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Categories: News

Adieu, Alice

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Her name was Alice. For at least the past three years, she lived at the 16th Street BART plaza, outside the now-shuttered Burger King. In her 60s, she favored bright colorful clothes and beaded earrings, her fingers filled with silver rings. And despite the harshness of life on the street and limited access to bathrooms, she maintained a sense of elegance that was eye-catching amid the pigeons, commuters, and overflowing trash cans.

Shortly before midnight on Saturday evening, Alice died at St. Francis Hospital.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen and office volunteer Anne Gallagher had spent months trying to get Alice off the streets — but time and time again, she refused their offers of shelter and support services. The Chronicle closely monitored the story, and after dozens of visits and a burgeoning friendship between Alice and Gallagher, plus an unfortunate theft of the shopping cart containing all her belongings, she was relocated to a single-room occupancy hotel.

But her health was deteriorating, and she took a turn for the worse in the days before she passed. She died peacefully, but alone.

Ronen honored Alice at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Alice retained her dignity and strong will until the very end,” Ronen said. “She had a very likeable personality. She was feisty. She was a person who had dreams, plans, and so much more. Whether it was raining or freezing or a beautiful day, Alice was always sitting in a chair, knitting, surrounded by suitcases overflowing with her belongings.”

BART Director and former Sup. Bevan Dufty, who was also personally familiar with Alice, told the Chronicle that it’s not uncommon for people who’ve spent extended periods on the street to lose their health once they enter care. The adrenaline that keeps people alert and alive recedes, and health issues take over.

Alice may be gone, but her story has brought to the forefront the issue of what role the city can and should play in helping its unhoused mentally ill population get the help they need, before it’s too late.

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Nuala Sawyer Bishari

Nuala Sawyer Bishari is the News Editor at SF Weekly. You can reach her at (415)-359-2644 or nsawyer@sfweekly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBestNuala or nualawrites.com.

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