Heartbreaking Story About Homelessness in San Francisco

Vertigo screencap San FranciscoThis #longread from Vox about the rise of homelessness in San Francisco is devastating but important, so take a deep breath and make sure you have some snack food at hand for stress-eating. I want to quote huge chunks of it. Like this:

Many of the people who come through St. Anthony’s for a meal have jobs, but the minimum wage doesn’t allow them to pay for rent in San Francisco and still be able to afford food. Some work full-time but are homeless because they can’t find affordable housing in the city. … an increasing number of working San Franciscans and their families are joining the homeless shelter waiting lists and dining room lines. They’re people with jobs. They’re people who work full-time and still can’t afford to live in the city.

The problems of affluence consolidating at the top, housing remaining scarce at the bottom, and space constraints city-wide (San Francisco measures only seven miles by seven miles and unaffordability has long since trickled out to Oakland and Berkeley), seem intractable. Residents want to keep San Francisco charming; does that mean thousands have to starve? Surely there’s some meet-in-the-middle space between SF and Singapore.

Lest you lose sight of the individuals suffering in the midst of this madness, read on. One of the women profiled lost her home while working full-time at a housing clinic. Another worked in new media. It’s like a horror movie. No one is safe. The calls are coming from inside the house.

Todd was a video producer working in financial news before he became homeless. He lived in a modest two-bedroom house in Twin Peaks, near the center of San Francisco, with his daughter. He wore a suit to work every day. “I was going along, being a good citizen,” Todd, now 52 years old, says. “I was a volunteer firefighter, I coached football and baseball, I was saving my money, doing everything you’re supposed to do, being a single father, raising my daughter by myself. Then the economy just went to hell and the company threw me to the wolves.”

The myth of the “good poor” kills me, the idea that people should have to point to their accomplishments and credentials to make clear that they don’t deserve to have to live on the street. No one should have to live on the street. If our country can spend $7 billion trying to bribe Afghanistan to stop growing poppies — the end result of which is cultivation reaching an all-time high — we have the funds to make taking care of the basic needs of our own citizens a priority. If we want to. (We don’t want to. Why don’t we want to?)

The tech moguls and their legions of well-compensated workers are not, in and of themselves, the problem, by the way. Seattle has also surged with techies, but it has managed to create new housing to keep pace with demand. San Francisco, stymied by its own regulations, has not. Meanwhile, some techies are trying to help:

The Hamilton Family Center rental subsidy that supports Todd and his daughter is the result of philanthropic efforts by Salesforce’s Marc Benioff. St. Anthony’s technology training center, which aims to equip the homeless with basic computing skills, is often staffed with volunteers from Zendesk and Twitter. Zendesk has even developed software to help St. Anthony’s volunteers train clients more effectively.

There are no clear villains here, and there are no easy answers. This Vox piece does a respectful job of showcasing the situation’s complexity and at the same time making it clear that a solution cannot wait, or San Francisco will become Hong Kong.

RELATED: One of San Francisco’s local free papers, the Guardian, which dates back to 1966, is shutting down, unless its scrappy staffers can raise enough money to save it.

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