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Comments on Homelessness in San Francisco


These comments were left in response to a New York Times article on homelessness in San Francisco:

Sue McCormack

SF Bay Area

Up through the 80’s downtown SF had a lot of SRO (single residential occupancy) hotels. Many of these rooms were lost to redevelopment and gentrification. Many developers, in exchange for higher residential density, made mitigation payments to the city or county. If any low income housing was built it was generally on the periphery in areas far from mass transit and employment opportunities. Some of the homeless would benefit from a stable environment in order to manage mental and physical health issues. Some comments seems to consider the condition of homelessness to be a moral failure on the part of an individual. I believe that the failure is institutional. State mental hospitals were closed in the 70’s before local services could be built. We have two generations of veterans with untreated PTSD who did not receive honorable discharges due to their undiagnosed condition and are now excluded from veteran’s benefits. There are people with drug and alcohol dependency issues that have no place to go after detox. The on-going problem is also institutional, whether it be a lack of political will or a fear that the grant gravy train will come to an end. We can talk about job training, updating skills, resume workshops, etc. But if you don’t have a warm dry place to lay your head, with running water to keep clean and a toilet so you don’t have to use the street, all of the job training or education won’t matter.



I spent a good deal of time in San Francisco during the early years of this century. Homelessness was barely noticeable. Now it appears to be a huge problem. There is a similar situation in Seattle. The downtown area is filled with aggressive homeless people who accost tourists and commuters alike. They expect handouts and get belligerent if it is not forthcoming. The entire area around Pike’s Market and south towards the big ballfields smells of human waste.

It ought to be clear to everyone there is no monolithic group of homeless. They are essentially divided into two groups. There are those who were a paycheck away from losing their homes, and when the paychecks stopped coming they were on the street. These are the people who use the services and shelters available to them and their families. They are the people who would stop being homeless in a heartbeat if they got those paychecks back. The other group is made up of the emotionally unstable, drug addicts, and chronic alcoholics. They choose to live on the street. It is sad but true that no amount of money is going to help these people. They need to be dealt with differently. If necessary, they need to be involuntarily committed or arrested. They pose huge safety risks to themselves and those who come into contact with them. It is clear that be looking the other way, the authorities in San Francisco have made the city a more dangerous place to live and work. They are enabling, not helping, this group of homeless.

An Observer

Alta, Utah

I just spent the fall in San Francisco for work. The social stratification there — a putatively liberal city — is reminiscent of India (where I have also spent time recently). Here in conservative Utah — and I am a strong Democratic voter — we have done much better. The secret of solving homelessness is homes. But in San Francisco, no one wants to sacrifice space for the unfortunate, the poor, or these days even the middle class. The situation in San Francisco is a disgrace, and emblematic of what’s wrong with our country.


San Francisco

I moved to San Francisco in 1989 and lived there for 26 years. San Francisco has always been an incredibly wealthy city. It was always expensive to live there — you paid a federal income tax, then a state income tax, and then a high local sales tax. City Hall ought to be rolling in dough. But I could never figure out where my money went. The streets and sidewalks were dirty, the buses were filthy, the transit stations were coated with grime. I was shocked when I moved to Seattle — even the alleys here are spotless. Don’t blame the homeless. San Francisco has had a serious leadership and management vacuum in City Hall for decades. Unless this changes, the quality of life there will never improve, for anyone.

Homelessness is particularly visible and repulsive in San Francisco, where the mild climate year-round allows people without residences to exist on the streets.  According to the comments, the city government is to blame for allowing the problem to become so extensive; it would appear that a large city program to house these people and/or supply them with safe bathrooms and places to sleep away from the tourists is needed.  The loss of single-occupancy hotel rooms is a good example of how expensive is the space in the city; government must step in and alleviate this problem by whatever means necessary.

I suggest that provision of adequate short-term housing and laws that criminalize sleeping in the open within city limits are necessary.  With adequate housing, the police can pick up anyone who appears to be without a place to stay and deliver them to the housing space without delay.  As it is, there is no place to put these people, so the police have no alternatives to imprisonment.  Putting people in prison for being homeless is absurd and inhumane, but at present there is no place for them to go.

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