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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Another Tech Guy Notices S.F.'s Homeless Issue, Blogs About It, Is Crucified

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Man has blog, internet bites him. - JUSTIN KELLER/TWITTER
  • Justin Keller/Twitter
  • Man has blog, internet bites him.
Justin Keller is no Greg Gopman. He did not live in city-subsidized affordable housing while calling the city's homeless "hyenas," all before morphing into the self-appointed savior of San Francisco street people.

He's not even a Peter Shih — he did not write a listicle calling the city's women "49ers" (in Shih's world — that is: 2013 — that could have been a compliment; it's every kind of bad now).

But Justin Keller, startup founder, is a tech guy. And he has a blog. And he's a tech guy who on Monday typed out an ill-advised lament in which he states, in the three years he's been a San Franciscan, he has become increasingly alarmed by the "homeless and drug problem that the city is faced with" — which means that he's now and forever in the same category as Gopman and Shih, whose rants about city life earned them internet scorn.

"I’ve been living in SF for over three years, and without a doubt it is the worst it has ever been," he wrote, in what he describes as an "open letter" to Mayor Ed Lee and SFPD Chief Police Suhr (because homelessness is a political and law enforcement problem, natch).

"Every day, on my way to, and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces, and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shanty town… Worst of all, it is unsafe."

He went on. And so did the rest of us, on Twitter and elsewhere, where Keller has earned the all-too predictable scorn.

First, a reminder: while anecdotes and the number of tents on 13th and Division streets suggest that San Francisco's ever-present homeless problem has become noticeably worse in the past several years, statistically, things are the same: The "official number" of street people in our fair city has hovered around 6,500 for the past decade. (Plenty of homeless advocates beef with that figure; considering that the city's school district counts over 2,000 homeless kids in public school, it's almost certainly low.)

But that's not news to you. And it wasn't news to Keller, who says that his motivation for the post was to draw attention and take action — and not sit silently by, like all of us hardened San Francisco citizens now taking him to task.

Keller, he writes, had his parents and other family in town for the long weekend. While he reports "countless times that we were approached for money and harassed," Keller was driven to the blogging point by a series of incidents: one at the Tadich Grill, one outside, and the denouement at the Sundance Kabuki movie theater. You can read it for yourself, but the gist is: Keller encountered people, who may have been intoxicated, who were yelling or taking their shirts off or shoving people, and he and his people were "terrified."

He makes no mention of the causes of homelessness or what San Francisco has done in the last decade to address it, only to be stuck at the starting point — he just asks someone to please do something.

There's a real possibility that Keller is trolling us. We are, after all, easily trolled, and our reaction is a total troll's reaction, bro. But there's an earnestness about Keller that leads us to believe he's being honest... even as he slogs through unintentional irony (such as his Super Bowl comment below.)

I am telling you, there is going to be a revolution. People on both sides are frustrated, and you can sense the anger. The city needs to tackle this problem head on, it can no longer ignore it and let people do whatever they want in the city. I don’t have a magic solution… It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff[1] seem to up and vanish. I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence. Money and political pressure can make change. So it is time to start making progress, or we as citizens will make a change in leadership and elect new officials who can.

Showing off his liberal arts education, he finishes with a flourish, name-checking Plato's Republic and noting that Socrates warned us that we're headed towards tyranny. Or something.

He has, predictably, spent the last 14 hours or so defending himself on the marketplace of ideas Twitter. Now that's tyranny.

Can a startup guy install blog software that comes with a warning that noticing and then blasting a longstanding, well-noted, and clearly difficult-to-solve societal ill is neither original nor wise nor productive? We'd invest in that.

At press time, Justin Keller was still a tech guy, Mayor Ed Lee was still mayor, and neither homelessness nor mental illness had been solved. Check back in the next decade for updates.
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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