The Unresolved Homelessness Issue in San Francisco Despite APEC Cleanup

Leaders from around the world are converging in San Francisco this week for a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. The focus of discussions on APEC has been more about San Francisco’s efforts to clean up the streets ahead of the conference rather than trade deals and geopolitics. Numerous international publications have highlighted the city’s enthusiastic efforts to clear homeless encampments, clean streets and crack down on drug activity in the downtown conference area. California Governor Gavin Newsom stated that the pre-APEC cleanup is part of a new proactive approach of the city and state to deal with vagrancy. However, this cleanup has sparked two criticisms – some local homeless advocates argue that it is disrupting the lives of now-displaced downtown homeless, while some conservative detractors question why the city didn’t address its homelessness problem earlier. San Francisco’s APEC cleanup did not address the first homelessness problem, which local homeless advocates are concerned about. The second homelessness problem, experienced by the general public, was somewhat improved by dismantling tent encampments and creating a heavily policed security cordon. Enforcing camping ordinances and responding to public nuisances carries costs in terms of taxes and limits the public’s use of parks. Balancing clean public spaces and protecting homeless rights is difficult, especially for a city with one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. The current security measures downtown have temporarily walled off some of the city’s homelessness problem. There have been suggestions that making these measures permanent or flirting with a Chinese Communist Party-style public order would be beneficial – a negative attitude born from justified frustration. San Francisco, one of the richest cities, should not force its residents to pick between a low-quality life with thousands living on the streets or an aggressive police state that hides the homeless problem. To overcome this, the city and region would need to significantly increase housing construction to bring down prices and house more people, thereby reducing problematic public behavior.