Open letter to a guy who wrote an open letter to the mayor of San Francisco about homelessness
Hi Justin, or “Justin”
I read your open letter to Ed Lee and I wanted to take the time to compliment you on a brilliant piece of satire. Obviously, it would take an almost cartoonishly pathetic little man to write a letter to the mayor and police chief of a major metropolis and complain, in all seriousness, about the time his dinner with mommy and daddy got ruined by a scary homeless guy. No one would ever knowingly reveal themselves to be such a clueless and hateful child, so it seems obvious that you’ve created the character of “Justin” to parody the voice and mentality of the stereotypical “tech bro.” Dude, you nailed it!
Let’s start with the appalling grammar. The misplaced comma after the fourth word of your letter immediately signals your intent, and from there you keep hammering away, in ruthless fashion, capturing the sad, semi-literate discourse that presides over so much of the tech industry. I love the way you seem to be saying that tech bros, despite having unlimited funds for gadgets, will never be able to buy a basic understanding of subject/verb agreement.
You build the character of “Justin” in so many hilarious ways. Like when he declares, in the most prissy and hysterical tones, that San Francisco is becoming “a shanty town.” The fact that the EXACT OPPOSITE thing is happening would never occur to “Justin,” who won’t be satisfied until San Francisco completes its transformation from “The City,” a gorgeously complicated place with many different kinds of people, to something that resembles his mommy’s living room in Santa Barbara (such a nice touch, making this his hometown). It’s like you’re saying, “Hey ‘Justin,’ you’re an ADULT MAN who has chosen to live in a major metropolis and yet because of your childish sense of entitlement, you react with surprise and horror when forced to share the street with — gasp! — the ‘faces of addiction’ (classic!). Even though the transformation of San Francisco into a soulless tech bedroom community is basically complete, and the city government has done everything in their power to make things comfortable for people like you, while bleeding the city of its working class and exiling them further and further away into exurban shanty towns, and even though the mysterious workings of history have allowed vast legions of mediocre white dudes to make a cushy living by pushing buttons and using words like ‘functionality’….even though all these things are working in your favor, it is still not enough, because occasionally you are forced to gaze upon a drug addled bum, a loser who has failed to achieve, whereupon, through an astounding combination of narcissism and self-pity, you somehow come to the conclusion that YOU ARE THE VICTIM in all of this, and you are the one who requires help and protection. ‘Justin,’ my man, you’re a beautiful piece of work!” I love the subtle way you imply all of this. It’s masterful.
But “Justin” is just getting started! Here’s my favorite passage:
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 love what you’re doing here, slowly developing a sinister form of logic. “Justin” is repulsed by the sight of the homeless. Google has yet to produce a form of eyewear that can eliminate from the field of vision any citizen making less than $100,000, so “Justin” has to endure the unendurable each day on his way to work. Homelessness is not a human crisis, it’s a “Justin” crisis! He’s like, “If only we could find some way to concentrate all the homeless somewhere far away from the city, perhaps in some kind of camp.” Historically, things tend to go sideways when one group of people is repulsed by the vermin-like sight of another group of people, and rather than dealing with whatever minor inconvenience or unpleasantness the existence of the unsightly group might cause, the offended group starts dreaming of total eradication. At this point I was like, “Listen, ‘Justin’ is a selfish guy who lacks awareness and empathy, but it’s not like he’s going to actually profess a secret desire for the homeless in his city to ‘vanish,’ because then he’d stop being a run-of-the-mill douchebag and become a terrifying embodiment of the fascist dream. That’s not going to happen, right?” WRONG!
The city needs to tackle this problem head on, it can no longer ignore it and let people do whatever they want in the city. I don’t have a magic solution… It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff seem to up and vanish. I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence.
You illuminate this movement with Swiftian grace, sir. You even worked in the word “solution.” I also loved the passage — again, implied — where “Justin” tells the mayor that he’s disgusted to live in a city named after Saint Francis of Assisi, the champion of the poor, and demands that the mayor rename the city after Saint Ayn Rand, the champion of champions. Actually, that part was maybe a little on the nose, but you get the idea.
I also appreciated how you eventually let the parody subside a little and expressed a very small amount of sympathy for “Justin,” who is young and trying his best to make something of himself, like we all are, even those of us who have fallen behind and now find ourselves alone and adrift on the same streets he occupies. Ultimately, I think your wish for “Justin” is not for him to continue being a grotesque parody of the coddled, millennial tech shithead, but for him to realize that the city, if it is to be anything like a city, a place worth living, despite myriad problems and challenges, requires him to look into the face of his fellow citizens, no matter how destitute, and see a human being.
That guy shitting on the sidewalk? He used to live in a house and had parents who loved him. Whether “Justin” likes it or not, that guy is his brother. As “Justin” says, there is no “magic solution,” but believe it or not, there are many people working really hard to deal with the homeless situation in San Francisco. They are motivated to help individuals who are suffering. That may not interest “Justin,” but in the end they want the same thing he wants: to get people off the street. So next time, instead of crying to the mayor, “Justin” should consider donating to the Homeless Youth Alliance or going someplace like St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin (links below) and volunteering to serve meals. He can meet some of the people who would presumably vanish under the Super Bowl Protocols. As you note, it’s likely that “Justin” won’t want them to vanish after looking into their eyes and hearing their voices. Who knows? Maybe he can sit down with somebody and talk to them about personal responsibility and the joys of entrepreneurship and maybe that guy will turn his life around and develop an app that does something utterly pointless, or maybe he’ll piss his pants and call “Justin” the devil. Life is messy, but either way, the guy is worth talking to, because he’s a person. This last part, trying to engage “Justin” as a person, is a little self-righteous, obviously, but I’m glad you gave it a shot.