As someone who has spent a significant amount of time in northern California, I always looked forward to visits to the city. San Francisco’s painted houses, high-rise buildings and bustling waterfront were always there to greet me. A place so densely packed with culture and history seemed to illicit one question after another, revealing new stories and neighborhoods to explore.
I still love to visit friends there, but many of them struggle to remain residents because of San Francisco’s skyrocketing cost of living. It’s not just the rent that’s an issue, either. San Francisco citizens are being displaced at a rate so high it’s difficult for the city to deal with.
Nuevo Riche vs. Old Guard
With the tech boom in full swing, modern San Francisco suddenly feels like a city facing the threat of losing its identity. Startups and expanding powerhouses are fueling growth and expansion in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley area. The competition for housing is so harsh, would-be renters are forced to haggle for a rate against the competition for a meager studio apartment.
Imagine the effect this must have on aged San Franciscans who’ve spent their entire lives in the city. With no hope of breaking into a tech startup, jobs that formerly anchored these long-time city residents aren’t enough anymore. The influx of tech money has cost them a place to live, but that doesn’t always mean they move away.
Housing Issues Are Nothing New
San Francisco’s 7,500-plus homeless people are the second-most of any city in the USA – only New York has more displaced residents. While the recent bubble in San Francisco and Silicon Valley has exacerbated the situation, it’s nothing new.
The lack of housing for inner-city residents who can’t afford to join the majority of San Franciscans who spend nearly half of their income on rent was an issue mayor Gavin Newsom promised to right in 2004.
Despite the $1.5 billion spent, however, recent polls show a worsening situation. Not only have homeless numbers increased, but the health and welfare of people living on the streets is declining. A new approach is required if we expect to make a dent in what is clearly a growing problem. Shelters have been built and programs set up, but what’s keeping these things from getting folks off the streets?
A New Perspective
There’s no glamor in being homeless, but much of the way we’ve approached this issue could improve through a better understanding of it. One common misconception about San Francisco’s homeless population is that they have flocked to the city to take advantage of services available. In fact, more than 70 percent of San Francisco’s homeless report having lived in the city at the time they lost their homes.
As public perception changes, new methods are seeing some adoption from the homeless community, who’ve been critiqued as unwilling to accept the rules necessary to run effective shelter operations.
Progressive movements like The Charleston Group’s Affordable Housing and Community Economic Development initiative are pressing to maintain opportunities for middle-class citizens to invest in owning a home, and city government is even considering a controversial tax on booming tech companies that would be directed toward getting people off the streets.
Resources available for homeless persons are increasing as well. It’s a common myth that large numbers of shelter beds go unused, but with shelters adopting more open views about the presence of partners with shelter residents or the acceptance of people with substance abuse issues, folks are left without beds every night.
Rehabilitating San Franciscans
SF311.org and other groups like them offer services that let homeless persons sign up for a bed if they want one, and while you might think the use of technology would be a challenge, nearly 700 people a week sign up for a bed. Consider the alternative, and it’s hard to make the argument that people don’t want to use shelters.
Finding a bed is the beginning, but making the services that are available more attractive is a big step. At facilities like the newly opened Navigation Center, counselors work with residents to place them in permanent housing, rather than allowing them to relocate back to the streets.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors liked the Navigation Center’s model so much, in fact, that they are planning to open an additional five facilities in its likeness. This could potentially solve the issue of getting people off the street.
The challenge then becomes placing people permanently. In a market that is easily among the top three most competitive in the nation, how do you find enough affordable housing for 8,000 people from the inner city alone? It’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s one that must be answered, nonetheless.
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