Immigration and homelessness are two topics that have been heavily in the news lately, with politicians on both sides of the aisle blaming the other side for the escalation of these problems. The border crisis and homelessness alike are complicated issues, though, and will require a multi-pronged solution in order to make a dent in the problem.

New York and San Francisco

Cities like San Francisco and New York City have been in the news frequently for their relation to the homelessness and immigration crises, and it doesn’t appear that things are getting better as time goes on.

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In fact, in San Francisco in particular, residents state that things are getting worse. Current residents are already feeling the full impact of these problems, and it doesn’t appear that government intervention is doing anything to improve the problem.

A New Health and Resource Center

Case in point: In February, a neighborhood in San Francisco called Little Saigon will open a drop-in health and resource center, that is intended to provide health services for the homeless in the city’s Tenderloin district.

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A huge misconception with individuals who are unhoused is that they must necessarily be on drugs, or some other moral failing that caused them to become homeless in the first place. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, but it is a fact that homeless individuals have a more difficult time getting healthcare than individuals who are housed.

Not Everyone Is Thrilled

Unfortunately, both for San Francisco and the homeless individuals that this new health clinic is trying to help, not everybody is thrilled about this development. Specifically, restaurant owners in the area oppose this move, vehemently.

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According to these business owners, the homelessness crisis in the city is hurting their business, by making the area seem less desirable for tourists to visit. They believe that the health clinic will only attract more unhoused people to the area, compounding what they see as a very serious problem.

A Statement Released by Residents

An article was released in The San Francisco Chronicle about the issue, citing the resident’s reservations on the matter. In the article they referred to Little Saigon as “one of the few commercial corridors in the Tenderloin.”

Source: Pexels/Erika Ortiz

The expanded on that statement, claiming that Little Saigon is “a neighborhood where nearly every block is impacted by homelessness, open drug use, and mental illness.” The statement, emotionally charged as it is, relies on stereotypes about homeless individuals – particularly that they have mental health problems.

The Clinic Will Be in a Former Restaurant Storefront

The article goes on to explain that the new health clinic is intended to open up in the same location as a former storefront that shuttered last year. Turtle Tower was a Vietnamese restaurant that had been a staple of the area prior to closing its doors to the public.

Source: Facebook/Carol Kim – LT Group at Compass

This follows a pattern that has been seen in California as a whole. Businesses have been making the decision to shut their doors in the Golden State due to an uptick in crime rates as well as high levels of taxation that many see as unfriendly to business owners.

San Francisco Is Safer – But That Doesn’t Change People’s Feelings

Some data recently released does suggest that the perception of San Francisco as “more dangerous” than it used to be is not necessarily supported in reality. Recent data released by various police departments across the city actually reveals that violent crime in the city is down 25% from where it was fifteen years ago.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle/Jessica Christian

That doesn’t change the way that San Franciscans feel, though. A poll done by the San Francisco Chronicle reveals a deepening discontent in residents regarding their personal safety. Nearly 7 in 10 felt less safe in 2023 than they did even four years before, a startling statistic.

Homelessness is a Different Matter

The homelessness crisis, which was heavily referred to by the restaurant owners opposing the formation of the new clinic, is a different matter when it comes to San Francisco statistics. Many residents feel that the homelessness crisis has gotten worse, and in a lot of ways, they’re right.

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This is in direct contrast with the picture that the mayor of San Francisco is trying to paint. In a statement released in December of 2023, London Breed claimed that 60% of the time when homeless individuals were offered shelter, they turned the shelter down.

Homeless People Want Shelter

This claim does not reflect the reality that many homeless people say they experience on a day-to-day basis. Reporters who visited the Tenderloin – the proposed location for the new health clinic – spoke to homeless individuals, who stated that they were never spoken to about shelter.

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City officials claim that there are more shelters for homeless individuals that there ever has been before in the history of the city, which may be true. But the fact of the matter is that in San Francisco, and a lot of other major cities, there are far more homeless people than there are beds for them to sleep in at night.

Restaurant Owners Are Firm

This reality, and the tent cities that have sprung up in various places around the city, is part of what has led to the hesitance on the part of the business owners in the Tenderloin regarding the new health clinic.

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One owner of a local restaurant, Lapats Thai Noodles Bar, told The Chronicle directly that he did not like the idea of the new health clinic. “If I had my choice, I would say no. This neighborhood is already really bad. It’s not good for business,” he explained.

Further Opinions

The owner went on to state that he believed that business would be better for restaurant owners if the city made more of an effort to clean up the streets, to make them physically cleaner and safer. Though he didn’t state it outright, that sort of rhetoric is commonly used to imply that homeless people make things “dirty.”

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Another restaurant owner was also disappointed in the news, and stated bluntly that he hoped that the city ultimately chose somewhere else for the clinic. Like the other restaurant owner interviewed, he said that business was already bad for restaurants because of homelessness and the open drug use on the streets.

A Hard Sell

The perception that the neighborhood is deeply unsafe has made it a more difficult sell for restaurants who are trying to portray themselves as family friendly, or good for tourists. This is a drastic change from several years ago, when restaurant owners say that families were a much more common sight in the area.

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In response to the restaurant owner’s complaints, Eileen Loughran, the director of the public health department’s office of overdose prevention, stated that she believes that a new health clinic in the area will do more harm than good. Rather than attracting more homeless people, she believes that it will help more homeless people get back on their feet.

Homeless People Are Not Bad People

She went on to explain that she’d had many interactions with individuals who were unhoused, and that they were no different than any other person. They’re people who have simply fallen on hard times, and given the opportunity, they’ll invest in their community and bring business just like everyone else.

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She went on to project that the more homeless people are able to get back on their feet, the more they’ll be able to invest in their community. Crime rates will go down, and the safer environment will help the restaurants in the area to thrive again.

San Francisco Has a Long Way to Go

While the health clinic is a good step in the right direction, homelessness in large cities is a multi-pronged issue that will require years and proper investment from the city in order to make a dent.

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A recent story of caves in San Francisco being clear of homeless people is evidence of how far the city has to go. Unaffordable rent and mortgage prices make the homelessness problem a staple of the city, and until something is done about housing prices on a policy level, it will be a situation of trying to bail water out of a sinking ship.

Looking to the Future

The health clinic project is still in development, and it will be interesting to see the efforts that the city will make to bring locals on board. It may end up a situation where locals are not thrilled, but the city moves forward with the project regardless.

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This is happening at a time where every major city in the United States is grappling with what to do about the homelessness crisis. Multiple efforts are being made to stamp down on unhoused individuals and provide shelter, and Americans are watching closely to see the results.