From Africa to San Francisco

by Novalie Young

San Francisco has a high number of Black immigrants. The community began with the workers and entrepreneurs of the California Gold Rush in the 19th century, and in the early-to-mid 20th century, it grew as more migrant workers were drawn to the city. Since then, the Black community living here has attracted masses of other immigrants from developing countries in search of greener pastures. 

The increased population of homeless people in the streets and shelters around the city includes some of these Black immigrants. In San Francisco especially, the Black community has consistently been the minority and afforded less privilege, so it has not been as easy for Black residents to secure a stable livelihood. 

African countries have a high rate of joblessness and poverty, which pushes some people out in search of a better life. When an African person decides to come to San Francisco, they often have relatives or friends to host them in their first days in the city. Once they arrive, they try to get documented, but if one has no money or financial support, this takes time. This leads some people to engage in illegal activities like selling drugs to raise the money they need to get necessary documentation. 

The unfortunate ones get caught and arrested by law enforcement. Once released, these folks are often forced to look for shelters or churches because their hosts are afraid to host them further. If they’re unsuccessful, they may be forced to live on the streets. 

Many Black African citizens in San Francisco are poor or earn minimum wage. This often means they have poor housing or no housing at all. Those that have good housing are forced to work two to three jobs or cohabitate with others to share the cost of the bills. Many Black people in San Francisco earn minimum wage and therefore their money is only enough to buy food and clothing, and cannot cover the cost of housing. 

Many African immigrants trust the agents in their home countries that help them get visas to come to more established nations like America. But these agents deceive them, telling them that they will offer them jobs and places to live once they get there—but instead they end up abandoning them. Once many immigrants come into the country, they find themselves alone with no one to host them, no job, and no money to get housing, and so they are forced to be homeless until they secure a job, or find a simple, cheap place to live.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it affected many Black entrepreneurs and low-wage workers who were vulnerable to other negative conditions that affected the economy. 

After the initial COVID-19 city-wide shutdown, most businesses were closed, and the Black community was adversely affected. This brought about joblessness and homelessness. The lack of finances to pay mortgages or rent forced some in the Black community to seek shelter in churches or on the streets. 

In all the above presented cases, it’s evident that Blackness and homelessness intersect. Homelessness disproportionately affects Black people. Their minimum-wage jobs and the fact that they are in the minority often lead to homelessness. The rising cases of homelessness among the Black community should be solved by creating more shelters and jobs that are permanent. Increased public education can also help prevent the homelessness situation from getting worse.