Decades of homelessness in one of the richest cities in the U.S.

Arriving in San Francisco just two years ago, I was amazed by many homeless people sleeping in the streets and under bridges, or standing in the streets asking for money. I can’t imagine my dad as a homeless person because in my country I never saw homeless people. After decades of homelessness for recent immigrants, the crisis remains because of the lack of housing in San Francisco. Can you imagine having a relative who is a recent immigrant who became homeless?

I interviewed my father about his experience when he first arrived to United States almost sixteen years ago. He was homeless in San Francisco for two or three months on Cesar Chavez St. around Highway 101. His first job was in construction and he worked for himself—he did not have a boss. He was adapting to this country, learning English, and getting to know more people. He understood that only the strongest survive and he had to fight for his survival.

When I asked him about homelessness in San Francisco, he said, “When I got to U.S., I couldn’t believe how many homeless people there were in the street.” When he saw me frustrated and sad about living in a very small house, he said to me, “There are many reasons that people are homeless in my experience. I learned not to judge the people I see. There are many veterans, people with mental problems, poor families, and new immigrants like me. It’s terrible.”

Finally, I asked him to tell me about his experience with housing in San Francisco. He said, “The price of a house in San Francisco is really high and it’s impossible to afford a house here because they ask for many requirements, like social security, good credit with the banks, and expensive deposits. Many people are undocumented in this country, but the homeowners seek only what benefits them. They don’t want too many people in a home, or newborn babies, or pets. Also, not all people have good jobs to pay bills, housing, and buy food. It’s too much. Another option is to move to another city, but I can’t for my job. It feels impossible.”

To hear another perspective, I talked to my friend Larissa, who is a high school student in San Francisco. When I told her about my father’s experience, she told me about her own experience finding and paying for housing in the city. Currently, she needs to have a roommate to pay the rent of a room near Balboa Park. She said, “It’s so sad to live here because I am not able to pay the rent to live alone and have a space of my own.” Since she got a roommate she has to share her bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and even closets. Larissa has to work at a restaurant to help pay the rent and bills. She travels far every day to come to Mission High School. She pays $800 per month to share a room in a two-bedroom apartment. According to a Curbed SF article from 2016 about the cost of rent, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $4,360 per month.

One possible solution to this problem is to build more apartments for low-income people. According to a Time Magazine article from 2014, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee promised to build 30,000 new homes by 2020. The article states, “Lee has said he wants one-third of the new units to be ‘permanently affordable’ to lower-income residents.” It is important to make these apartments accessible to everyone, not just for rich people or businesses who are able to pay. The most important thing is that homeless people can pay for the rent and stop living on the street. The government is focused on tourism and attracting people to come to San Francisco, with fancy apartments for businessmen. They are not focused on the people who have been living in the city for a long time. The government should protect residents from being evicted by the owners.

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