When it comes to the homeless, Golden Gate progressives are morally stumped—now more than ever. Late last month two “transients,” as they have come to be called, went vigilante. The pair, nicknamed “Evil” and “Pizza Steve,” reportedly tortured and killed another homeless man, whom they believed had committed lewd acts in front of children. They dumped his body into Alvord Lake in Golden Gate Park.
The lake is more like a water feature at a mini-golf course, and it is a notorious hangout for San Francisco’s homeless. As I strolled around the area the other day, along with dog-walkers and stroller-moms in yoga pants, the smell of body odor and urine was uncomfortably high. Under a sign that read “Drug Free Zone,” a man accosted me: “Dude,” he said, “I’ve got some good green bud to show you.” I don’t think he meant the azaleas.
What hammers home the dilemma facing San Francisco progressives is the stark contrast between haves and have-nots. From the spot of the murder at the edge of the lake, you can see, at the base of Haight Street (the historic hippie hangout), a Whole Foods Market with organic papayas selling for $6.99 a pound.
Homelessness here is an old problem. Gavin Newsom, now California’s lieutenant governor, pledged to fix it when he successfully ran for mayor in 2003. Yet last year the city had 6,686 homeless, up from 6,248 in 2005, according to the city’s homeless census. Mr. Newsom passed a law making it illegal to sit on sidewalks during the day or sleep in parks at night, but it is rarely enforced.
“The city is becoming a shanty town,” warned Justin Keller, founder of the startup Commando.io, in a February open letter to current Mayor Ed Lee. “The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted.”
The San Francisco press disparagingly labeled Mr. Keller a “tech bro,” but Mayor Lee feels residents’ angst. “Neighborhood crime is up,” he admitted on May 31. “Homelessness is a visible and pressing concern.” Nothing, however, seems to work.