“Socially distanced” homeless tents in front of San Francisco City Hall, April 19, 2020. Credit: Erica Sandberg, used with permission
In almost any situation, learning through direct personal experience is preferable to learning from photos, videos, or a verbal description of another person’s experience. (Walking off of a cliff being one notable exception.)
Knowing this, San Francisco-based writer Erica Sandberg has been organizing what she calls “see for yourself/think for yourself” walks through her city so regular residents can take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the homeless crisis for themselves and not rely upon the curated experiences of activists, politicians, and the mainstream media. Even more importantly, her tours are not narrated, allowing participants to draw their own conclusions about what they’re viewing.
yesterday I made an offer to take walks in the most desperate, filthy, lawless, drug-ridden parts of SF. not as a tourist, but as a caring citizen/journalist. 8 people accepted! feel free to DM me – especially if we disagree on causes/solutions. we need to come together.
— Erica Sandberg (@EricaJSandberg) April 18, 2020
What they’re all seeing is terrifying and a city “spiraling out of control.”
San Francisco residents have been subject to a “shelter in place” order since March 17, but most of the restrictions in the order don’t apply to people “experiencing homelessness.” From what Sandberg has witnessed, drug dealing and abuse hasn’t been affected in any way. On April 19 she wrote (emphasis added):
SF is in ruins. I’ve just started leading “see for yourself/think for yourself” walks around the Tenderloin [a neighborhood in SF] and beyond. SFPD gave me an escort, so two officers in a squad car were always 1/2 block away. This is all around City Hall. Even with the escort it was the only place I felt safe enough to take pics. That’s because cops were ensuring that tents were spaced out enough. What they couldn’t do is stop the flow of drugs. In EVERY tent people were either actively injecting or had just done so. Dealers were prolific.
There is a strange and false orderliness to this pic. All around it is utter chaos. Naked people crawling around in their own waste. People screaming, crying, passed out, fighting… it’s mayhem. And it’s all drugs and the mental illness that goes with it. But don’t believe me. Walk with me and I won’t say a word. Or go on your own. Just – please – don’t believe what you read from city leaders. It’s all false. The entire city is spiraling out of control.
Many of us (including myself) have seen so many videos and photos of the disgusting conditions in San Francisco that we’re becoming immune to the horror and third-world sanitation. This video, taken during one of Sandberg’s walks on April 19, will shock even the most hardened observers:
SAN FRANCISCO IS DYING! pic.twitter.com/0547d6uBTZ
— SF_Deplorable (@SFDeplorable) April 20, 2020
Unfortunately, as of this time no one from the homeless “activist” world has accepted Sandberg’s offer. As Sandberg says in this tweet, “accurate information is vital. Without it, bad policy is created – and problems worsen.”
really glad so many people want to do these walks. no one from the homeless "activist" world has accepted, though. the offer is open, so don't hesitate. accurate information is vital. without it, bad policy is created – and problems worsen. https://t.co/kTbqPahdLi
— Erica Sandberg (@EricaJSandberg) April 19, 2020
Sandberg has long advocated for more effective methods for solving homelessness in San Francisco and says this is not in any way caused by a lack of housing:
“If we don’t acknowledge what this is really is — a drug/addiction crisis of epic proportions — we will never stop the suffering. Throwing them fresh needles by the millions doesn’t help, nor will putting them into homes. ODs and violent drug-related crime [are] increasing. People are dying, and the city is perishing with them.
One theory is that a sizable number of people who are homeless and drug addicts have mental illness and are self-medicating in the absence of reliable, stable, effective treatment options. Sandberg agrees, saying that many, possibly even the majority, of the homeless people she encounters fit that description and that society must do better:
The lack of high quality, free/low cost psych care is disgusting. Immoral. Unethical. So what do we do instead? Help them do more drugs, which makes them worse.”
After helping them do more drugs, which exacerbates mental illness, we (collectively) allow them to die in the street.
— SF_Deplorable (@SFDeplorable) April 17, 2020
This state-sanctioned suffering is occurring with greater frequency under the guise of protecting the civil rights of the mentally ill. Sandberg has even harsher words for “the current band of ‘homeless activists.'”
I'm working on a project about this, but it must be witnessed. once you see, you'll NEVER vote the same way again & won't support the current band of "homeless activists." they're not just culpable, they don't want people to become healthy & self-reliant https://t.co/ZD67SBAlVh
— Erica Sandberg (@EricaJSandberg) April 12, 2020
Of these activists, Sandberg says;
“They’re not just culpable; they don’t want people to become healthy and self-reliant.”
As our collective quarantine continues, conditions are deteriorating in the Tenderloin (TL) and throughout San Francisco. As one small business owner tweeted that even during COVID orders, “zero distance, same conditions. More addiction.”
it's time to accept blame, @TheCoalitionSF @MattHaneySF @LondonBreed @HarmReduction @DOPEproject. You are all culpable. YOU falsely named this a "housing" issue. YOU helped him do ever more drugs. YOU didn't fight for addiction & mental health services above all else. YOU. https://t.co/rOComb77un
— Erica Sandberg (@EricaJSandberg) April 21, 2020
Sandberg is supposed to lead a group through the TL Tuesday afternoon but increasing violence, especially robberies involving weapons, has caused her to reconsider. A fellow activist told Sandberg, “I’ve never seen it this bad.”
now not sure what to do. leading the 2nd "See for yourself/Think for yourself" Tenderloin/Civic Center walk today. don't want to cancel but violence is escalating…. https://t.co/RCKLIpaJbY
— Erica Sandberg (@EricaJSandberg) April 21, 2020
If California’s elected officials were truly concerned about public health, they would take some of the billions of dollars they’ve received to “fight homelessness” and for coronavirus response and, as Sandberg argued in an April 3 article, set up MASH-style units at the Moscone Center and other places to quarantine the homeless population while providing substance abuse treatment and mental health interventions. Since there is an active State of Emergency, county health officials have more latitude than ever to keep these people in treatment while in quarantine. But that might actually start solving the problem and end the gravy train of dollars pouring into the activists’ ineffective nonprofits.