The Drug Epidemic, San Francisco & Grappling with Change

City Hall, San Francisco

When I decided it was time for a change and moved to San Francisco I took the easiest route out of my circumstances. I rented my home furnished to a short term renter. I did this because I didn’t know how I would feel after six months of living in the city. I wanted the safety of knowing I could come back if I wanted to.

My renters moved out last week and I spent the weekend there. I expected it to feel really strange to be back there again, but it didn’t. I saw neighborhood friends for dinner, dropped a gift off to another neighbor and attended a birthday party on Saturday night. The scenery was the same, but I had changed. I went through my regular routines trimming my lemon tree, cleaning the pool and having coffee at my kitchen table with the morning light streaming in. I slept in my old bed and listened to the rain fall and the relaxing babbling of the creek outside my window. It was all wonderful, but I felt like a guest. I was surprised that I missed the city and that I looked forward to going back to my apartment and my life there.

While there I visited with my neighbor who said the homeless population is due to the rights of these people to live on the streets if they want to. They can’t be held against their will like they once were when they showed signs of mental instability. You can’t force them into shelters or treatment. It is their right to sleep in the street. And, that my friends is the heart of the problem.

A journalist and author covering America’s drug and homelessness epidemics for years, said what he witnessed here has become alarmingly familiar across the country. The crisis here is not the uniquely San Francisco horror that locals and outside observers think it is.

“This story is the same all over the nation, because the drugs have covered the nation. It’s everywhere, and the massive supply that’s available now is the reason.”

from A National Poisoning San Francisco Chronicle

More than anything the problem is related to drug addiction and the mental illness it causes. Yet, I see that people are really trying here to solve these problems with compassion and empathy and San Francisco has reduced homelessness by 15% since 2019. So, there is some progress unlike other places that have seen a steady increase.

Convincing someone high on fentanyl to go into treatment is almost an impossible task. Yet, every day that is what they are trying to do.

I studied Political Science and have my degree in that discipline. As a young woman I wanted to change the world like many young people do. I worked for the Senate and a Lobby firm after graduation. I found the political climate of the 1990’s discouraging and I moved to San Francisco and went into tech. They didn’t call it that then, but I started my career as a temporary employee at Bank of America and became a System Analyst and began writing business requirements for mainframe computers. I found Bank of America very much like state government and it was easy for me to navigate through the bureaucracy and be effective. Those were my mid-twenties and I stayed close to tech until I decided to start my clothing company a few years ago as I am also an avid outdoor person and environmentalist.

Now, years later as I sit in San Francisco with so much trouble around me I wonder if I should be more political again? For the past several years I’ve been working to save the oceans with my brand and movement Ocean SF and now we have this other problem to be solved. Plastics and drug addiction are worth the fight I believe. Im just not sure what I can do about addiction. I do know that we can all make some headway by buying sustainable products and donating to the many organizations working on the homeless problem, but it is clearly not enough.

I think of myself as a global citizen of the world. I find it impossible to just walk by those that are suffering and pretend they don’t exist. If it’s not my responsibility then whose is it? The agencies and governing bodies are responsible of course, but am I as a citizen absolved of my own human kindness? How to just walk by?

Figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that unsheltered homelessness increased nationally 3.4% between 2020 and 2022, despite billions of extra dollars spent on the problem through COVID relief. Most communities in California also saw spikes, and homelessness overall throughout the state shot up 13% since 2019.
San Francisco was an outlier on the increases, reducing unsheltered homelessness by 15% since 2019. But that’s due to new investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in shelters and housing — and city officials estimate that for every one homeless person who gets housed, four more take their place.

from A National Poisoning San Francisco Chronicle
The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

When I moved here I didn’t consider the homeless, but now they have become a real concern of mine. I moved here because there is another San Francisco and today I attend my first meeting as a co-board chair for the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts at the Legion of Honor. This is another San Francisco that is rarely touched by the problems I see here South of Market Street. There, I am meeting new people and using my talents to help the arts in San Francisco. As I look out over this beautiful city I wonder why I am here and what can I do to make a real impact? Being back in my old house and in my old neighborhood last weekend was like stepping back into a different life. There, I was a mother, wife, neighbor and member of that community. I valued my time there and what I was able to achieve mainly raising a family, but that person is gone now. What will emerge is still yet to be seen.

Love and blessings to all.

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