Each of us experiences San Francisco differently. Some of us prefer walking through Golden Gate Park and rowing down Stowe Lake. Maybe it’s lounging in Dolores Park on an unexpected sunny day. Others love roaming downtown’s bustling neighborhoods. Throughout the plethora of city experiences one thing remains constant: San Francisco’s homelessness problem. The most recent data shows that San Francisco has the second highest homeless population in the United States, not far behind New York City. It’s not surprising that many tourists and transplants who come to San Francisco are shocked to see such poverty in a city that has become so synonymous with innovation and startup hustle. Whether you grew up in the Bay Area, call San Francisco home or if you’ve only been here for a short time, you are bound to wonder how a city so prosperous can have such a high rate of people living on the street.

According to a study conducted in January 2015, there are 6,686 homeless people in the city. Where are these folks coming from? About 71% of these people reported living in San Francisco when they became homeless, 10% said they were living outside of California, and the remaining 19% said they were living in the state, but not the city. While most people think that many of these come for homeless services and benefits, only about 22% (of those coming from outside San Francisco) claimed it was for the homeless services and benefits.

The roots of homelessness are as complex and varied as the people themselves. It’s easy to subscribe to the popular opinion that the dark, downward spiraling road of addiction landed the homeless where they find themselves: without a home, without an income, without the dignity of hygiene, without basic needs of survival.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (source: Wikimedia Commons)


This couldn’t be further from the truth, and furthermore, it’s simply impossible to know each individual journey. Some lost their job. Many suffer from mental illness. In fact, about one third of homeless people in the US are mentally ill and lacking any resources for treatment. Some suffered a death in the family and were unable to pay medical bills. Others seek this city as a refuge from gang violence or abusive situations. We may find it intimidating or unnecessary to speak to, listen to, and hear the stories of this city’s homeless humans. Homeless people are often over-looked and literally stepped over. But we can collectively help ease this problem when judgement is put aside.

While the present state of homelessness affects us all, there are many organizations that are working towards tackling this complex issue. Lava Mae provides mobile showers and toilets for the homeless. HandUp is a crowdfunding site that raises money for both individuals and poverty alleviation programs. Recently our Impact Hub staff and members volunteered at GLIDE to prepare and serve meals for the homeless. While they absolutely loved and cherish the experience, they were left feeling that a lot of work needs to be done to tackle this issue. They also can’t wait to get back to GLIDE to make more connections and serve!

We all know the issue is prevalent and many need help. What organizations and activities have you encountered which you felt were impactful in tackling this issue? We’d love to hear! Share your comments below!


Pooja Rajani