Bureaucrat scuffs dream of homeless shoe shiner
June 4, 2009
He sleeps under a bridge, washes in a public bathroom and was panhandling for booze money 11 months ago, but now Larry Moore is the best-dressed shoeshine man in the city. When he gets up from his cardboard mattress, he puts on a coat and tie.
It's a reminder of how he has turned things around. In fact, until last week it looked like Moore was going to have saved enough money to rent a room and get off the street for the first time in six years. But then, in a breathtakingly clueless move, an official for the Department of Public Works told Moore that he has to fork over the money he saved for his first month's rent to purchase a $491 sidewalk vendor permit.
"I had $573 ready to go," Moore said, who needs $600 for the rent. "This tore that up. But I've been homeless for six years. Another six weeks isn't going to kill me."
The bureaucrat told Moore that she found out about his business after reading about his success in this paper.
Along Market Street, Moore's supporters are indignant. Nothing happens when mentally ill men wander the street talking to themselves and drunkards pee in the alleys. Yet Moore creates a little business out of thin air, builds up a client base, and the city takes nearly every penny he's earned.
Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for Public Works, said the department's contact with Moore was meant to be "educational."
"We certainly don't want to hamper anyone's ability to make a living," Falvey said. "Our education efforts are actually meant to support that effort by making our streets an enjoyable place for people to visit."
That is unlikely to mollify Moore's clients.
"Nothing like kicking someone when they are down," ranted attorney Loren Lopin, one of Moore's clients who donated $100 to help him get housing. "I am pissed."
Moore is nothing if not dutiful. He attempted to work his way through the byzantine city government channels, although he didn't get much help.
"I guess my gripe is that when the city came by and told him to get his papers in order but couldn't tell him how to do it," said Travis See, who manages the Custom Shop Clothiers on the corner of Market and New Montgomery. "This lady couldn't even tell him which building to go to so he could stand in line and waste all day."
When Moore found the permit application, he got a money order and headed down to the appropriate department to pay. But because he didn't have a valid ID card, they wouldn't take his money.
Could this be any more difficult? Moore doesn't want to get into city housing, preferring to make it on his own. But could you blame him if he gave up, kicked back and settled into a life of panhandling, subsidized housing and soup kitchen meals?
Luckily, Moore has quite a few fans. Lopin recruited a fellow attorney to donate to the first month's rent fund. She lets Moore keep his shoeshine stand in the store so he doesn't have to roll it up from the Bay Bridge exit ramp on Folsom where he sleeps.
Some of them remember Moore from the days when he was pushing a shopping cart down Market Street and holding the door open for customers at McDonald's on the chance they might hand him a quarter.
"As soon as I got that money I ran down and got a bottle," he said. "I took my alcoholism very seriously. I just got to thinking, why not take this seriously too? In 11 1/2 months, I haven't touched a drop."
He's turned into a bit of an institution at Market and New Montgomery. His regulars drop off shoes in the morning and pick them up when they leave the office. Guests at the Palace Hotel have become clients. See said Moore has become so popular that panhandlers swipe his brushes and polish because he's too much competition.
"He's the best thing to happen to this corner in a long time," said See. "It just seems like this process is turning out to be particularly uphill for him."
The only one who isn't furious about this is Moore. He insists that city functionaries are giving him a break because they are letting him continue to shine shoes while he waits for a copy of his birth certificate to be sent from Kansas. Once it arrives they will allow him to get an ID card and then hand over almost every cent he has.
What a deal.
"I'll do whatever they want," Moore said. "But I won't jump through no more of those $491 hoops. Those are getting expensive."