Men and women step over the homeless, with shoes worth more than that individual earns in a year, begging on the streets of San Francisco. Most treat San Francisco’s homeless population similar to a chronic condition. It is seen as an issue which is constantly looming over the city, but will never be resolved. Some are kind to those who are homeless, while most tend to demonize the displaced population by labeling them as societal “leeches.” They are far too often despised for their unfortunate circumstances, rather than being seen as human.
San Francisco is known to have one of the highest populations of homeless individuals in the United States, in stark contrast with the city’s status as a technology epicenter. The Human Services Agency biannual homeless count reached around 6,436 with about 3,401 living on the streets. Around 63% of the homeless population is suffering from mental illness, addiction, or a physical injury. The contrast between social classes in San Francisco is startling. Big name tech companies arriving in the city, such as Twitter, could serve as a beacon of hope in resolving issues around homelessness. Tech companies who chose to set up camp in low-income neighborhoods are receiving tax breaks to give them incentive to stay in San Francisco. It is called the “community benefit agreement.” In order to receive the tax break, they are required to perform tasks to help improve their troubled neighborhoods. The hope is that after multi-million dollar tax breaks, tech companies will chose to give back to their city. Even with the $1,903,321 total in tax breaks given to these companies, it is still uncertain as to whether or not the techies can serve as a catalyst in addressing the city’s homelessness issue. People are skeptical and argue that the money saved by the companies far exceeds the amount they give back.
Currently, non-profits and neighborhood communities are doing all they can to help the growing number of displaced individuals. Walking into the Saint Boniface Church off Market, you will see more people sleeping in the church pews than praying. During the day, the church transforms into a safe haven for the homeless and destitute, allowing them to use the pews as a resting place away from the chaos of the street. The program, called the Gubbio Project, not only provides a place to rest, it provides blankets, medical assistance, and even the occasional haircut. SRO Housing non-profits in the Bay Area transform neglected buildings, such as the Stanford Hotel, into housing for the homeless. The dilapidated and pigeon-infested Stanford Hotel has been renovated to house 130 homeless veterans. San Francisco’s fixed 49-square-mile area presents a challenge in the already skyrocketing demand for housing. It is apparent that more permanent housing for the homeless is not a top priority, but non-profit projects and church pews may not suffice for much longer.
Instead, the future of housing and an end to homelessness in San Francisco will have to be realized through a pipe dream. Imagine collaboration between the city and the tech companies to eliminate homeless over time through permanent housing. Micro-apartment communities, similar to the ones being built for tech newbies, could be built for the homeless and individuals undergoing transitional housing. They would not only provide a safe place to live but counseling, employment assistance, and rehabilitation. Salt Lake City, Utah has nearly eliminated the number of homeless by providing such housing. The homeless are provided with permanent housing and on-site counseling. Granted, the cost of living is double in the Bay Area and the number of homeless in Salt Lake City is a third of San Francisco’s homeless population, but this model serves as a strong example of what could be.
Should tech companies be expected to give back in such a way? Could a similar model to Utah be utilized to address San Francisco’s homeless population? How does your city address homelessness?
Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.