Why a UN Report Describes San Francisco’s Homeless Crisis a “Human Rights Violation”

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A UN report says gentrification and denial of basic rights such as water and sanitation behind the homeless crisis in billionaires’ city

NEW YORK (Nov 16, 2018): San Francisco is one of the richest in the world but almost one in 100 residents are homeless with Tenderloin the epicenter of a homeless crisis scarring one of the world’s richest cities.

Tenderloin neighborhood is located downtown, bordered by some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city–a ten-minute walk from the headquarters of Twitter, Uber. Yet, it has a bad reputation. Tourists are told to avoid the area. You can often see drug dealing out in the open, and garbage on the streets.

Most agree that gentrification– the cost of housing and the residents’ ability to stay in their homes, fueled by Silicon Valley’s booming tech industry, has made the problem worse. The median price of a home in the city is now $1.6 million; the median rent for a one-bed apartment is $3,400 a month.

Leilani Farha, the UN’s special rapporteur on adequate housing, who has visited the slums of Mumbai, talked to Roma communities living on landfill sites and toured the encampments of Cairo, says nothing in her 20-year career prepared her for California.

A man pushes his belongings past the city hall; Over 4,000 sleep rough in San Francisco every night.

“It was like landing on another planet,” Ms Farha said. “I was traumatized just talking and spending time with the people living in homelessness in California. My team were deeply, deeply upset.”

She spent two weeks traveling across California in January examining the homeless issue but it was in San Francisco that the problem appeared most acute. The city boasts the third highest number of billionaires in the world and California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world.

Ms Farha issued a UN report in which she described San Francisco’s crisis as a “human rights violation” owing to the denial of basic rights such as water and sanitation.

There are an estimated 7,500 homeless people in San Francisco out of a population of 885,000. About 4,400 of these sleep rough, according to the city’s homelessness department. There are a further 1,363 homeless and unaccompanied children.

Barry Zevin, medical director for Street Medicine and Shelter Health, said that the problem had worsened in the past five years. His outreach team are increasingly treating elderly people who have been “gentrified out” and ended up on the street. “Barely a week goes by where I don’t see a 70-year-old or 80-year-old who is new to homelessness. That is horrible.”

Last year the city spent $305 million on homelessness.

Residents have begun to argue that the tech industry should help. Last week 60 per cent of San Franciscans voted through a measure that will tax large businesses to provide funds for the homeless.

The measure, Proposition C, averages 0.5 per cent on the gross receipts of businesses with revenues of more than $50 million in the city, and is expected to boost spending on homelessness by 80 per cent. Supporters said that it would raise $75 million a year for mental health services and pay for 4,000 units of housing and 1,000 more beds in shelters.

But large tech companies and venture capitalists, including Twitter, Visa, the payments company Stripe and the taxi-hailing service Lyft don’t agree. They poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into fighting the tax.

Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter and the payments processing company Square, who is worth an estimated $5.4 billion, issued a veiled threat to leave the city if the tax was passed.

Possible alternates? Aggressive nonprofit acquisition of land until land is still cheap so that low and middle income housings can be built, and building single room occupancy (SRO) residential hotels as well–notwithstanding the billionaire tax, according to some experts PKonweb spoke with.

Meanwhile, millions of visitors still flock to ride tram cars, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Alcatraz but the homeless population is beginning to hurt the $9 billion tourism industry of Francisco which hosts the Silicon Valley.

(Based on original articles in The Times UK and KQED News)

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