It was 2AM. It was my first night in SF and I made it back on the last BART. I knew nothing about SF. So when I came back to see all these people hanging around the BART station, I was very confused. As I walked back I kept seeing more people on the streets who didn't look very friendly. It was cold and foggy and I was pretty sure I was going to get robbed. So I walked faster and faster til I was kind of running back. That was my first experience with the homeless community.
Every time i walked down Market Street to go to work, I’d look on them with disgust and want them off the street. They’d be doing drugs or something and I’d just be thinking “All of the big tech companies are here, and tourists are here, and they still allow the city streets to be this sketch?”. If I ever had to walk back home at night, I’d try to avoid them and walk as fast as possible.
One night I was walking back home with some pizza at around 12AM. It felt really weird to walk back with food in my hands, past all these people who were probably starving. I walked really fast, and tried to avoid them as best as I could, but at one point I had to walk past a group of them. “This is it, you’re about to be robbed” I thought. Instead, one of them said “Good night.”. I didn’t know what to make of it. And I knew there was no reason for him to be nice to me, so I assumed he was mocking me in some way.
As time went on, I began to see another side of things. The first thing I realized, is that these people were never going to harm me. Not even the ‘crazy’ ones. I’d see some people who looked like they were actually crazy and moving around erratically, but they would specifically avoid hitting anyone. I’d walk past groups of them with my phone out, knowing they could easily steal my phone or anything else I had, but they just stepped out of my way. I thought of them as criminals at first, but now I had learned that they were just people living on the streets who meant me no harm.
I didn’t like them, but I didn’t hate them, and i wasn’t scared of them anymore.
One day I was eating at Burger King with a friend. There was a couple having a meal a table across from us, and there was a homeless guy who came in and was asking the cashiers for food. “Ya’ll want me to starve? I need to eat.” he said. “How am I supposed to live without food?”. They just kept screaming at him to “GET OUT” of their store. He sat down at a nearby table, complaining about his troubles. The couple talked to him briefly, telling him that he should calm down because they might call the cops on him. “You know what the cops do to people who look like us.” They left their food on the table for him, and he thanked them.
Another day I was walking to work and I saw a guy sitting on a chair who looked like he was knocked out. Someone else walked by and knew him by name or something. He was like “Jim, are you okay?! Wake up man!”
I kept seeing things like this and realized that these people really cared for each other. No one else would.
I began to feel for them, and their problem. That guy literally couldn’t get any food, and I can’t blame him for that. I began to wonder just how the hell a city that claims to be equality based and forward thinking and all about people’s rights could allow this problem to exist, right in front of everyone’s faces everyday.
I’d see all these rich people dressed up and standing in line to see Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater and a few feet away from them was a crowd of homeless people who didn’t know where the fuck their next meal was coming from. I would walk to work every day thinking “this city is messed up”. I would pay attention to them and make sure I never began to ignore them and accept this situation as normal.
I was talking to someone who’s lived here a while about this problem and she said the tech companies ruined the city. Tech caused a price hike in housing and rent and caused some of these people to be kicked out of their own places. Some of them genuinely didn’t understand why they got kicked out. Mayor Ed Lee sold the city out to the tech companies and screwed over a bunch of people in the process.
“Is tech really to blame for this? Am I part of the problem?”
I did some more research and discovered that there’s lots of causes for homelessness. Simple things that a middle class family would be able to deal with like a car breaking down, could be enough to ruin the life of someone with less money. A lot of them have mental health issues or drug addictions, yet the current free housing provided to some of them is located in areas filled with negative influences like drug dealers and liquor stores. And no extra care is taken to give them treatment for the mental health problems. The amount of housing provided is insufficient for all of them. The weirdest thing I learned was that it would be cheaper for the city to build free housing for them than to allow them to live on the streets. Some programs do try to give them proper mental help, and help them become more functional members of society. There’s even a group that teaches the homeless how to code. I learned about the homeless youth, and how they usually have the same electronics as anyone else like cell phones and laptops. Some of them spend their time learning to code so they can get a job one day. It was surprising to see how normal they are except for the fact that they don’t have a house. A lot of them have dogs so they have a constant companion. It also gets them 3 times as much money when they beg.
Now when I walk down the street, I look at them , and I feel for them. I feel the pain. And I can’t solve it. Giving them money would probably have a negative effect. All I can do is feel for them, and maybe get others to feel for them, and maybe if enough people feel for them then something happens. But probably not.