By Anna Kristina Moseijord
SAN FRANCISCO, CA —There is a rising tide of anti-homeless sentiment among San Francisco residents, according to an editorial published in the San Francisco Chronicle – the editorial condemns this attitude as a callous and cruel perspective on a humanitarian crisis.
The Chronicle’s Editorial Board describes wealthier San Franciscans’ idea that the city is “merely an archipelago of safe islands floating in an ocean of human feces and hypodermic needles,” and that “homelessness is the cause of this nightmare.”
The editorial criticizes this attitude as misleading, claiming that homelessness is actually a fairly contained issue, affecting mostly the Tenderloin and some other central city areas.
The Chronicle piece appears to be prompted by comedian John Oliver’s talk show segment on homelessness, focusing on how rising homelessness in the U.S. has been met with harsh responses from city governments.
Especially central to city debates around homelessness in San Francisco, according to the Chronicle, is the issue of human feces. The November editorial critiques “the laser focus on ‘cleaning up’ for the benefit of the housed,” and points out that this perspective shifts conversations away from longer lasting solutions.
The article also draws a connection between what it calls the “‘unclean’ narrative” and misconceptions around homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction, and notes that despite disruptions to data collection due to COVID-19, strong evidence suggests mental health and drug addiction are not the primary reasons for Bay Area homelessness.
In fact, a study from 2019 referenced in the Chronicle’s editorial suggests that “only 18 percent of unhoused San Franciscans reported addiction was the cause of their homelessness and 8 percent cited mental illness.”
Instead, 63 percent noted “an inability to pay rent” as the main reason for their homelessness.
The Chronicle’s editorial took a strong stance on these statistics, saying that, while homelessness is a complex issue, “We can’t begin to solve homelessness without building more housing.”
This stance is supported by nonprofits such as the California Housing Partnership, which notes that Section 8 housing is rarely available to people qualified for it. The Chronicle condemned San Francisco as having an “arbitrary and often nonsensical loathing of new development,” which it sees as central to the city’s attitude toward its homeless population.
While it touched on some of the underlying issues and realities of San Francisco’s epidemic homelessness, the editorial’s focus was really on how the city is having conversations about the issue.
The article’s targets ranged from residents to city officials to internet comment sections, and its scathing final lines suggest that finding real solutions requires San Francisco to “stop wasting so much oxygen” on the inhumane perspectives it’s come under fire for recently.
The Chronicle’s condemnation of this attitude comes during a highwater moment in national conversations about homelessness.
Not only John Oliver, but outlets like the New York Times, and organizations like the U.N., have honed in on Bay Area homelessness as an issue. For example, a 2018 U.N. report and a major New York Times piece on Oakland homeless encampments have compared Bay Area homeless camps to “slums” in Southeast Asia and “refugee camps” in Mexico.
The Chronicle’s Editorial Board clearly sees the “regal callousness” of current San Francisco conversations as central to creating these conditions.