I’m back in the USA – this time in San Francisco, California. There was a tricky moment at Customs when I was quizzed about when I was last in the States (ten days ago) and why I was here – ‘holiday, again’. The nice man seemed concerned about whether I had a job… a ‘great one’ my son quipped.
It’s my fourth time in San Francisco – a place which is currently basking in sunshine – so it has a head start on the UK. Our apartment is above the offices of Pinterest and it’s difficult to grasp what a grip this place has on our daily lives – Twitter, Google, Apple, Firefox and many more tech companies live here – or near here. This is silicon valley. There are super rich people.
The cars on display around the streets are testament to the money swishing around. There are high-end shops to extricate your cash. If you have it you can splash it here.
But there is something else too – a massive homeless problem. There are mini neighbourhoods built under bridges – people who live in tents – if they are lucky. Cardboard and ripped blankets and sleeping bags if not. It is not just visible, it smells too.
There are 7,499 homeless people according to the City’s 2017 count. 69% of them claim they lived in San Francisco housing prior to becoming homeless, and 55% say they’ve been homeless for a decade or more. 41% say that have drug or alcohol addiction, 39% claim mental health issues, and 11% say they have HIV or AIDS. The numbers have improved slightly over the last two years. The survey is here.
The City spends around $300m each year trying to resolve the problem – but it clearly there is no easy fix.
It is also difficult to comprehend in a city which has so much money being earned. The gap between rich and poor seems almost impossible to reconcile.
I know that back at home in Nottingham we have concerns about homelessness. What I can see is that it is not on this sort of scale. But I can also see how this could spiral and we need to have a strategy in place sooner rather than later. In 2017 there should be no need for people to live on the streets…