Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pfarrer Sieber

When I tell Europeans where I'm from the response usually is something like, 'San Francisco! I didn't expect to see so many homeless people there.'  Yeah, and you know what?  I never do either.  I'm from a suburb of San Francisco.  My parents and two of my grandparents grew up there.  On weekends, we'd go into the city to visit family, picnic in Golden Gate Park, take a trip out to Ocean Beach, or meander around North Beach.  In the early 70s, one saw, sort of, 'left-overs' from the Summer of Love era, but not the clusters of mentally ill people and aggressive panhandlers along Market Street like one sees now.

I've always thought that seasonable, year-round weather mixed with a 'de-institutionalization' of the mentally ill throughout California in the 1970s helped to bring about the chronic problem with indigency we seem to have in my home state.  What's that old adage?  If you're not part of the solution...?

Der Pfarrer Sieber

I recently got a gig volunteering at the Sozialwerke Pfarrer Sieber.  Pfarrer Sieber has been engaged in taking care of the homeless and drug-addicted population here in Zurich since the 1950s.  Every Swiss person whom I've talked to seems to know of his work.

'You're moving to Zurich?  It's so pristine and clean and filled with wealth!'

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that sort of thing before moving to Zurich, then I would donate it to the SWS.  There is poverty here.  There are people living with addiction and mental health issues.  I spoke with another volunteer, K., who is from the area and not rolling in cash herself who told me, 'The problem is that no one here wants to talk about poverty.  It exists, but we pretend it doesn't.'

My once weekly engagement has me doling out clothes in a 'boutique', as we refer to it, to people in need.  They come as singles, pairs, or families.  Each person is allowed to take five articles of clothing per visit.  The donated clothes, in general, are of good quality, and, mostly, seasonal.  I and the other volunteer who works with me tend to try to make the experience for the clients much like that of visiting a proper clothing store.  We ask if they need help finding things, we show them items that might be flattering for them to wear, and we give feed back on clothes they try on.

T., a woman who looked most at home wearing as little as possible, rejected one of my clothing suggestions because it was 'too conservative'.  If I recall, it was a dress that covered the knees.  A young man with slicked back hair wearing wingtips found a pair of replacement braces for his trousers, and a picked up a lovely, leather suitcase, too.  The creme de la creme was the man with his corduroy trousers falling off coming in for a shop with his German Shepherd.  The dog came in and promptly sat down, putting its head on its paws.  The man, one hand on the waistband of his torn trousers, needed a new pair.  As his willie was out for all to see, I would have said that he needed a pair of underpants to too, but I kept quiet.  Then all of the female volunteers went outside to wait while a male volunteer assisted him in finding a suitable, new pair of trousers.

In addition to folk picking up clothes at the shop, people drop off clothing donations there, too.  A few weeks ago we received a 'bumper crop' of clothes.  Two women brought in two suitcases each filled with adult clothes and bed linens.  An older woman brought in four suitcases and two large bags worth of her recently deceased mother's wardrobe.  There was a couple who pulled up in their car, got out, and then weren't sure where to go to find us.  I could hear the man asking in the dry-cleaners next door where 'der Pfarrer Sieber' was.  I popped up out of my chair to greet him at the front.  When he found out that we were right next door he turned to the dry-cleaner and said something like, 'Why didn't you tell me it was right next door?!'  His irritation quickly subsided as he and his wife were helped with their donations inside.  I asked him if he'd like to leave his details, so that Father Sieber may send him a 'thank-you' note.  He gladly did so while telling me that he'd already received a letter from him once for donating in the past.

Schöne Stadt Zuerich

I would add that all of the above people are native to this area.  I wonder if K. really meant that the issues of mental illness, addiction and poverty aren't supported by enough legislation when she said that Zürchers pretend the problems don't exist.  I would say that a foreigner's perception of Zurich may be that it's all luxury items and tidy streets.  We see what we both want and hope to see.  Could a native's vision be similar?

The San Francisco treat!

Of course, like any place once visited for any length of time, the reality of it is something a little more like willies-hanging-out-of-trousers real.  -beyond the image of Rice-a-Roni and cable cars.


  1. > 'You're moving to Zurich? It's so pristine and clean and filled with wealth!'

    I think this is rather an outside view, a foreigner's characteristical perception. I am convinced that, in general, a Swiss has a much more diversified view about wealth and poverty in Switzerland. 'Working poor' (somebody has a (full-time) job, but still earns too less to afford a low-level decent live, e.g. especially single mothers) is not a new term for us.
    Most Swiss do not earn that much as the standard US-American (white-caucasian, 99%) visitor in Switzerland; at least they would not be willing to, or not be able to, spend $200-300 for a night in a hotel during a 10-14 days stay.
    A sales person in a normal compartment store earns about CHF 3200.-, a Swiss flight attendant CHF 3400.- brutto (i.e., before the deduction of social insurances fees, and before tax), if she works 100%. But as a single parent you rather work in 60% job. But then she has to pay a rent of CHF 1000.- for a small two-room apartment in the suburbs for her and her child(ren), not to mention the health insurance of CHF 450.- per month. Not to mention costs for either a tiny second-hand car, or the public transport system passes, school, etc, etc. So it ends up at zero CHF at the end of the month. And for a large amount of people, this is quite common.

    1. Thank you for your response.

      I would tend to agree with you, and, if I didn't clearly write it in the post, your sentiments are, in part, what I meant to illustrate in the post. I think that the above quote ('...pristine and clean...') is an idealized view of Switzerland that some people seem to have just as one might have of any place that one visits as a tourist. San Francisco has a huge homeless problem; NYC has an over abundance of 'working poor'; all over London there are those who live very frugally and still barely make ends meet.

      As a teacher back in the states, I made about $33,000 yearly-netto. I had two other part-time jobs to keep me a-float financially. The cost of living in California is extortionate.

      Thank you very much for the useful information!

    2. Well, even we here in CH know how badly teachers are paid in the United States of America. A very wrong attitude in my honest opinion. Well, it definitely supports my idea that USA is a very elitist society: a very few enormously profit by the exploitation of the most in the own country.

      You should have been teaching in CH instead. As http://www.lohncheck.ch/lohn/diverses/Lehrer/geschlecht shows, you would earn at least CHF 78'000.- brutto a year for a teacher's job. A male teacher earns in average CHF 104'000.- a year. Any kind of teacher, not only in public schools. In public schools the average salary, gender-independent, is CHF 7500.- a month. So quite a difference from a sales person ;-)

      BTW: the gender difference is an ongoing political debate in CH, of course. Nevertheless, you also have to take into account, that these average saleries are from people with different experiences, education, different school levels (primary school vs. Kantonsschule/Gymnasium) and from different fields ("branches", e.g. medical teacher vs. public school teachers of different levels). And regarding gender you can say that women in general teach less longer, having a less higher education in this profession, preferably teaching primary schools (age 6-12) and therefor have a lower average income. Main reason for this: Women tend to have children, stay at home for a while (some years) or are working only part-time and therefor salaries are lower in average.

      BTW: I do not know how serious or up-to-date the figures in http://www.lohncheck.ch are. At least they are not synchronized between the German and English site, sometimes ;-)

    3. … and btw: monthly salaries are normally multiplied by 13 in order to get the yearly income! This is quite a common standard in CH, how you are paid: at the end of the year you get an 13th month paid. Of course, in your contract you will find the yearly salary figure ;-) If I am not mistaken the original idea behind this was that you pay taxes with the 13th month salary. But some use it for buying christmas presents nowadays, since the last salary of the year (the 12th and 13th month) are normally paid before Christmas. :-((

    4. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your insights!

      Women in the US tend to earn less than equally qualified men in the same job positions. There was a case that came to light a few years back when a female employee of Goodyear Tires found out that she'd been making 40% in wages than her males colleagues. Up to that point, she'd been an employee at this plant for 19 years. She sued the plant for unfair wage discrimination based on gender. She lost her case due to allegedly not filing within a timely fashion.

      This is Lilly Ledbetter and her case: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/6/lilly_ledbetter_namesake_of_fair_pay

      Merci vielmal fuer die Kommentare!

  2. And btw, you write: Schöne Stadt Zürich

    Regarding Umlaute: If you add "Switzerland, German" to your computer's supported languages then you can easily switch between your standard american and the (virtual) Swiss German keyboard and gives us the pleasures of reading real Umlaute. ;-)

    You know, there is a difference between "fordern" and "fördern" ;-) (I know you use the correct substitutions 'oe', 'ae', 'ue')

  3. Danke! Ich habe bloß das 'e' vergessen zu schreiben. :) Wie Sie sehen, ich bin nicht total begabt beim Deutschschreiben. I have a fancy phone that allows one to write correctly with umlauts, and that is a great help. I shall take your suggestion and add German to my computer's supported languages.

    Wenn Sie meine Beiträge auf Deutsch lesen würden, dann würden Sie auch leider Fehler da finden! Ah, well!

    Best regards and thank you for reading,

  4. That sounds like a wonderful place to help out in, how nice of them to donate clothes and then give them right back to the needy. You know the states, we donate it and they turn around and sell it. Quite sad if you ask me!

    1. Yeah, I hear that the do that in the UK, too. -something about selling them to overseas outlets where they are then re-sold.

      The 'boutique' is truly a help. Two men came in the other day to pick up a new outfits, as it were, as they said that the police confiscated their belongings. They each found a pair of shoes, some underpants, and jackets.

    2. I hate typos. I wish we could edit our comments!

  5. Darn, wish I knew this sooner. I recently tossed out large Texaid-bag-full of good pieces into the 'Textile' recycle bin in my neighbourhood. I would much rather have someone have some good use for my seldom-worn stuff, as opposed to being shred to bits. (I have no idea what they do to recycle textile, here.)

    I also wondered if Brockiland or Brockenhaus took in clothing. They most certainly would have my approval of turning around and selling them -- consider it a donation.

    1. Yeah, bummer that you didn't know about Pfarrer Sieber! I checked out the Brockenhalle here in my Kreis and was told that they do accept donations, so, I guess, that all the Brockis would do.

    2. BTW, I was in the area and walked past this place as it caught my eye -- 'Ha! I've heard about this place'...


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