by Akir Jackson

Surviving in the tech-fueled wealth bubble of San Francisco on a poverty-level income is a constant battle. As rising costs of living continue to push out all but the elite, being poor here means struggling for the basic dignity and security that many take for granted. 

With median rent for a one-bedroom apartment approaching $3,500, finding an affordable place to live on a limited budget is next to impossible. Low-income neighborhoods like the Tenderloin are filled with rundown single-room occupancy hotels and overcrowded apartments that often lack necessities such as laundry, secure mail or pest control. Many families cram into small spaces, sacrificing comfort and privacy just to keep a roof over their heads. The waiting list for subsidized housing is years long, so there’s little hope for relief.

Food security is another daily worry. With high prices at local markets and few affordable supermarkets, many are forced into choosing between nutrition and cost. The lines at food banks and soup kitchens stretch down the block. Community gardens help supplement diets when funding allows, but fresh produce remains inaccessible to many. Malnutrition and obesity disproportionately impact the poor as a result.

Stable employment at a livable wage is elusive, especially without the advanced education now sought by tech companies. Most jobs available to those without specialized skills pay minimum wage—far below the cost of living. Families often depend on multiple part-time gigs just to scrape by. But the instability of shift work wreaks havoc, making child care virtually impossible to arrange. 

San Francisco’s underfunded public transit system fails to adequately serve poor residents. With routes cut and fares hiked annually, those living in marginalized neighborhoods can’t reliably get to jobs across town or risk stiff fines if they ride without paying. Waiting through delays and transfers for cross-city commutes forces many to give up on opportunities. The lack of affordable transit locks the poor out of economic mobility.

Displacement constantly looms as an existential threat as well. Landlords cash in on the real estate boom by finding excuses to evict lower-paying tenants in rent-controlled apartments. Within weeks, their homes are renovated and relaunched at sky-high prices they could never afford. Navigating the maze of tenant protections requires time, English proficiency and access to legal aid. Few walk away with their housing intact or get relocation assistance. 

These realities cause constant anxiety and hopelessness. Working multiple low-wage jobs leaves little time or energy for self-care, community building or creative enrichment. Families become isolated in overcrowded housing projects and neglected neighborhoods. Mental health needs go unaddressed due to lack of culturally competent care. Depression, trauma and addiction claims lives when people feel powerless to chart a better course.

San Francisco’s wealth gap is perhaps felt most acutely in education. While tech executives send their children to elite private schools, the city’s underfunded public education system fails working-class students. Teachers are overstretched and resources are scarce in a bureaucracy seemingly designed to be ineffective. Many simply stop showing up to overcrowded, crumbling schools that feel more like prisons than places of learning.

The result is that young people are left behind without skills or options. Youth homelessness and recidivism rates are heartbreakingly high. Lacking support at home or school, kids end up on the streets or stuck in the prison pipeline without alternative paths. A few may find refuge in community programs, but those budgets keep getting slashed as inequality grows unchecked.

These are the stories you rarely hear in San Francisco: the voices muffled beneath the flashy facades of tech campuses and luxury condos. But the human toll of exclusion and indifference is very real. No child should have to do homework under a freeway overpass by flashlight. No parent should have to work three jobs without benefits just to feed their family. 

The poverty is by design, upheld by those whose power and wealth accumulation depends on this stark inequity. But when we look past the glimmering illusion and into the eyes of those being crushed under the wheel of “progress,” we must ask: Can we still call this prosperity, and does the health of a society not depend on the welfare of all, instead of just the privileged few? 

By refusing to see and value the humanity in front of us, we risk our own. The choice remains: Continue down this path of greed and exploitation, or renew our commitment to solidarity and justice. For if we cannot uplift the most marginalized among us, the moral foundation of our community will continue to erode as the great, glittering lie of San Francisco fades to reveal a city in spiritual poverty and decay.