San Francisco’s vexing, decades-old homelessness crisis has long been a fascination among the national media, who find great novelty in the fact that our tech boom town also struggles with street poop and discarded needles. The latest example is Monday’s New York Times feature Life on the Dirtiest Block in San Francisco, wherein a correspondent spends 12 hours on the Tenderloin’s 300 block of Hyde Street that has generated more street cleanliness complaints than any other block in the city.
The New York Times, of course, is the newspaper of record for New York City — whose homeless population is more than ten times that of San Francisco. But there are certainly factors that make our city’s homeless crisis unique among American cities.
“This dichotomy of street crime and world-changing technology, of luxury condominiums and grinding, persistent homelessness, and the dehumanizing effects for those forced to live on the streets provoke outrage among the city’s residents,” writes the Times’ Thomas Fuller. “For many who live here it’s difficult to reconcile San Francisco’s liberal politics with the misery that surrounds them.”
His profile interviews Tenderloin building managers, business owners, and nonprofit founders, but none of the unhoused people suffering through these conditions. The piece also throws in quotes from Mayor London Breed and gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom.
“You can be too permissive, and I happen to think we have crossed that threshold in this state — and not just in this city,” Newsom is quoted as saying. “You see it. It’s just disgraceful.”
It is not mentioned in the Times article that the size of San Francisco’s current homeless population is virtually the same as it was during Newsom’s two terms as mayor, from 2004 to 2011.
In a follow-up today, the Times published responses from San Francisco residents and other commenters.
“I wish we could have heard perspectives from the homeless people who are living in these conditions. I imagine they also don’t like living the way they are and similarly smell the squalor,” says reader M.D. “I still think it is unfair to simply portray homeless people as disgusting ‘indigents’ without trying to learn personally why some of them found themselves dependent on drugs and living on the street.”
At the end of the day it’s going to be are you for the homeless or are you against the homeless? For me, it’s binary. I’m for the homeless. Join us and support Prop C @OurHomeSF. pic.twitter.com/78lCQTi5kP
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) October 9, 2018
Articles about poop and syringes in San Francisco will always get more clicks than analyses of income inequality and its driving factors. And the city does have a dramatic solution to the homeless crisis on the table, in the form of November’s Prop. C ballot measure that would raise an additional $300 million to address the problem. Mayor Breed is against that measure, though Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been outspoken in his support, and tech workers rallied in favor of the measure earlier Tuesday. With Prop. C heading to the ballot we can all be thankful that someone is working on a solution for street cleanliness through meaningful, humane action.