A Letter to Tech Workers on Homelessness

Fellow Tech Workers,

This past week several media outlets (including SFGate, SFist, and SFWeekly locally) ran stories on tech worker Justin Keller’s blog post about homelessness in San Francisco. In the post Keller listed concerns about homelessness in the city, but then went on to refer to homeless people as “riff raff”, urging the city to sweep them out. Furthermore, he claimed that the wealthy individuals in the city have worked hard to earn to live there and therefore don’t deserve to see such despair on the streets.

As a group representing people in and around the tech community who seek social justice, we in the Tech Workers Coalition reject these views. Instead, we urge you to join with us in a stance of compassion.

We condemn the blog post because it expresses disdain and indifference toward people who are suffering in dire circumstances. We need to move beyond the destructive myth that wealth entitles individuals to certain rights that are not deserved by those who are poor, such as safe quality housing. San Francisco’s homeless population includes members of the working poor — hard working individuals with jobs who are unable to afford housing. People deserve housing by virtue of their humanity, not the size of their bank accounts.

Unfortunately this kind of story receives attention because it plays into a pervasive stereotype about indifferent tech workers. In the media Keller is primarily identified as a tech worker, but we should refuse to believe that his views represent our entire community.

Instead, we in tech can take this as an opportunity to confront the stereotype and state clearly that we stand for justice and compassion, not indifference and entitlement. Talk with your coworkers about it. Talk with your neighbors about it. Share your thoughts with us and the rest of the community.

San Francisco is certainly wrestling with a homelessness problem. The city government has poured millions of dollars into addressing the issue, but has had limited success. We must push our government to do better.

However, this isn’t just a government problem. It’s a community problem. It’s our problem. And, it’s up to all of us to address it. Homelessness is a complex issue, but there are concrete actions we can take. Perhaps most essentially we can make an effort to actually meet the homeless individuals in our neighborhoods. We can give money to organizations that serve the homeless community: Hospitality House, St. Anthony’s, or GLIDE, just to name a few. Better yet, we can give our time and volunteer for those organizations. We need understand this challenge in terms of human faces, names, and stories.

In the tech world we often perceive problems as having technical solutions. But, many of our most difficult community problems first require seeing each other with compassion and dignity.

This is an opportunity for us to take such a stance.

Signed,

The Tech Workers Coalition