San Francisco, with all of its fabulous glory, tourist attractions, and upscale fashion trends, has a dark underbelly in its culture. Recently, the city – along with the Silicon Valley – has become the center of the universe for tech start-ups and new innovations in technology. In 2011, Twitter, a major player in the tech world, moved its headquarters to the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. Tenderloin is a place for homeless people to go. There’s affordable housing, motels, and non-profits that intend to ease the pain in their life. On the face of it, this safety net ,far more put together than Los Angeles’s Skid Row, is about the people who care enough to fight for a way out. However, tech giants, in all their ebullient fame and acceptance, leave them cornered with minimal options.
The homeless range from the mentally ill to the drug addicted, a dichotomy that often overlaps in situations where these people have nowhere else to go. Despite this neighborhood’s endurance throughout the many changes that have occurred in the city, it faces the major threat of gentrification. If an event such as gentrification were to come to pass, it would effectively displace hundreds of homeless.
Another thing that San Francisco is infamous for is the AIDS epidemic that wreaked havoc on the entire city in the 1980s and 1990s. Those eras of the city were when the disease was at its worse, and nearly untreatable. Although HIV/AIDS still finds ways to turn the lives of citizens upside down to this day, there exists many options and treatments with anti-retroviral drugs. In fact, many doctors today are working on innovative new techniques to effectively cure HIV/AIDS altogether. In an ironic tailspin, the city is purportedly on track to be the first to cure it, when it was the first to get major global recognition as “ground-zero” for the initial outbreak. If a cure were to be found in the next two or three decades, millions of lives could be rescued, including homeless people living with the disease.
Sadly, the tech bubble being created in San Francisco in 2014 could potentially put a grinding halt on that progress. As new developmental projects are being built in the city to attract tourists and new families, tech savvy pioneers are systematically pushing out low-income and middle class families that cannot afford the hikes in rent and mortgages. Even worse, if the tech industry, in accordance with the likes of Twitter, manages to push out the city’s homeless population to build a pristine neighborhood, those living with HIV or AIDS could lose their ties to the community. If they lose their ties to the community, they will have no “in” for treatment and, potentially one day a cure, when they are among the affected that desperately need it most.
The city is already experiencing push-back. Afflicting accounts of how dire the situation is have been portrayed in the media. Proponents for gentrification take note of the possible dangers, but belittle the issue as no more than conjecture blown out of proportion. On the opposite side, and with good reason, many have criticized the city’s open arm embrace of a destructive tech culture. Further, in 2013, strikes and protests occurred against BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). The dispute was over pay increases to BART’s employees. The strike crippled the city commute for days. Today, in 2014, vandals are tipping over smart cars on their side to do damage – and quite possibly, send a message.
These are the realities orbiting San Francisco today, thankfully brought to the limelight by the astronomical rise of tech. The city has much to offer for tourists, which is what gentrification supporters are banking on. Contrariwise, in doing so, the tech hub has created a disparate portrait of a once revered American city. This disparity, though protected through regulations, zoning bylaws, and a thoughtfully caring community, can potentially have deadly consequences for the city; even if the most brilliant minds in medicine find a cure for AIDS. One individual living with the disease in The Advocate claimed that it would be difficult to “hear champagne corks popping” from all over the city when an end comes to the seroconversions, particularly as someone continuing to live with AIDS on the city streets. For people like this, they have no option but to continue fighting for a way out.
Opinion by Tyler Collins