustice.”
The paper is often quick to toot their own horn when stories they cover get real world results. And you know what? They deserve to! These are meaningful positive impacts on people’s lives, spurred by dogged reporting and follow-up, and further powered by legions readers who get inspired to take action for themselves. There may be a guy in the White House who hates the press, but there’s also a couple who have a house to stay in because of the good, solid reporting of the local press.