San Francisco, CA

Stop Feeding the Homeless in San Francisco

Jano le Roux

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It is in our nature to want to help. As humans, our brains are wired to feel empathy for people in need. Sometimes this feeling of empathy gets so influential that we cannot help but to act. Do we ever stop and think of how we act? Do we ever stop to ask the disadvantaged individual on the corner what she actually needs or are we doing it to make our conscious feel better? Since young, we're taught San Francisco is the city of mindfulness, decision-making, and productivity—yet when it comes to the homeless crisis we're becoming the city of assumptions.

In the pressure cooker of life, our daily routines often become slaves of automation. We go to the park, walk the dog, run some errands, and pass an extra taco to the seemingly lost person anticipating life on the street corner; everything so seamlessly integrated into our ostensibly occupied schedules without cognition.

Let's not go around the bush, I'm not writing this article to tick you off; I'm writing this to help you see a new perspective on a very sensitive social situation. And ultimately show you the information to make a more significant difference in someone's life. If you differ from me or simply have another side of the coin you'd like to share, please do so below in the comment section. I'd love to hear your view.

Homelessness is Not Famine and it Should Not be Treated Like it

After a deep conversation with a homeless veteran named Eddy, I realized that frequently the city's disregard and assumptions are contributing to the ascension of homelessness in the Bay Area.

Eddy's journey to homelessness began two years ago when he was evicted from an apartment in Hunters Point after his wife left him. I'd describe Eddy as the type of person that has seen everything in the world, a friendly character--slightly obese with a long white beard, green-blue eyes, and a warm wrinkly face subtly exposing the unfavorable times he's been through.

"Some days I get up to four lunch meals and two food vouchers," Eddy grumbled. He continued: "People don't even talk to us anymore. In the last 9 months, people have so afraid of Corona that they're just dropping off food without saying [anything]. We have more than enough food, we need safe shelters. I'm so f****** tired of McDonald's, it's not even funny anymore. It's not safe on the streets anymore."

I felt empathy for his situation. There seems to be so much uncertainty that he feels the need to stuff himself with four lunch meals just in case the next day won't be so lucky.

A Havard study found that about a third of homeless people are obese. One of the main reasons for this is that the homeless population is frequently overfed and often end up obese due to the malnutrition they get from junk food.

Recent studies have shown that bad dietary habits have a massive effect on Coronavirus mortality risk. In other words, if you're contributing to the junk food trend, your foolish actions may put a homeless person's life at risk.

It seems like there's an extensive disconnect between shelters, charities, and the generous folks who simply share meals. Due to bad communication homeless are often overfed on some days and don't eat anything on other days causing their immune systems to become highly unstable.

I feel like there should be an app where people can see and pin locations where they've fed that nonprofits like the Downtown Streets Team can know where to apply their efforts. Another option is simply to ask if they've eaten, but Eddy says that people are likely to lie about it. "Nobody on the street will decline a free meal, even if they've already eaten. There is just too much uncertainty," he maintained.

It all comes down to one thing: Homeless people need homes; stop putting a plaster on the wound by assuming they always need food.

What Has The City Tried to Combat Homelessness?

San Francisco originally did what every other major city did, which is build shelters, as homelessness increased in the 1980s, they mostly wanted residents to pull themselves together to become stable once again.

The established housing and counseling services as the magnitude of the issue deepened, and then, as sympathy exhaustion started to set in, the city sought to take a tougher stance on law enforcement in the 1990s.

During the 2000s, the focus has been on housing individuals with on-site therapy where they need it, conducting extensive street outreach to attract people into systems, and developing a strong data structure for monitoring homeless people through facilities over the last few years to support them more efficiently and minimize unnecessary efforts.

The newest generation had the closest handle on what is now called best practices for addressing homelessness until the pandemic hit. It is challenging to build up initiatives to a successful degree in the face of insufficient funding from the federal government and a high risk of infection. The new age of homelessness was sparked by changes in federal welfare and housing services in the 1980s, and such cuts have never been completely reversed.

How can You Actually Help?

As difficult as it may sound, ask them. Stop assuming for your own conscience. If you prefer not to get in contact with homeless people because of the high risk of infection, donate to an organization like Downtown Streets, they really make a difference in the Bay Area.

Donate things that people don't often think of. The most important thing is to help get a strong immune system to help combat Covid-19. A bottle of multi-vitamins or a clean mask might go a long way.

I asked 18 homeless people in the Mission District what they need right now and here are some of the most common items:

  • Shoes
  • Blankets
  • Razors
  • Toothpaste
  • Tents
  • Umbrellas
  • Socks
  • Pepper spray (For their personal security)
  • A friendly greeting

Final thoughts

San Francisco is bleeding and the homeless are feeling it. Stop playing the violin on the sinking Titanic. Stop feeding the homeless, unless they ask. If they ask, make sure you at least give them a healthy meal. Stop assuming you know what they need. If we don't stop—our assumptions will contribute to the problem and add jet fuel to a raging fire.

What do you think Mayor Breed and her team can do to better prevent and combat homelessness in San Francisco?

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