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Monday, August 19, 2019

Haves and Have-nots in San Francisco

I don't make a habit of writing about what I did on my holidays, but my recent experience in San Francisco causes me to post a brief commentary on some of the social issues we observed there.

Of course the UK is not exempt from similar issues of homelessness, mental ill-health and drug abuse, and in fact many cities here have seen an increase in these problems, but the scale of the problem in the United States is not just daunting, it is frightening.

I love San Francisco, I have now been there three times. I have read numerous books on its history and the many troubled times it has survived, including the drugs and sexually transmitted diseases in the 1960s and 1970s, and of course the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, not to mention the earthquakes and the number of times it was almost completely destroyed by fire.

When I first went there in 2002 the street homeless were very much in evidence. In 2014 they were present in numbers too. This year there was a much higher police presence and consequently not such a high concentration of people gathering in the Tenderloin and outside City Hall, but the issue was in our face wherever we went.

San Francisco has been in the news recently because of its success in attracting a record number of new high-paying jobs, mostly in the high tech sector. Consequently, the cost of housing has risen significantly and is largely unaffordable for many people. There is also resentment amongst some at the way that high tech workers are being bussed in and out of the City.

This affluence however has not spread to everybody. Reports in the San Francisco Chronicle whilst we were there indicated that there are over 8,000 people classed as homeless in the City, many living on the streets. As ever with such a large street presence, there are massive problems with substance misuse and mental ill-health, plus there is not much of a safety net.

In our exploration of the city and its environs, we came across a number of politicians campaigning for public office, some of whom recognise the problem, but questions have to be asked as to whether their proposed solutions are sufficient or not.

As with the UK, there is clearly a need for substantial affordable housing provision, but backed up with investment in rehabilitation, health and other support services. What we need to know is why some of the wealth now coming into San Francisco is not being used to a greater extent in doing what is necessary to deal with this crisis.

If the USA is a country of haves and have-nots, San Francisco appears to have taken that to extremes. It is not a pretty sight. Surely more can be done to redress the balance.

What happens in the US usually comes to the UK. To prevent that happening we need more SOCIAL housing ( one,two bedroom) and the support structures to enable people to thrive.
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