It’s 7am in SOMA, California. The sun fills morning fog with a glowing intensity that will soon burn into another sun drenched day of drought in the Bay. The streets are quiet. Most of tech workers are still in child’s pose - but there’s activity. In every enclave and office doorway down Bryant street, people are folding up cardboard boxes, stuffing sleeping bags into tattered back packs, and migrating to day spots. They leave behind strange things: dusty neon clothes, defunct electronics, countless pieces of scribbled-on paper, beer cans, piles of poop covered in 2 year old copies of “People” magazine.
As the suspended water molecules fully evaporate, human resources of innumerable VC backed tech companies begin to descend on the streets. They pour out of the Montgomery and Powell BART stations with their earbuds in and their iPhones outstretched. They clamber out of the CalTrain crush at 4th and Townsend, deploy their folding bicycles, unfold razor scooters, and speed off down the streets.
This west coast dream delivered these data driven urbanites from some seasonal northern tundra; gave them a golden ticket out of a bureacratic cubicle world. They bit the bullet on having to give their left ovary for rent, and moved to the land of sunshine and open offices.
Yet there’s trouble in Paradise.
A man in a navy blue hoodie and Asics sneakers plays hopscotch on the final leg of his multimodal journey into a start up office on Bryant St. He’s watching a Snap Story (yeah, his own Snap Story), swiping down to notices that the ground below his phone is covered in strange things. A torn foam pad. A barbie doll. His eye is caught by a more appealing image, a gleaming flat bellied celebrity on the cover of People. Glance number two reveals the brown smear across the gloss. Frantically averting his gaze, he scuttles up to his standing desk in the open office to wait for a catered lunch.
The fact that there are so many living in abject poverty in the midst of a society overflowing with riches is unsettling. While trying to find a solution opens up a divisive conversation with no easy answers and even fewer motivated volunteers, there are start-ups looking to help. Copia was founded in Berkeley and brings a clean UX to the problem of donating some of the thousands of pounds of food waste created by over-catered tech companies to community kitchens and pantries around the Bay Area. Passing on leftovers instead of dumping them into the garbage is a good gesture - but it's not a solution.
Homelessness in San Francisco doesn't have an easy fix. It’s a symptom of a society unready to stare headlong into it’s own deep seated inequities. And sauntering down South Park in SOMA, where there are over 1000 homeless people packed into every square mile, it’s a sign of an industry more concerned with return on investment than returning something to the forgotten community asleep on the stoop.
It’s 11pm in SOMA, California. Beneath the 101 overpass, on the deep embankments either side of 13th street, a secret city is humming. Real estate is at a premium here as in the rest of the city, tarp covered tents packed in wall to wall on one of the few blocks where SFPD turns a blind eye. Overloaded shopping carts wobble under the weight strange things. Dozens of bike frames, wheels, seats. A large man in tattered leather straddles a tiny BMX, the red hair of his halloween clown mask flying behind him in the wind as he traverses dystopia.