I heard about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the Jewish High Holidays began on the evening of Sept. 18. Her legacy deepened the call to reflect, to take an honest look at what’s working, what isn’t and, most importantly, what we can do differently. It’s easy to see what’s wrong with San Francisco these days. Many say the problems we are facing are unsolvable, they are packing their bags.
But, I believe it’s time to fight for the city we love, not abandon it.
I was born and raised in San Francisco. For the past 15 years, I’ve used my privilege to open doors on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our community. When I founded Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit committed to fighting poverty in the Bay Area, we wanted to test whether private dollars could drive innovation for public good.
The $300 million we’ve raised to support those living in poverty matters, but it is a sliver of what’s required to run the city right. One of the most important roles private philanthropy can play is to research and develop new solutions. But the city is failing to implement those solutions at scale.
San Francisco is the least affordable place to live in America with the country’s highest rate of unsheltered homelessness. Despite spending an estimated $1 billion a year on “homeless-related” services, every night more San Franciscans are sleeping in doorways and in tents. Racial injustice looms large in one of our nation’s most progressive cities; 40% of our unhoused population is Black, though only 4% of the city’s population is.
It’s not commitment our elected officials are lacking; it’s accountability.
The city of San Francisco spends at least $600,000 over seven years to build just one unit of permanent housing. By next year, in partnership with Factory OS, Mercy Housing and the Northern California Carpenters Union, Tipping Point will have completed 145 units in under three years for less than $400,000 per unit. It will cost us less than $1,000 a month to house these residents, far less than it costs to meet their needs on the street. For every person who moves on, we improve the lives of two others: the person who moves out of shelter into supportive housing and the person who moves from the street into shelter.
There is a better way to run this city. But, our problems and politics have become so entrenched, the city has lost its ability to see new solutions. Thousands of apartments lie vacant while people suffer on our streets, trapped in addiction and mental illness. Parents cannot safely walk their children around the block without confronting human defecation, used needles and psychotic episodes, while the Department of Public Works claims the streets are their responsibility, not the sidewalks. Quality of life is being compromised for everyone, especially the unhoused, and our emergency response systems and emergency rooms are being overtaxed in the middle of a pandemic.
Homelessness is only the most visible of the many crises we face. Some 205,000 San Franciscans have filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 shelter-in-place began. Small business owners desperate to stay alive lose money every day while their applications for parklets and reconstruction sit waiting for approval. Meanwhile, the gap between public and private education has become a gulf. When the schools shut down in the spring, an alarming number of SFUSD students were left without instruction for five weeks, and many finished the year with as little as an hour of teaching per week.
Our division is not only dampening our hope, it’s fueling our dysfunction and stifling solutions that work. San Francisco should be a beacon — a city of the future. A city worthy of its rich history — one that is compassionate and inclusive, one that not only embraces change, but also fights for it.