How a boarding school teacher became the homeless addict known as the Man in the Woods

A few weeks ago I highlighted a report produced by an NBC affiliate in San Francisco called “Saving San Francisco.” Part one of the series was titled “The Man in the Woods” and it was about a specific homeless man living in the woods near a housing development just north of the city. His name is James Durgin and as you can see in this first installment, residents of the area have different views of Durgin.

One woman in particular, named Ann, has had some disturbing encounters with Durgin. He has shown up at her house at night, sometimes naked. He has left flirty messages written in chalk around her property. Over the past 5 years, she has called police about Durgin more than 50 times. And yet she still lives in fear and sleeps with a taser and a knife by her bed in case Durgin gets into her house one night. Here’s part one.

Since then, three more parts of the story have been released. Part two, titled “In Sickness and in Health,” presents Durgin as an example of a much broader problem in the city. He’s been arrested and offered help “countless times” but he rejects those offers and continues to live out his life on the street or in the woods, using meth. And as you’ll see in this clip, James is also something of a political hot potato, with some neighbors feeling threatened by him and others dismissing the idea that incarceration is a solution for James or other homeless people. Durgin’s attorney says maybe a society where some people aren’t required to “produce” is one the city should be aiming for. Here’s part two.

Part 3 is titled “Big Angry Monsters.” It focuses on where Durgin came from and how he wound up living in the woods in San Francisco. The answer to that question has to do with addiction. Durgin took some time off during high school to deal with alcoholism. But he returned and finished school and then went to college. He ultimately moved to California with dreams of being a writer. He wound up teaching at a boarding school near Palo Alto but after three years Durgin quit.

What changed? According to his former college roommate, he went to a party one night where he was offered crack. And that was the start of Durgin’s life falling apart. Here’s part three.

Finally, part 4 is titled “‘Beautiful People, Wasted.” It returns its focus to the city of San Francisco and what it is doing to deal with the problems of drug addition and homelessness. Watch the segment but this report winds up suggesting federal money is needed to truly solve the problem. Would federal money help James Durgin? The previous segments have suggested it would not.

It looks like there’s at least one more installment coming. The hint at the end of part 4 suggests part 5 will turn attention to DA Chesa Boudin. That should be interesting.