San Franciscans are experts in homelessness.
We step over homeless people, over their belongings, over their shit just to get to work. We know exactly why people are on the streets, we tell each other. They're mentally ill. They're addicted to drugs. They made bad choices.
But unless we have been outside ourselves, we have no idea.
Officially, there are 6,800 homeless people in San Francisco. That figure doesn't include people sleeping in cars, motel rooms, or on friends' couches. It also misses some of the 2,100 homeless children in San Francisco public schools whose concern for schoolwork competes with the worry about whether they will have a shelter bed that night.
Homelessness in San Francisco has proven to be remarkably stubborn. There has been little change in the statistics over the past decade, despite the steady flow of press releases from City Hall about the latest innovation — supportive housing for veterans, the Navigation Center, a new app — meant to assuage one of American capitalism's most intractable social ills.
Much has been written about how to "solve" the "problem" of homelessness. Mayor Ed Lee's dictum that the homeless will have to "go" by the Super Bowl has injected anxiety into the lives of people on the street and urgency into the task of finding that elusive solution.
For once, we wanted to let this "problem" be what it is — people — and we wanted to let some of those people do the talking.
What follows are testaments to living on the streets of one of the richest and most expensive cities in the world. We do not offer any solutions, opinions, or expert critiques. Given the choice of talking or listening, we decided to listen.
In this issue, we give space to people society has failed, and hope you will listen to them too, and see them for what they are.
People. People who, at some time, perhaps not too long ago, were just like you: safe inside.