A Reflection on “Homelessness: Can We Solve It?” From Shaper Abi Ramanan

Conversations in San Francisco sometimes have this frustrating quality if they are about homelessness, race, inequality, poverty; as though they’re some intellectual exercise in sounding academic by quoting statistics whilst being void of lived experience.

For that reason, I am very grateful I went to Tipping Point Community’s “Homelessness: Can We Solve It?” event on Thursday, which was the realest conversation I’ve heard since I moved here. The incredible speakers and panelists included Del Seymour from Code Tenderloin, Margot Kushel from UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, Amber Twitchell from onthemovebayarea.org, Brian Blalock from Tipping Point and Tomiquia Moss from Hamilton Families.

I learnt that:

  • (Forgive a couple of statistics) 30% of the nation’s homeless youth live in California and in the last 7 years 165k jobs have been created with only 16k new houses built, whilst at the same time, the African American population has dropped from 11% to under 4% — the homeless people in San Francisco are those who were born here and are from here.
  • 67% of people who are homeless in Oakland were housed a year ago — it’s a new problem.
  • Mental health challenges and substance use don’t cause homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, a lack of a safety net and stagnating wages cause homelessness, which in turn causes mental health challenges and substance use.
  • A study by the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations found that about half of people over 50 experiencing homelessness had never been homeless before, they basically worked their whole lives, then something went wrong and they had no safety net.
  • In San Francisco, people are afraid to talk about how our implicit biases prevent us from humanizing homeless people.
  • Services need to be low-barrier, culturally appropriate and brought to where people are, like opioid replacement therapy.

In terms of what to do, their suggestions were: vote, donate, volunteer, support affordable housing initiatives in your neighborhood (permanent supportive housing has been proven in several cities to keep 85% of chronically homeless individuals housed) and turn to those with lived experience to lead the solutions.

I’m going to sign up to volunteer at Hamilton Families — join me!