My Mother’s San Francisco

I was born in 1969 in the San Fernando Valley, and grew up in Pasadena, so what the hell do I know about San Francisco? I moved here last September, it’s the most beautiful city in the world! But the ugliness of inequality and poverty can be seen everywhere, and it’s heartbreaking! Just this morning, one homeless person died, and three were injured in an encampment fire. It was freezing last night! I was in my safe, warm bed with two blankets and the heater on complaining about how fucking cold it was. No one can describe that terrible feeling as the sun goes down, and this beautiful city of ours becomes cold and dangerous. How can we as a society tolerate such poverty? No one deserves to be homeless! But that’s the easy part! Now, what to do? I think to answer that question, we must first examine how we got here. 

My God, what a beautiful city! I can just see my mom, my infant sister in her hand, on that trolley after a day of shopping, or a day at the park, or the zoo, or the beach, or a ballgame, or to lunch, or any of the many things we do every day here, and love! But intertwined in that beauty is a choking poverty that is sucking the beauty away! 

In 1960, when my mother was in San Francisco, census figures showed the population in San Francisco to be 740,316, with a family median income of $6,717; imagine trying to live on that today.  I don’t have to tell anyone in this city that the cost of living has gone way up! The median household income in 2019 was $112,449, a figure obviously skewed by the massive wealth gap. So let’s look at it another way. In 1960, the homeless population was quite small, with the problem exploding in 1982, due to a dramatic decline in government spending in public housing, from $16 billion in 1979 to just $1 billion in 1983. Every major city in America has had to deal with the consequences. 

In 2019, before the pandemic, the SF population was 881,549, and the number of homeless people was estimated to be over 8,000—no doubt an undercount. Part of the blame must be put on the state government, which allowed tech companies to drive up the real estate market without rent control legislation. Without technology, we might actually see a sunset, or take our dog to the park and watch the modern day stoners—hi!—indulge. As a Greyhound bus driver once put it, “Please wait until your final destination before you indulge.” 

So what do we do about this? If I were the mayor—God help us—there are a few things I would do. San Francisco is home to 103 of the top 500 tech companies. Those tech companies in the Bay Area made well over $200 billion in 2020, and that’s a start. Any good diner knows 25% is standard for a tip, and the tech companies certainly have fed on us. If they tipped after their meal that would mean $50 billion! I do also think a 10% “wealth tax” is a good idea. 

Of course, lots of people think that, so what, right? Well we need to vote. I know, so boring Lisa, don’t you have anything new? No, I don’t! President Obama’s Affordable Care Act saved my life! In 2017 I was a 265-pound unhappy man who drank a little too much. And though I didn’t know it at the time, I had a cancerous polyp growing in my descending colon. Health insurance has helped me to change from a 265-pound unhappy man to a 150-pound happy trans woman! Obamacare was passed, but Obama lost the House the 2010 election, because we didn’t vote in the midterms. Yes, it’s back to that again. We have to vote to get the things we want, so we can turn this city back to perfection, as my mom described it. 

All right, thank God that’s resolved because I’m starving! What? That’s not enough? No, it’s not, not even close. We all know the apathetic state of our politics. We can’t just say, “Oh well, what can we do?” We have to do something, all of us, in any way that we can. 

Some estimates suggest as much as half a pound of food is wasted per meal in restaurants. And that restaurants dispose of 85% of all used food. If you run a restaurant, grocery store, coffee house, donut shop, a local market, or if you have a big family who’s always wasting food, donate it. There are many organizations ready and willing to pick the food up. Contact your local state representative and ask them for a list of organizations. You may be surprised what help they may give you, even if just to look good. 

Some homeless people live in encampments or pitch tents in public areas, as I mentioned. Please show respect to them! These are human beings, having a tough time. They deserve our compassion and our help, not our ridicule! I say this because even if you don’t have a restaurant or any money to donate, you may say, “I’m struggling myself! I’m in no position to help anyone!” That may be true, but you can treat them with dignity. You can realize that it only takes one or two missed paychecks for you all to be in the same spot! 

Some would say, why have compassion for an alcoholic, for example? I always find it puzzling, we all know that alcoholism or any substance use disorder is a disease, but we don’t treat it that way. I remember when Eddie Van Halen struggled with it, and some people made fun of him, wrote books about his behavior, and thought of him as a loser throwing away his talent. 

But imagine if people made fun of him for being afflicted with cancer? Sure, I know, Trump would, but I mean normal people. What is it about some diseases that we are allowed to have compassion for, but not others? This is San Francisco, we know about  things like systemic racism. So why are you treating its victims so shabbily? 

If you can do nothing but show simple respect, please do it!