A fresh thought about homelessness in San Francisco

Making sense of the growing homeless population and it’s relationship to the amount of support that’s available to them

For as long as I’ve lived San Francisco, I’ve struggled to make sense of the relationship between the ever-prevalent and growing homeless population and the (comparatively) large amount of support that’s available to them.

On one hand I think it’s beautiful that there’s so much help available. So much so, that many can live a (comparatively) stable life when it comes to basic needs like food, clothing, etc. On the other hand, this outpouring of support has created a seemingly permanent homeless class here in the city.

From the outside looking in, it seems these outreach programs are successful at maintaining people’s basic sustenance, but are largely failing when it comes to helping people move out of poverty.

As a result of SF’s reputation for offering so much assistance, homeless migrate here in droves. With such a huge population, the homeless problem feels daunting and leaves one to wonder if all this well-intentioned aid is helping or propagating the problem. Making things more difficult is the reality that correlating the effectiveness of aid and and a rising homeless population is far too nuanced a phenomena to come to any clear conclusions.

All this said, the other day, after reading the conclusion of Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill, I finally came to a clear resolve in my mind that seems to settle the dilemma.

Instead of viewing the overwhelming amount of aid available and the mass migration of homeless from all over the nation to San Francisco as a problem, it should be viewed as a joyous response to the overwhelming beacon of love and hope San Francisco has become.

To think that there is so much outpouring of love and hope available here in San Francisco that those in need are flooding into the city for aid (and fleeing cities where there simply isn’t help) is incredible and should be celebrated, expanded, and propagated.

I can’t think of anything to be better known for than the place for the poor, lost, and weary can come and find rest.

In that spirit, I do think where we could really try and amplify the work that’s already being done is to try and explore ways to improve the upward mobility of our new, struggling neighbors in terms of creating paths to escape homelessness and join the middle class.

Organizations like Because Justice Matters (SF), Defy Ventures (SF and NYC), CrossPurpose (Denver), and others are empowering the disempowered and showing us the way forward. So the call now is to replicate and multiply their inspiring work and successes.

And for those among us whose needs are greater and who may not have the desire or the mental health to move upwards on their own, we should not only continue to love on them, but love them even more so.

Because, in the end, our call is to love recklessly, without expectation.

It’s so easy to take a pragmatic posture to love (and much good comes from doing so). But we mustn’t, in our search for results, lose sight of the greater truth:

Love for love’s sake is NEVER wasted.

So it’s with open arms that I embrace the influx.

People are coming because love is among us and its light is shining bright.

🤝 Stay in touch

I send an email several times a year with a handful of the most interesting things I’ve written or uncovered at home, abroad, and on the web.

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