Wednesday, February 24, 2016

First Person

Kheven LaGrone

By Kheven LaGrone
In an open letter to San Francisco city officials, a tech worker, who had only been in San Francisco three years, wrote:
“What are you going to do to address this [increasing homeless and drug] problem? The residents of this amazing city [San Francisco] no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.”
The tech writer’s letter was as heartless as a computer program.  He was clueless.  Such lack of empathy is a problem for any society—especially one that claims to value its “diversity.” As Oakland city officials have stated in the past, San Francisco’s gentrification problems are flowing over to Oakland. Because the tech writer believed he was writing for the residents of San Francisco, Oakland officials must officially and publicly address this letter.
The tech writer’s “free market society” was naively based on equal opportunities in life.  He incorrectly concluded that San Francisco’s homeless chose not to work hard or get an education.  In reality, some people were homeless because they were laid off or priced out of their homes. Some people were homeless due for medical reasons.
After only three years, the tech worker felt entitled to San Francisco because of his wealth.  He wrote that the homeless people disrupted his “special place.” He didn’t want to see their “pain, struggle and despair.” He did not engage them as human beings or learn their “bad luck” stories.  If he had, he might have realized that they never had his privileges.  Luck, not just “hard work,” privileged him and he’d see that his own good luck could run out.

He only saw those few homeless people who were publicly confrontational and disruptive to his sense of entitlement.  He then unfairly stereotyped all people as a threat.  Most homeless people don’t want to bring unnecessary attention to their situation.

The tech worker believed in San Francisco’s “free market society” and he had the money to move where he wanted; in reality, he asked for government intervention. Should the government remove old-time residents, or even natives, because wealthy newcomers don’t want to see them?  I have been to several of Oakland’s homeless encampments and shelters.  I saw many people there who I knew personally from Oakland in the 1980s. Could the tech worker be entitled to move to Oakland and bully them as well?

As more people move to Oakland, they will likely encounter, or even move near, existing homeless encampments. The newcomers should know that Oakland’s homeless community is as respected as any other.  If newcomers don’t want to see the homeless, they shouldn’t move here.
The tech worker even concluded his letter with warning of a “revolution.” I fear him more than I do the homeless.  He needs to address his own cluelessness as part of the problem.  His letter bullies the homeless.  Class warfare and homeless people will not be as easy for him to manipulate as computer codes and mathematical equations.  Lack of empathy will ruin any city more than homelessness. 
If class warfare explodes in San Francisco, it will likely spill over to Oakland.  Before it does, the Oakland City Council should make a public statement that its homeless community is seen and heard here. They must denounce the attitude of the tech worker’s letter. The homeless community is part of Oakland’s “diversity.”

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