San Francisco is waging an ongoing war against the homeless. The city is seeking to capitalize on a renewed tech boom, which is adding more jobs and tax revenues to the economy. However, their policies amount to gentrification as they are sweeping the problem of homelessness under the rug without addressing the core causes.
What to do with the homeless in San Francisco has been an ongoing debate for the last 30 years and has led to massive class conflicts. There have been regular rent protests and protestors picketing the tech buses used to take techies to work for bemoths such as Apple, Google, and Twitter. One person had this to say about the homeless:
Sometimes that has gotten ugly. Last December the then-CEO of tech startup AngelHack, Greg Gopman, posted a Facebook status complaining of the homeless in San Francisco. "The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay," he wrote.Unfortunately, thanks to the city's policy of gentrification, it is not always possible to avoid the homeless. The problem is that there are at least six times as many homeless as there are beds to house them:
Gopman’s tirade garnered a flood of hostile media attention. Now he regrets the post, calling it "not well thought out."
"I don’t hate the homeless. I hate that we have turned a blind eye towards finding a real solution, and because of mental illness and despair, many of our streets are not safe," he told Al Jazeera.
But the city suffers from a shortage of homeless facilities. There were close to 6,500 homeless in San Francisco last year, according to official estimates — although homeless advocates say counting the transient population is a difficult task and that the true number could be much more. Yet there are currently only 1,139 beds available in San Francisco’s crowded homeless shelters.And certain city workers are saying one thing and doing another:
DPW's Gordon noted that the cleaning program, which removes everything from excrement to used needles from the streets, also covers "basic outreach with information on services," but an Al Jazeera reporter did not witness any DPW workers or police offering the homeless direction to shelters or other resources.One of the main causes of homelessness is the astronomically high rents. The site rent.com lists apartments for rent within 25 miles of San Francisco. As of today's writing, the cheapest apartment is $1,675 per month with the next cheapest at around $1,900 per month. Most are over $2,000 per month. This means that it is difficult to make ends meet for people even with a $20/hour wage (which brings in around $3,200/month assuming 40 hours a week).
The San Francisco Gate has done a whole series on the homeless and notes:
We trip over them on the sidewalk every day. We curse, hand them a dollar, or don't. We feel pity, sorrow, guilt and rage at their presence. The city spends $200 million a year trying to get homeless people off the streets and into a better way of life – and though much progress has been made over the past couple of decades, the problem never goes away.The $200 million a year figure is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. That is over $25,000 for each homeless person in the city. It might actually be more cost effective simply to give each homeless person $10,000 -- and let them choose where to spend the money. That would be cheaper and at least more cost effective than what the city is already doing. In one experiment, 13 homeless people in the UK were given $1,277 each, and 11 of them were able to get off the streets. Contrary to popular stereotypes, they did not spend it all on booze and drugs.
The more able of the homeless find their way into shelters, counseling and housing programs. But the most chronically indigent, called the hard core, are so entrenched that they are particularly tough to pull up off the street into healthier lives. These 3,000 to 5,000 homeless at the very bottom are the most visible, and they give the city its dubious distinction of having what many call the most visible homeless problem in the country.
Although visible and widespread homelessness emerged unexpectedly in San Francisco in 1982, its causes are not a mystery. Consider some of the events that occurred in the preceding decade:The article goes on to note that former SF Mayor Dianne Feinstein tried to house them in hotels -- which turned out to actually encourage homelessness because it did not provide long-term solutions.
-- The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency destroyed thousands of low-cost single room occupancy hotels in the South of Market for "urban renewal."
-- The City's Rehabilitation Assistance program (RAP) forced thousands of low-income tenants to leave the upper Haight-Ashbury, initiating a gentrification process that would virtually eliminate privately owned low-cost housing in the neighborhood.
-- The City's Planning Department reported that over 6,000 single room occupancy units were lost from 1975-79, and another 1,700 from 1981-88.
-- Rapidly increasing real estate values led to significant increases in rent citywide and displacement of low-income tenants through neighborhood gentrification.
-- The statewide mental health system steadily declined and board-and-care homes were converted to market-rate homes, rental housing, or condominiums.
-- The federal government responded to these events, which also occurred in similar forms throughout America's major cities, by sharply reducing the availability of subsidized housing. Thus, as the gap between people's incomes and housing costs widened, federal housing policy failed to intervene to prevent rising homelessness.
Hope SF is a project dedicated to revitalizing low-income areas by rebuilding old housing projects and offering a range of social services to the mostly low-income residents. It is led by the Mayor's Office of Housing and the San Francisco Housing Authority, in collaboration with government, philanthropic, and community partners. The goal is to transform a handful of severely underserved and aging public-housing sites, without forcing out current residents. Potentially, it provides a model to other urban areas, which are looking to revamp public housing while retaining cities' socioeconomic mix of residents.The problem is that since the city has let the problem go for the last 30 years, there has been a massive breakdown of trust between the city and its people.
Public-housing reform is not new, but Hope SF's emphasis on resident-based programs like the walking school bus, in addition to rehabbing old buildings, could lead the effort to succeed in a way other housing projects have not—particularly in a city like San Francisco with its rapidly rising housing costs. The biggest challenge now is convincing residents, who have been so neglected in the past, that this time is different.
"There is no reason in hell for public-housing residents to trust officials that come in and say they'll make their lives better," says Pam David, former director of the Mayor's Office of Community Development and member of the Steering Committee for the Campaign for Hope SF. "Our history is with most things that have been tried, most were delivered to them, not with them. And they have not worked and not been sustained."The question is whether the political will exists to keep the program going after the present mayor leaves and a new administration is elected. The present website for the project has not been updated for a year, suggesting that promoting it to the city is not high on the list of the city's priorities.