No, Most People Experiencing Homelessness in SF Didn’t Come Here to Live on City Streets

Social media platforms, particularly Elon Musk-owned X, have become cesspools for dialog that falsely represent homelessness in the United States. Nowhere is that more true than the online discourse around San Francisco’s sheltering crisis.

Opening the social media formerly known as Twitter these days is akin to unlocking Pandora’s Box. It’s rife with misinformation, delusional outrage, and profiles with blue checkmarks intentionally stirring digital pots — because now you can actually make decent money on the platform by doing so. Among the site’s many out-of-touch rabbit holes, one you can descend is organized around San Francisco’s population of unhoused residents.

Internet scum — the kind of online filth that uses vulnerable people as objects to echo their own internalized hysterias — often film unhoused people in San Francisco, asking them an array of questions. Or worse: Simply recording them during one of their lowest moments in life to show San Francisoc’s ostensible decline. They have no intention to help the subjects of their videos nor want to address the systemic issues that caused the situation in the first place. They want, above all else, engagement.

A common question presented by these malicious, pseudo-documentarians is Where are you from? Of course, some individuals who experience homelessness in San Francisco aren’t from here. It’s a law of averages — but manipulated by recorders to make it appear that SF’s population of unsheltered individuals is made up of people who came here… to live on our sidewalks. Understandably, one could easily be tricked into believing that SF’s unhoused population consists of individuals who arrive here from elsewhere.

In a time where critical thinking is about as enduring as our collective attention spans, chronic uniqueness, coupled with the notion that our anecdotal experiences, somehow, transcend collective understandings, fallacy can easily run rife. We like to think of this now as misinformation, especially when deliberately used with the intention to deceive.

The idea that San Francisco’s unhoused population is largely made up of individuals who traveled here from elsewhere is one of our most hyperlocal examples of this type of conspiracy-making. Because the fact of the matter is — and yes, we use fact here with the utmost emphasis — over 70% of people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco were, in fact, at one time housed within city and county limits.

When people, be it online or within our IRL social circles, pontificate falsehoods, it’s best to always pose the question: Where did this information come from? And keep presenting that question… again… and again. The hope is that the stupidity of their answers — I saw a Facebook post; I watched a video on X; I read a blog on the internet — rings clearer and clearer in their ears.

The fact of the matter is that a 90-second video posted to a social media channel doesn’t hold a candle to information procured from yearly point-in-time (PIT) and housing inventory count (HIC) reports published by official city City departments.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most recent PIT conducted by the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), which was completed on February 23, 2022 — nearly three years after the City’s last full report, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

PICs have their limitations. For one, they represent a single documented night and can only offer a snapshot into the topics studied. But each PIC contains thousands upon thousands of data points that are extrapolated onto trends and past surveys. 

(I can wholeheartedly guarantee the iPhone-shot YouTube video or post on X has… at most… a dozen or so of the same points… all of which, remember, live as anecdotal accounts. Official PICs involve work from hundreds of community volunteers, staff from various City and County departments, and nonprofit partners. For context: 750 individuals belonging to any one of the aforenoted cohorts participated in SF’s 2017 PIC count.)

SF’s most up-to-date PIC report, which is available to anyone online for free, quells spun hysteria with substantiated facts.

We know that people belonging to BIPOC and queer communities are disproportionately affected by homelessness. We know COVID-19 played a substantial role in people experiencing homelessness, predominantly due to job loss or an eviction related to the pandemic. We know addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs is documented in over half of SF’s unhoused population. We know that the single-largest obstacle to permanent housing within this community is the inability to afford rent — with San Francisco rents currently priced at nearly twice that of the national average, according to RentCafe.

(Homelessness in the United States doesn’t stem from a single source. It’s the result of a systemic collapse of not only social safety nets but housing infrastructure and economic solvency. San Francisco just so happens to exist as a nexus of the three.)

We also know that the hyped hysteria posted on social media about San Francisco’s homelessness crisis is founded on falsehoods. Because, again: We have actual data to the contrary.

In 2022, it was found that of the 7,754 individual surveys conducted, which included both sheltered and unsheltered individuals, 71% resided in San Francisco before becoming homeless. Moreover: 35% of these people had lived in San Francisco for over 10 years.

And the amount of either sheltered or unsheltered individuals included in SF’s 2022 PIC count who reported having lived outside of California prior to losing housing? 4%. Or roughly 310 people out of the 7,754 someone surveyed.

That’s not a majority. That’s not even a significant percentage. That learning, however, is a truth that can be spun significantly out of sense by irrational beings.

Foolishness begets groundlessness. When an entire narrative is built on a sunken base, it will inevitably collapse and bring anything founded on it down — including the people responsible for said unsubstantiated portrayals. 

Social media, and the internet by large, is becoming an increasingly unsteady place. It’s our moral and ethical imperative as engaged citizens to do our part to find steadiness. This is particularly true when digital fickleness affects the most vulnerable among us in the real world. 

Feature image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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