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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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News + PoliticsFive myths about the homeless problem in San Francisco

Five myths about the homeless problem in San Francisco

Most of what the politicians and the media are telling you isn't true. Here's why.

There is so much misinformation about homeless people and the problem of homelessness in San Francisco that I almost don’t know where to start. But the news coverage of the homeless encampments, the Chron’s story on how much money the city spends on homeless services, and the ongoing attacks on tent cities suggest that a lot of us are missing the point.

No tents on the ground, so the activists had to pick them up
It’s about inequality and evictions, not about the problem of tent cities

Here are some of the biggest myths about homelessness in San Francisco:

  1. The city spends too much money on the problem.

That was kind of the gist of the Chron article. Although it made no explicit judgment, the headline — “SF spends record $241 million on homeless, can’t track results” suggests that there’s a lot of waste:

The $241 million is about equivalent to the annual budget for the Public Works Department, which cleans all the city’s streets, repairs its sidewalks, cleans up illegal dumping, maintains its trees, removes graffiti and more. That much money would pay for San Francisco’s entire library system for two years.

Yep: It’s a lot of money. It’s also about 2.8 percent of the city’s $8.6 billion budget.

But there’s a sizable flaw in the calculus: As Randy Shaw points out (in an article that has other problems, but gets this absolutely right), almost half the money that the Chron identifies as “homeless” spending is actually money spend on people who are in supportive housing. That’s housing money, not homeless money. Supportive housing isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than the alternatives.

If we counted all the money the city spends on affordable housing as money that keeps people from being homeless – and in many cases, that’s exactly what it does – the numbers would look even larger.

The city spends a lot on homeless services. Here’s why: We have created an enclave for the rich, and driven thousands out of their homes. We are a city of vast wealth. We have captured very little of that wealth for the public sector. Trickle-down economics was a sad, painful, devastating mistake when Ronald Reagan first made it the law of the land, and it’s just as bad in San Francisco today. The tech boom has enriched the few and impoverished the many.

Along the way, we have driven up the cost of land astronomically, making it harder and harder, and more and more expensive, for the city to buy or rent space for housing and services. The biggest under-reported story of the tech boom may be the impact on city agencies and nonprofits that serve the homeless and other vulnerable communities – they are getting driven out by rent hikes, too, or the city is forced to pay higher rates to keep them in place. It costs far more to build affordable housing today – because the land is so expensive, again because of the boom that Mayor Lee is so proud of.

There are, clearly, problems with tracking the money and the people, and better systems would help. But in the end, we are spending too little, not too much, on housing. (Some of the supes want a set-aside for Rec-Park, which I think is a dubious idea. But if we’re going in that direction, what if we set aside, say, $500 million a year for affordable housing? Then we could bond against that guaranteed income stream, and build about $10 billion worth of low-cost housing right now, which would house a substantial percentage of the currently homeless population.)


  1. The reason people are homeless is that they lack job skills or are lazy or are on drugs.

Actually, no. The main reason that so many people in San Francisco, and other cities like Los Angeles, are living on the streets is that the cost of housing over the past two decades has vastly exceeded the amount of income that people earn making minimum-wage jobs or bring in from modest pensions, disability, or welfare.

Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town. When that changed, people who were formerly housed became homeless.

There have always been people in US cities who have mental-health or substance-abuse issues, and there have always been people willing to work but lacking the skills to earn a six-figure income. Until fairly recently, most of those people could keep a roof over their heads. There wasn’t a lot of homelessness in American cities in the 1970s.

Now we have two intersecting economic disasters – the deep cuts in what we can generally call “welfare” payments and the radical dilution of the purchasing power of the minimum wage, and the explosive gentrification of San Francisco. Add in the federal government’s complete abandonment of cities (except when it comes to law enforcement) and it’s no wonder that there are tent cities all over town.

And hello: Are either of the Democratic candidates for president talking about urban housing issues, about a national crisis that ought to be on the top of the Washington agenda? If they are I’ve missed it. I remember Bill Clinton in 1992 promising to spend federal money to “put 100,000 more cops on the streets” in US cities. How about Hillary or Bernie pledging to build 100,000 new affordable housing units?

  1. San Francisco is a homeless magnet.

Oh yeah: People come here from all over because we’re such a great place to be homeless, right? As Jennifer Freidenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness wrote recently:

After all, we have such a wonderful safety net here. World class. I mean people are traveling miles and miles just to get here so they can wait in line with 3,000 other people just to get a meal. A shelter bed is a breeze, too, all you have to do is stand in line starting around 8:00 pm and stand there all night until 7 am, where you’ll likely get turned away, and where you then wait in line for still more hours for the chance to get a wristband that entitles you to wait for hours again to see if you won a bed for one night, and then stay in that bed until you have to leave first thing in the morning only to start the whole process over again.

Our warm embrace includes a beautiful place to live as well, we don’t just have a gorgeous bridge, we have rents that exceed a $20 an hour full time workers’ salary after taxes, and only 40,000 households on the waitlist for affordable housing. A waitlist that hasn’t opened for years.

The vast majority of the people who are homeless today used to be housed – in San Francisco. According to the city’s 2015 homeless count, 71 percent of the people on the streets were living in San Francisco when they lost their housing. That means seven out of ten homeless people used to be your neighbors – before the tech boom and the eviction epidemic. Those are, to a significant extent, people who are homeless not because they did anything wrong but because they aren’t rich enough to live in Ed Lee’s San Francisco.

Another 19 percent came from somewhere else in California, and ten percent from the rest of the country – but the last time anyone asked, back in 2009, whether they had come here for good services, only 1 percent said yes. The rest came here, in many cases, to leave abusive, homophobic, or repressive situations; they came here not for money but for tolerance.

Many of them – as many as 30 percent – are LGBT or disabled. Thousands are young people. Many have just aged out of foster care – and at 18, have no ability to earn the income that is required to rent an apartment, or even a room in a crowded flat.

Tent cities are communities, too
Tent cities are communities, too

  1. It’s unacceptable to let people live in tent cities

This is Sup. Scott Weiner’s big issue: He wants the tents cleared out, and says that it’s not humane or reasonable to have communities or homeless people living on the streets in what are basically campgrounds.

But there are no stable places for most of these thousands of homeless residents to go. And other cities, like Portland, have embraced the idea that maybe the crisis (NOT caused by the homeless people but by civic forces beyond their control) deserves a different approach. Portland is legalizing tents for the homeless. Seattle has a well-organized tent-city structure.

I agree with Wiener: In an ideal world, people shouldn’t be living in tents on the city streets. But we live in a far-from ideal world, and unless and until he has a better option, tents and tent cities might be preferable to people dying of exposure in the rain and cold. Maybe instead of trying to roust people and take away their tents, we should do what the folks at Rainbow Grocery, a coop business right next to the Division Street encampment, have suggested: Provide port-a-potties, hand-washing facilities, garbage cans that get emptied regularly, and social workers – not to get rid of people but to make their lives a little better and to less their impact on the neighbors.

If that’s not the best place – and it probably isn’t – instead of rousting people who have nowhere to go, the city ought to find a better site. The Mayor’s Office is trying Pier 80, but a lot of people don’t want to stay there, and I can easily explain why. It’s not just the location, and the lack (so far) of showers and toilets, which can be fixed.

It’s because the place is a huge open space with mats on the floor.

Would you rather live in a tent on the streets -- or here?
Would you rather live in a tent on the streets — or here?

I have been in medium-security jails that offer more privacy. This place has none, zero, and if I was a homeless person (or a couple, or someone with a kid) I would much prefer a tent, where I could at least close the flap and have a tiny bit of my own space, instead of a mat on a floor with hundreds of other people.

You want to make Pier 80 work as an alternative to a tent city? Here’s my suggestion: Spend a bit of that budget on a whole lot of two-by-fours and sheetrock. Ask for volunteers (I bet the Carpenter’s Union would help) to build a bunch of rooms, with doors that close and lock, and put beds in those rooms, and turn it into a dormitory, a short-term residential hotel, with 24-hour access in and out, were people get an actual private space, instead of a place nobody wants to sleep in for more than a night or two.

Or if you don’t like volunteerism as a solution to social problems (I think people should get paid for their work) Mayor Lee can hire union carpenters and ask some his tech-bro billionaire buddies, who have helped create the problem, to pay for it.

There are nonprofits in the city that do a good job managing residential hotels; they could manage this one, too.

Otherwise, people would rather live in tents, and I don’t blame them. So maybe let them pitch tents inside Pier 80, or find them someplace else until there’s actual housing for them, not a mat on a floor.

Remember: Shelter isn’t housing. And that’s the big problem: We think of shelter as an answer, when it’s nothing more than a band aid, nothing much better (and sometimes less appealing) than a tent on the street.

And most of the homeless people aren’t at fault. They didn’t create this problem; City Hall (and the feds and the state) did. So don’t blame the victims for trying to survive with a shred of dignity.

  1. There’s nothing we can do; it’s all the federal government’s fault

This is a common refrain among apologists for Mayor Lee, and they aren’t wrong to put some of the blame on Washington. As I noted above, federal support for cities has collapsed, and federal benefits haven’t even remotely kept pace with the rising cost of housing in cities like San Francisco.

But there are costs to decisions made at City Hall, and the decision to give a tax break to Twitter and other tech companies to colonize mid-Market, and the decision to allow private shuttles to use Muni stops to make it more attractive for high-paid tech workers to live in places where there used to be low-income people … those decisions are part of the reason there are so many people homeless in the city, despite all the money we spend on supportive housing.

My Hippocratic Oath for a housing crisis is: First, do no harm. Don’t make things worse. And City Hall has consistently made things worse – and then complained when people live in tents.

Could we house every person currently on the streets? Sure – it would cost a lot of money, but we could do it. And then there would be more – not because they are coming here from all over but because they are losing their homes in San Francisco to greed and speculation because richer people are coming here from all over. We are not a homeless magnet, we are a magnet for the young and rich … and the homeless crisis is in part a result of a tech boom that City Hall encouraged and helped create, without ever demanding that the great wealth associated with it be used to mitigate the impacts on the poor people who used to live here, in housing, and are now sleeping on the streets.

Can’t we just do what Wiener says, and build more housing? Sure – but no amount of housing built by the private market will at any time in the foreseeable future provide any relief for low-income San Franciscans. The housing market doesn’t work like that, as I tried to explain a month or so ago:

The [San Francisco] market is what the more advanced textbooks would call “irregular.” Developers build not to meet the market demand but to meet the demands of their investors. In San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s, it was highrise office space, not housing, that brought the highest returns to investors (often the newly deregulated Savings and Loans, that were speculating wildly in real estate, ultimately causing a huge crash that costs the US taxpayers more than $100 billion).

In those days, no housing got built. I was here; I was watching. It wasn’t Nimbys who stopped housing construction in SF; it was investment capital.

…. Today, investment capital gets higher returns with luxury condos. So that’s what is getting built. It’s not Nimbys, or Mayor Lee, or zoning policy that is driving the gold rush of housing for the very rich: It’s international speculative capital.

Oh, and let’s not forget international demand for high-end housing as a place to park cash. That’s not in the textbooks, either. But it sucks up a huge amount of housing inventory.

The private capital that funds private housing only wants to invest in the high end, where the highest returns are. We can solve this problem only through regulation, income and wealth redistribution, and a commitment to protect existing vulnerable communities while we seek to improve the lives of those who are victims of our great civic success.

Let’s think about that next time we complain about “shanty towns” and “tent cities” on the streets.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Being young, pretty and able-bodied is worth its weight in gold. You were pretty enough to find a boyfriend, young enough to have dreams. Life hadn’t crushed you down yet. You were in school, knew things would get better. There are millions of ugly, sick, troubled, aging people who didn’t have your privileges. Some people got beaten and raped daily by 10 years old. Life is not fair. If you haven’t learned that, I fear for your descendants.

  2. Everytime government takes more money away from people, people at the margin get forced into homelessness. Reverse this and fewer will become homeless. It’s not likely that lighter taxes will pull people back into being able to pay rent, but it certainly is part of the constellation of forces that contribute to people losing control of their place to live. Big Government means big homelessness.

  3. “Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town.” Wow, how stunningly dishonest. Social Security wasn’t destroyed, under Reagan or since. Reagan didn’t have anything to do with San Fran’s zoning laws which are intended to keep the poor out and enrich the rich. Democrat run city- responsible, along with the ACLU, for people living in the streets.

  4. If you’re employed here then I guess you’re a republican too since by taking the paycheck you’re “very pro business” too.

  5. Idiotic article. You’re not just obsessed with Reagan you miss the homeless point completely you bozo. Most of these people are crazy… I’m pretty sure they weren’t homeowners in sf any time recently. Additionally, I’m from the Midwest… we pay significantly higher property taxes than here so blow your trickle down bullshit out of your ass and start demanding the rich pay more period. Fucktard.

  6. Considering the people that are intended to reside at Pier 80 are homeless, why does it matter that it is far away from anything, as most don’t have a job, or need to commute anywhere? Why not have the services they need (food banks, training, clinics) move to the area near Pier 80?

  7. I am totally ignorant on the issue of homelessness in SF, but as a frequent visitor, it is sad to see such a beautiful city overrun with homelessness, moreso than other cities I encounter in the US and Asia. I encountered so many homeless in SF that were young and well spoken, and looked very capable of working, and wonder what attracts them to the streets of SF….

    I agree with ArrozconLeche, since SF is one of the most expensive cities to live for someone about to be homeless, or a working person who is homeless (someone earning minimum wage, but cannot afford housing), why not move to a place where minimum wage gets them housing?

    In this day and age, moving around the country is easier and easier. If these people are so low in income, moving should be easier as they have less to move.

    Is a potential solution to reducing this problem developing a placement program for these “working homeless” to be guided on how to relocate to a city with a lower cost of living, so they can move off the street?

  8. Just popped into this comedy blog and got a real zinger:

    “We are a city of vast wealth. We have captured very little of that wealth for the public sector.”

    The budget in 2008 was around $6.5B and now it’s over $9B. That’s a roughly 50% increase in 8 years. Yet that some how counts as not being captured by the public sector? Please tell me, how much is enough? $11B? $15B? We already spend more than some states, so I’d really love to know what the next states are that you’d like to surpass in spending (all the while having nothing to show for it).

    I await your next comedy skit.

  9. I’ve recently visited San Francisco and noticed the number of people who were either had Mental health Issues or were homeless….What I would like to add to this is that in Europe though there are Mental health people/homeless…they are not as many as I’d seen in many major Californian cities.
    I even noticed that there were a lot of people seemed tired or spaced seem normal enough that it became a running joke for us as we travelled through California.
    That apart I happened on a retired University Professor 77 years old, who was homeless because an old friend who he lived in his/her house in Berkeley died without leaving a will so the house went to probate… Now he lived between hostels (I’m guessing when his pension covers it) and his car when it runs out. A bit of common sense by the authorities is lacking here.
    I actually spoke to a friend who works in the Medical profession about it and she put it as people who want to live under the grid for one reason or another….I don’t buy it…I believe as human we all want to seek shelter…Even most lower animals build themselves a home.
    Well on positive kind of positive note, I caught an unlicensed cabby soliciting for fares in LA…there is more to this story but to cut short. In our discussion he said 3 months ago he lived on the streets now he sleeps in a car, the big grin and sense of pride he showed, tinged with a little sadness I was proud for him too….

  10. How do you afford to move somewhere else when you’re on the streets or on the brink? How do you even go about making the arrangements for that if you’re not in a stable situation? Just move, really? I grew up here and would love to be able to live here but can’t afford it, but because I wasn’t in that dire of a circumstance I was able to make the choice to do so, though it breaks my heart that I can probably never live there again. Still, I can empathize with people for whom this is not all that easy to do. It’s a huge thing to pick up your life and go to a strange new place.

  11. Get them out of here? Where to? There is no “there” there. We have to deal with them, not try to wave them away or ship them off. Like it or not, and I don’t like it either. If there were more public urinals people wouldn’t be debased to shit themselves, for instance, and tourists would appreciate them too. There are self-cleaning units, and there are timed door opening mechanisms that could be employed by creative manufacturers to avoid filth and camping in them.

  12. I seem to recall years of the Bay Guardian and Tim Redmond railing against Prop 13, it probably doesn’t come up as much by name anymore because it’s just part of the State policies/laws he does inveigh against strongly here. He didn’t lay it solely at the feet of tech, either, just that they are part of the problem. In all fairness.

  13. You are so wrong about this. My middle class sister (i.e., she has had the option to own a car) has never owned one in her life because transit is so available. Her places of employment are all over the City and she’s in the southern end of town between Bernal Heights and Glen Park. She supplements with cabs here and there but still comes out way ahead of the cost of gas, tolls, parking, insurance, tickets, repairs and purchase of a vehicle. Muni/BART ain’t perfect by a long shot, but it’s pretty damn good! And, depending on where she’s going and the time of day, she can beat me getting places in my car!

  14. lame. As if any mass transport goes anywhere useful, or efficiently. MUNI is another revenge on the poor scheme in SF, not a viable transport system.

  15. The goal should be to get oeple who can not afford to live here property out of here, nobody has the right to live on the sidewalk, poop on themselves and litter the world around them with used syringes, commit all manner of crime and generally turn a jewel of a city into a giant urinal and inside-out mental ward.

  16. Tim Redmond, You say all this as if anyone has a right to live anywhere, but we know you already believe many things are “rights” which are in fact “wants.” – I want a jet and a yacht, I’m not sitting down at the airport demanding the City provide me one, that’s ridiculous. The same goes for housing in the nation’s most expensive housing market. Poor people do not make a city more interesting, they are not more virtuous than those who have succeeded, it’s a matter of simple economics. San Francisco is a fixed space 7×7 and it’s not going vertical by community decision, therefore those who can’t afford to live here must go live somewhere else, and if they want or need to come into SF to work, that is why BART and Caltrain exists. Just like every other major municipality anywhere on earth – the poor live out where life is less expensive and less dense, the cities for the commerce and those who wish to work hard enough to be able to live there.

    I’m tired of both being vilified and having to step over needles, urine and feces while the City continues to light money on fire to care and feed the homeless day to day, when the same money could be spent once elsewhere to house them somewhere more affordable.

  17. Hope for some allot have personal struggles, possibility right case. Management able find housing,yes plenty of grants “homeless” many walk away. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
    offered “TRB” programs where vary 2 or 4yrs paid. Voucher find housing provided competent retain residency Prop C,A and K passed San Francisco ratio. BMR units impressive for some,
    challenge still among us Prop C and K why bureaucracy tricks. Only concern downtown NAIOP
    and BOMA S.F need gentrify for development simply. Where unfortunate to go liberalism no longer San Francisco losing freedom. Somewhat polarized just work no life causing strife not right! Rodney Fong and Cindy Wu admire dynamic so urbanized “fortress” S.F has become one!

  18. Here’s a piece that’s missing. The tents block the sidewalks that are for everyone and force people to walk in the streets. Do you live near a tent encampment? It is scary and Un safe to have outside a children’s park and across from schools

  19. There are so many flaws with this article, that my comments refuting each point would exceed the original article. So, I’ll just say this, there are only a few places where the homeless population is 1. rampant 2. negatively impacts citizens (high disruption factor). San Diego, Honolulu, Seattle, Key West…see a trend here? These people are known as homeless, displaced or some other trendy word to candy coats the situation. A few decades ago we called them what they really…vagrants and bums!
    Granted there are those who have serious mental disorders that need real help, and I don’t believe they can be “admitted” easily. In fact the ACLU has made it near impossible to do this without usually a criminal infraction taking place first. Also, I don’t recall the “undocumented worker” factor being mentioned here. That in itself is another story.
    There is no rationale reason for the number of “homeless” people given the resources available. The enabling government and social organizations have contributed to the very problem they think they are helping.

  20. “Trickle-down economics was a sad, painful, devastating mistake when Ronald Reagan first made it the law of the land,”

    This guy’s an idiot.

  21. Every homeless person that I know personally in shares the following characteristics:

    1 AND/OR 2 AND 3.

    1. Drug or alcohol problem.
    2. Mentally ill or fringe mental conditions.
    3. Has been given well more than three opportunities to get on their feet where 1-2 caused them to quit.

    So what do we do? Giving them more opportunities does not work until they are ready to change. How do we do this? Do we lower the cost of housing? Do we stop evicting druggies or mentally ill people?

  22. I haven’t seen the effects of much of what Weiner has done other than make naked people put towels on public chairs. Then, make them put a little 1/2 skirt on their fronts. Then help to create public seating, then take it down. All in effort to keep homeless from congregating in the Castro. Since I’ve lived here, I have not seen more homeless people in the Castro. And, there is not much seating for others to sit and enjoy a coffee or sandwich outdoors. Sidewalks are wider. More tourists, and privileged people buslines, and locals can fill them up. It’s dirty. He suddenly appeared as to have something to do with the building at 55 laguna. Open House had been handling it fine without him. I don’t see much bang for his buck.

  23. Yes, Reagan dismantled a mental health care system…….and all were escorted out to the street, where they were forced to live.

  24. I saw it with my own eyes. I moved about 200 miles away in a small town of 25000 people. There were homeless people there. My point is though, the tech industry grew in San Francisco as did the amount of homeless individuals. Not only that but neighborhoods are more dirty. People are less friendly. I feel that I am living in a Star Wars movie when I am here. I am happy to be living in the east bay in a nice place, and renting a room from friends. I pray, and encourage others to pray for the greed to stop and the need to be cared for.

  25. A lot of people have left the city or moved back to where they came from because they aren’t able to afford it.

  26. Carl, the streets are dirty. You are only keeping yourself from using the library. It was a homeless man that caught two criminals recently and they were put in jail. He received a hefty 100000 paycheck for what he did. If he had not been there. The crooks would most likely be on the streets. One day, I went into the library, and a man had fallen at the bottom of the steps in the library. As it turns out he was a retired doctor and his wife was screaming for help. She helped me get him on his side as blood came out of his mouth. I did all I could to keep him alive. I prayed to God to take his soul to heaven. I feel I was there to do my part. To get him on his side, keep people away from the blood, and to comfort his wife. After he passed two minutes later EMTs arrived. I talked to the wife. She said that he had been sick and would not go see a doctor. He had tuberculosis. I meandered on to the new books in the fiction department. Found a new book to read. It was clean, smelled good. It was hardbound, and the plastic crackeled as I opened and closed it. I checked out and asked an EMT as I took each step to exit the library, did he make it…he just said no.

    It is truly sad that you don’t care. In order to make change, the basic driving force is that one needs to care about something.

    The homeless cannot be blamed for how dirty the city is. There is dirt in fog. Tires are dirty and grimy. Teenagers are constantly throwing their chewing gum on the sidewalks, especially in Union Square. People constantly throw garbage out of their cars. Especially on the highway. Yes, even the bar goers barf and piss on the sidewalk, and who knows what else they do.

    There was a recycling center on Market street next to Safeway that was bustling with recycling by homeless people. Yes, they picked up tons of garbage and recycling. Many sold things on the street.

    As far as drug addiction. There are hoardes of drugs being used by tech workers https://www.thefix.com/content/addictioncom-drugs-and-tech-silicon-valley
    I pray you find peace in your heart, and help to find solutions rather than to bulldoze people.

  27. 1) I don’t own a cell phone.

    2) I have lived in the city my whole life, and will not be leaving.

    3) I do pick up garbage regularly in my neighborhood. Much of it is left behind by homeless.

    Thanks for the head trip.

  28. Listen Carl, read what you wrote about the homeless. YOU DON”T CARE? That statement is going to get you trouble buddy. And there are so many that would write or say the same about you. That you need to get the fuck out. You are part of the problem and not a part of a solution. You need to leave. You don’t have a heart and you don’t live in reality. Your kharma will kick you out of here.

  29. Can’t, can’t, can’t. You are stopping yourself. I, easily, walk right into the main library. Even once a man was at the bottom of the stairs, a retired doctor. I got he and his wife to help me get him onto his side so the blood could come out of his mouth. Before EMT’s got there, he died in my arms 2 minutes before they arrived. Nothing is stopping you from entering the library. Maybe you would help save someone’s life one day. The city is just dirty period. Car pollution. Garbage that people through out of cars. Streets dirty from people just walking down them. After hours, drunk people barf on the sidewalks, get in fights. I moved away three years ago. The city was not like this when I moved. But on my return. A population explosion. The city is just dirty. And, the homeless are an easy blame. A hustling and bustling recycle center was taken away on Market street. Tons and tons of the classes recyclables on the street and in garbage dumpsters were taken there by the homeless to make an extra buck. They were cleaning the neighborhood. Cities are becoming like those we see in the future in movies like Star Wars. If you don’t like the City. There is something called caring about the city. And, there is a ting called volunteer work. What is stoping you from going to the parks with all your friends with garbage bags and collecting garbage? Also, if you don’t like the city You are welcome to move out of it. Personally, I live outside of the city and I love it. I would live in the city if I could afford it. But, the people who have created virtual realities and live in virtualrealities have made it near impossible for me. Would you please pick up a notebook and put down your cell phone?

  30. Hate to be coarse, but it doesn’t matter what the homeless want. It matters what the taxpayers of San Francisco want. The state should carry this burden; we can’t. We spend $1B every four years and the problem only gets worse. Meanwhile our parks and streets look like shit and we can’t use the Main Library. If the new breed of San Franciscans bring one good thing to this city (and I would argue they bring at least a few good things), it’s that they find these conditions unacceptable. You have to draw the line somewhere, and we should have drawn it, a long time ago. This problem has been the story of my first thirty years in San Francisco, and at some point I would like it to end – preferably, now. Everyone knows the schtick with the homeless already – they need care blah blah blah. Anyone who has lived in this city for more than a year knows it, so you are not enlightening anyone. We don’t care. The homeless need to get the fuck off the streets – preferably to Oakland. Oakland loves all the liberal crap and will be happy to have them. They just can’t be here – there’s no room. They need to leave. Now.

  31. There is a disorder in which a person cannot be enclosed. There was a man, homeless man, who was given a nice studio apartment. Within two days he was back on the street!
    I feel that many(yes, many, there seem to be a lot of homeless people. But, if you do a comparison to all others. The homeless would be a small percentage. Many of which cannot work. They are very mentally ill. One young man approached me once with the bones of shoes on his feet. I mentored a Giving Shoe program. We found a new pair of shoes. Anyway, there are many places for the homeless to get a meal, a new pair of shoes, medication (well, I think there needs to be more). So, the people who were once housed, I would guess they had the disorder that they just couldn’t be surrounded by four walls.

  32. Hi. I think you misread this post. He was intending that the homeless that were asking money for pots would not be breaking into your house. That they are more mellow and don’t need as much money for drugs.

  33. What I don’t like is that the homeless are labeled as drub addicts, etc rolled up in one. While working one job, a friend of mine who had worked at the company for nearly 30 years. He quickly became addicted to crystal and heroin which killed him. Another friend had a partner who had two houses and a studio apartment here in San Francisco. My friend was living in the studio. This was a man making at least 80 thousand per year. I saw my friend on the bus one day, and he said he is pretty much homeless, that his friend had done so much Crystal and other drugs that he lost everything. Tech bubbles have happened before. Seems the new flock are more like visitors than regulars.

  34. So, why not give them running water? They will remain hydrated. Johnny on the spots. And showers. Maybe the encampment can be enclosed. It is more than evident that homeless people want privacy at night. That is mainly why they aren’t going into the hangor or whatever it is. I’m sure if they sectioned it all off more people would stay there. Hopefully psychiatrists and doctors and case workers are working there. There’s got to be a way to set up a kitchen there. So much food is thrown . What I do believe is that the homeless need care. (I have volunteered to feed them before. Also started a free shoe program). So, I think that the SF homeless need care, rehabilitation, education and food. Maybe there are enough people who care to volunteer to keep this running.

  35. C’mon you are smarter than that We know that people were evicted so their landlords could make Airbnbs. While you are at it Do some reading here while you stop at your google bus stop. Howdairbnb @ Twitter and Facebook. Here is a little eviction info: Even tenants who have done nothing wrong can sometimes be evicted simply because of the landlord’s plans for the rental unit. For example, the landlord may want to:
    •live in the unit
    •use it for a different purpose
    •do major repairs or renovations
    Most evictions I heard about were sickening. The latest being a 97 year old woman. She lived there 66 years.
    As far as the Google buses. I always feel sad as I walk past people that stare into their cell phones like it is their lifeline to live. Many times I feel like I am walking by a cemetery. People that are so privileged they have their own buses. Why don’t you do what most people do and ride mass transit. Support the city a little bit

  36. My twitter to Justin was: In SF you are going to see pain, your friend becomes a drug addict and dies, cars hit people, Bedbugs bite. No money can stop this.

  37. Many of them are mentally ill and need regular care. Others could be rehabilitated. A couple countries, one in Africa, gave money to their citizens. More people worked, got an education. When it comes down to it, the fact is they don’t have enough money to do these things. During the day, there are many homeless individuals in libraries, reading, using the facilities. Doing something that betters their lives. I know that when I had more money, everything was easier. I could afford a car, so I didn’t have to ride mass transit all the time. I could go on vacations, cook expensive foods, and splurge on clothing. So, truly, I believe we should follow an example of success, and give the homeless or those in need money. Sure, some would choose to do a lot of drugs. But there are people in high paying jobs that do major drugs. So, perhaps they can be monitored by a social worker or two or three or however many it takes to care for the homeless.

  38. There is this big hangar shaped building with lots of beds in it. If simple pipe and drape, or something like it could be make to section off the beds so there is privacy for each bed. But, I really like the idea that Running water should be supplied, johnny on the spots, showers. The area could be fenced in. What must be done is to stop thinking about the homeless as a problem, and instead finding solutions for the homeless.

  39. Ok, I won’t challenge anything of what you are saying, but Some points are simply hard to believe. I came to this country when I was 18, didn’t speak the language well but went to school and earned my way up working (legally, like the vast majority of the homeless could do) odd jobs. They weren’t high paying jobs, totally the contrary but I worked hard, sometimes 2 jobs while going to school at the same time. I lived in group houses, then with my boyfriend, then I got married and finished school while my husband worked. Once I finished, he went back to school and got his phd. Now we are here, we both work so we can offer our only daughter the opportunity to get a good education and hopefully we will support her financially when she goes to college. Why is it that someone from this country can’t do the same? If The city where I was living became too expensive that I could’t afford to pay I would have gone somewhere else. My experience is not a contrast of the lives and needs of all the homeless including the ones with mental health needs but it is something to consider when discussing the needs of kids right out of foster care or people who say they where housed once here but went to live on the streets because they couldn’t pay. Why did they choose to live on the streets instead of moving somewhere else and work wherever they could?

  40. American history has lots of examples of things changing because the common citizen rose up and demanded change. Indeed, the history of this “free” country is one grop after another fighting for their rights. Unfortunately, Americans are so fat, lazy, and booze/”entertainment”-addeled that they will literally have to be starving before they do anything. And that will happen when the oil-based agribusiness industry collapes. Hopefully there won’t be too many casualties…..

  41. With rapidly advancing automation, strikes become increasingly less effective. The moneyed class seems to have already decided that it doesn’t need robust aggregate consumer demand to survive. Your strike would need to be 10s of millions strong, just to put better welfare/taxing the rich on the table. I agree that if things do really get so bad that many can’t eat, that “Us” you’re relying on might actually materialize, but barring “worse-than-the-depression” level economic devastation, it ain’t happening. Capitalism has got a millennium of cultural and legal precedence behind it; it’ll take more than populism to defeat it.

  42. You think a municipal bank is more honorable than the private sector? I guess it would make all those ridiculous catch all “Down with the Bankers”, “Fight Wall Street” signs have some meaning.

  43. We don’t need luck or “hope,” we need a good old-fashioned general strike. The Capitalists can hire all the mercenaries they want, but they can’t force people to work. Sooner, rather than later, the mercs (anybody who kills for money) will realize they are fighting their neighbors, and join the revolution, as happened during the Vietnam war. Psychopaths like the Blackwater boys may have to be detained and forcibly “re-educated. There’s way more of “us” than there are of “them.”

  44. “”Housing becomes less expensive as it ages.” If you take the longer-term view, the luxury projects of today could become the affordable housing of 2041. Now that doesn’t give off the feel-good vibe of a protest march, I’ll be the first to admit, but it does broaden ones’s perspective on the immediate actions currently under consideration.”

    This exactly. Housing is durable. We should be building as much as possible on underutilized land while there is incentive to do so, otherwise we’ll be that much worse off during the next boom. In the bust periods, the profits available to developers aren’t sufficient to meaningfully add to the housing stock, given the onerous planning regulations we have in place.

  45. Good luck. Those with resources aren’t inclined to share them in the amounts necessary to provide for everyone. Only way to redistribute resources sufficient enough to end poverty it is with violence, and my money is on the capitalists in that fight.

  46. Considering the limited resources they have, they are at least as sucessful as the USA. They have nukes (which is the only reason “we” haven’t tried regime change), they make movies, the rich have lavish functions, and the population is growing. Statistically, most Americans aren’t “flourishing” or “successful.”

  47. I totally misread the title of this article: I thought it would DISPEL 5 myths about homelessness in San Francisco, not CREATE 5 myths about homelessness in San Francisco!

    Addiction does not contribute to homelessness? Anyone who’s spent even one day here knows that’s not true.

    71% natives?

    And the elusive tent-boogeyman coming to take your tents.

    Better off reading Randy Shaw.

  48. Your friend didn’t just “fall on hard times”. If he had two cars, why didn’t he sell his second car? He didn’t suddenly lose his good paying job as a software engineer, unless he was laid off. Why didn’t he sell his house before it was foreclosed upon?

  49. He was stating what lead to his homelessness. Where did you get the idea he was saying everyone who is homeless is a drug addict?

  50. Yeah, you’re right. Absolutely none of the people who are homeless, have ever done anything harder than pot! They are all upstanding citizens.

  51. If the study could break out the formerly incarcerated from the formerly housed number. You’d get a much clearer and accurate picture.l

  52. The “trickery” of which you accuse landlords runs both ways. I know plenty of people with six figure incomes living in rent-controlled apartments and using their money to pay mortgages on other properties outside of SF which, ironically, they rent to tenants for market rate. Essentially, all R.C. has done is take the landlords profits and given them to the tenants. A much better solution would be for the City to subsidize rents for those who truly need it vs. blanket rent control.

  53. Yes, Reagan did a lot to the safety net, but progressives and the ACLU are also responsible for A LOT of the problem by making it almost impossible to force someone into treatment if they don’t want treatment. In other words, I can crap on the street, curse people out, be threatening, etc. and simply say “I prefer not to receive treatment” and the City can’t (and won’t) do squat.

  54. As an SF native, I can state for a fact that homelessness existed here LONG before the current real estate speculation, long before SF became a tech hub and WAY long before Ed Lee became mayor. These are just the current villains in the progressive narrative. That said, there is a clear distinction in the homeless between those who need help and the young, drifters who are pretty much running a city-wide bike theft ring.

    Public space in the City should belong to everyone. Huge swaths of Golden Gate Park can’t even be used anymore because of feces and needles. Yes, Pier 80 may not be an ideal living situation, but the goal should be to get people back on their feet so they want to do something to improve their situation–not to support them for their entire lives.

  55. Let’s cut to the chase, kiddies: Capitalism is the cause of all economic woes, especially homelessness. As long as greed heads get t decide who lives and who dies, things will continue to get worse. Tents? Shelters? WTF? Build housing for those who need it, by any means necessary. Need more money? Get it! That’s what a “public servants” job is; to serve the public.
    It’s obvious the “private sector” is incapable of serving the public good. Cooperatively-owned planned communities and apartments financed by a municipal bank would be a good place to start.

  56. Weiner is just that, a weiner. He’s brilliant in that he’s a Republican who managed to get elected in one of the most liberal districts in one to the most liberal cities in the country. One could just boil down the 2000 word article to just a few words: high property values and low wages creates homelessness.

  57. I am glad you were able to overcome homelessness. It is much easier to overcome if one is not using drugs. I became homeless again briefly after I stopped using drugs, but fortunately without the delusion of crystal meth use, I had the wisdom and capability to take the right action, and find a place to rent within two weeks. I went on to buy a home after that and have a career in low income & supportive housing working specifically to move people into housing off the streets and from shelters.

  58. Smoking a lot of pot is associated with lethargy and a lack of ambition, which can easily correlate to the kind of vocational under-achievement that increases the risk of homelessness. The “stoner” stereotype is not without some substance.

  59. Pot does not cause homelessness.at least the potheads wont break into your place stealing stuff to get a fix.And at least they are being honest with you about smoking. I smoke pot, and i own my own business. i make about $3,500 a month and yet im not homeless due to pot. and FYI, nobody has called pot MJ since the 70’s. (the 70’s called, the want their slang back) lol

  60. Just because you were a junky and that was the reason why you were homeless does not mean that is why everyone else is homeless. I was homeless because i grew up in state custody. i aged out and got kicked to the curb when i turned 18.does that mean that all homeless are out there because of the same reason as me? no. People are homeless due to several different factors. when i was homeless i knew a hell of a lot more people that were straightedge then i did junkies

  61. So true about the midwest. I moved here because i found that out by taking a road trip here to visit a friend, and i never ended up leaving. Im currently renting a 1,950sqft 3 bedroom house for $300 a month

  62. The economics of the San Francisco rental housing market seems rather conventional. Its demand is indeed irregular, in the sense that it fluctuates widely over time with the booms and busts of the SF economy. But that condition fits comfortably within the realm of economic analysis, and in fact is often studied in other contexts for what it tells us about decision-making under uncertainty (where the role of expectations, for example, is crucial when project gestation times are lengthy).

    Where one might go astray is confusing the role of housing as a service – a roof over one’s head – and as an asset – a place to park your cash, in the phrase of the article. International capital flowing into assets such as never-occupied condominiums is an example of a source of housing demand that may outbid those seeking a roof. In the language of Econ 101, it shifts the demand curve for SF housing to the right, thereby bidding up the market-clearing price. Is this not what is happening today?

    As for housing as a service, international capital (actually its owners) may also be a target market that those greedy developers are nobly seeking to serve (that is, build housing assets for). Another target market is the immigrating gentry of computer scientists who have chosen to call San Francisco home. Unsurprisingly these both occupy the luxury high end of the market (as opposed to the luxury low end of the market, I guess). Both groups may outbid current residents for scarce housing, driving up rents, and inspiring new construction to meet their evident demand. Again, is this not what is happening?

    Even rent control is easily handled. I can recall Paul Krugman dealing with this in short order back when the dot-com bubble was a thing.
    The short story is that a market with rent control will exhibit more excess demand (i.e., frustrated or at least frantic apartment searchers) than one without it.

    It is sometimes said that “demand for housing in San Francisco is infinite.” The most sense I can make of this statement is that (1) at current prices, many people want to live in SF; (2) the price will be bid up indefinitely high, higher than anyone can imagine; and (3) this condition will be permanent. Statement (1) is apparently indisputable. Statement (2) invites the question why this bidding-up hasn’t happened already, or didn’t happen sooner. As for statement (3), there are two things the San Francisco of 1849, 1906, and 2001 can teach us: Things can change mighty quick. Nothing is forever.

    Sometimes less responsible behavior by the supply side (landlords), seeking to serve these frantic searchers, might also be observed – trickery against current tenants to make space for new, better-paying ones, for example. Once more, is this not as alleged?

    The one feature of this market that economics has trouble tackling is the quasi-property right that eviction controls have conferred on current tenants. When you can’t tell what the rights belonging to each side of a transaction might be, the outcome can be indeterminate. Property or contract law, not economics, might be more relevant then. The tangle of rights on both sides needs to be straightened out before a competent economic analysis can be performed.

    There was one remarkable assertion in the article, namely:
    In those days [1980s and 1990s] no housing got built [. . .] it was investment capital [that stopped housing construction].

    Let’s roll the tape! Check out p. 35 of the 2002 San Francisco Housing DataBook (San Francisco Rent Board)
    and p. 18 of the 2014 San Francisco Housing Inventory (San Francisco Planning Department)

    Obviously some housing was built; the number never fell to exactly zero. The interesting thing is, focusing on the Net Change in Number of Units (of residential housing), you will notice that the troughs over the period 1980-2014 coincide roughly with U.S. recessions (1981-82, 1993, 1995, 2011). The dot-bomb caused only a flattening pause, not a decline in 2000-2001.

    This cyclicality suggests that San Francisco has controlled its rental housing market about as effectively as King Canute controlled the tides. Larger forces are indeed at play.

    Contra the conclusion of the article, the California Legislative Analyst. Mac Taylor, reported last week:
    “Encouraging additional private housing construction can help the many low-income Californians who do not receive assistance. Considerable evidence suggests that construction of market-rate housing reduces housing costs for low-income households and, consequently, helps to mitigate displacement in many cases.” (p. 1)

    An interesting auxiliary finding is on p. 8: “Housing becomes less expensive as it ages.” If you take the longer-term view, the luxury projects of today could become the affordable housing of 2041. Now that doesn’t give off the feel-good vibe of a protest march, I’ll be the first to admit, but it does broaden ones’s perspective on the immediate actions currently under consideration.

  63. you left out Bush’s unfunded wars that cost us a few trillion in debt that the lunatic congress now is hell bent on paying for . . with more tax cuts. . . .

  64. if “MJ” stands for marijuana, BFD. Are you suggesting that relieving stress with a joint of marijuana is a root cause of homelessness? Get a grip on reality.

  65. It is tough to give Ed Lee all the credit when the article acknowledges similar situations in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle.

    The city’s homless study doesn’t point to the techies either. 13% of the respondents say that they lost their homes through evictions but only 3% cited a rent increase. 2% cited a foreclosure but it looks like a majority of the 13% got evicted the old fashioned way, they didn’t keep up with the rent payments. Hard to pin that on the Google buses.

  66. I’ll repost a little of what I wrote about the 71% number in a previous post:

    Based on the homeless count, it seems that only a little less than a 3rd of the 71% (not 75%) of homeless who were living in SF prior to their homelessness were renters. In other words only 21.3% of our homeless were renters living in SF. https://sfgov.org/lhcb/sites/sfgov.org.lhcb/files/2015%20San%20Francisco%20Homeless%20Count%20%20Report_0.pdf

    That would seem to say that only a minority of homeless ended up that way because they weren’t able to afford the rent or pay their mortgage. Furthermore 29% came to SF because they were homeless. In other words, you probably should be complaining more about SF having to unfairly foot the bill for the State and country’s homeless problem instead of trying to scapegoat tech. Not included in that 71% number is the fact that while those folks may had some form of housing, it seems a majority of that number were in unstable situations (ie crashing on a couch, or living in a hotel), so they may have been recent arrivals already on the verge of homelessness.

    An even simpler way to track to see if tech and foreclosures are responsible for our homeless problem is simply to just look at SF’s housing population historically. Numbers basically show that San Francisco has basically had homelessness somewhere in the 6000s for about a decade now.


    I know Tim likes to give Ed Lee all he credit for SF’s problems, but the graph above puts things in perspective.

  67. The decades-old homeless ‘crisis’ should be seen for what it is – a public nuisance. Efforts to mobilize people to house or help every last homeless person are exhausting, and we could be spending money better on other things. While I have empathy for these people on a personal level, as a phenomenon I don’t regard the current situation (the tent cities and the sprinkling about of syringes, garbage, and human waste) any different than I would if people were parking food trucks on public sidewalks or lighting dry brush on fire – a hoarding of public goods for personal use, or a safety hazard.

  68. Actually, I agree with this, as much as I love to troll Tim. This is the kicker:

    “Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town.”

    The State of California has decided (intentionally or not) that Coastal California no longer falls under that category.

    BUT WAIT FOR IT… and exclusionary zoning and failure to approve additional housing played a huge part in it.

  69. One crazy survey I saw said that 71% of the people who are homeless are SF residents. What that statistic fails to say is that anyone who has lived in SF for more than 30 days can claim residency. So, if a person from Stockton comes to San Francisco in January and becomes homeless in February (or moved here already homeless) they are considered an SF resident. On the surface it appears that 71% of the people on the street were displaced by the “rich” San Franciscans, but nothing could be further from the truth.

  70. I completely agree Jonathan. I can only speak for the homeless that congregate in the Castro and TL but most of them do have substance use problems. In fact a couple of the homeless that are looking for handouts on my street actually say they are looking for MJ.

  71. I agree with almost everything here, but putting doors that lock in a shelter is not safe, but walls should definitely be there.The truth is that the pier 80 shelter is so far away from anything it is practically useless – what a waste of money

  72. These are important myths to dispel about homelessness in San Francisco. The only point that I would add is that some of the misconceptions arise from the fact that most folks don’t interact with most of the homelesss. The reason people think that most homeless are drug addicts or mentally ill is because those activities are more obvious and visible. Most homeless people, I believe, are doing so very inconspicuously. I’ve heard the mayor say that, of the several thousand homeless residents, 300 are considered “serial reoffenders.” Most of the rest don’t This really skews the perception of what causes homelessness in San Francisco.

    I’ll never understand why this blog lays the blame solely at the feet of the tech industry. Most tech employees make good, but not amazing salaries. Most spend way too much money on rent. I don’t think 48 Hills has ever pointed a finger at Prop 13 or the property owners who have been the uncontested beneficiary of the housing crisis. This site has consistently opposed development and any policy, like the AHBP, that would have helped the city adjust to this growth.

  73. Reagan was influential. Anyone who doubts that need only to watch the GOP presidential debates this year and last, where Reagan’s name is invoked repeatedly.

    Two things of note from Reagan: He popularized the magical notion that tax cuts would so stimulate growth that they would yield higher tax revenues; and as governor of California dismanteled a mental health care system from which many of today’s homeless would benefit.

    On the tax issue, the “supply side” theory has been disproved nationally twice: Clinton raised taxes and produced the strongest economy since the 60s, leaving office with a budget surplus. His successor, Bush, cut taxes, squandered the surplus, produced sub-par economic growth, and left the country with the worst recession since the Great Depression.

  74. Good article Tim, but can you please stop with ignoring the fundamental life shattering contribution of Democrats to the problem? Every president, from Reagan through Obama, has worsened this crisis, most notably Bill Clinton who signed the bill that put the nail in the coffin of welfare and who also repealed Glass-Steagall.

    It is because of your blind spot of not acknowledging that presidents like Clinton were as bad as (and often worse than) Reagan that I did not donate to resurrecting the Guardian.

    Ignoring Democrat evils and blaming everything on Reagan is old school liberalism, not modern progressivism, and you need to stop it.

  75. Perhaps amend the city charger to create a new right. Something like: “The City and County of San Francisco shall make no law, nor set any policy, which denies a person the fundamental right to affordable, safe, and healthful housing.”

  76. The substance abuse issue among homeless is prevalent enough that the City and the Continuum of Care program has adopted a “Housing First” policy, to get people into supportive housing units, then work on the substance abuse and mental health issues. Non profit landlords who are recipients of City and Federal funds are actually instructed not to screen out people active in addiction, and HUD revised its regulations removing language that could have barred drug addicts from supportive housing. A friend of mine has fallen on hard times, loosing his home to foreclosure, loosing both his cars, loosing his software engineering job of many years, and try as hard as he might, he just can’t seem to get back up on his feet and find housing…I told him this week to focus on recovery, and everything else would fall into place in time. I think that is more compassionate than to turn a blind eye to the real problem…I know I was grateful when someone was just plain truthful with me, and didn’t excuse my homelessness due to income inequality, or skyrocketing rents, and so on.

  77. Reagan must have had quite a profound effect on a young Tim Redmond at the time because, 35 years on, you are still blaming him for much of what you think is wrong with America today.

    There are two problems with that, apart from the fact that you obviously should have learned to adapt and move on by now:

    1) We have had two 2-term Democrat presidents since then, along with a number of Democrat Congresses, and they have all continued with Reagan’s policies.

    2) If memory serves. Reagan won 44 states the first time and 49 states the second time. If that is not a popular mandate from the people, what is?

  78. So does your particular experience of drug abuse causing homelessness mean that has to have been the case for everybody who’s homeless? Yeesh, recovered addicts can be as puritanical about what should constitute everyone’s reality as born-again Christians.

  79. Tim, I was homeless, you were never, so please don’t pretend to know the reasons we were homeless. In my case, yes, housing was extremely expensive, but drug abuse was the main problem…once I stopped doing crystal meth, lo and behold, my housing situation improved dramatically.

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