Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Martin Shkreli of gentrification.
Justin Keller, a self-described wealthy tech company founder and entrepreneur living in San Francisco for the past three years, has had enough of the homeless roaming his city. He published an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr on Feb. 15, decrying the "riffraff" walking his streets and bemoaning a commute that forces him to see the "despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day."
"I’ve been living in SF for over three years, and without a doubt it is the worst it has ever been," he begins. "Every day, on my way to, and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces, and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shanty town … Worst of all, it is unsafe."
Keller's letter starts off with some legitimate concerns over the state of San Francisco. He's seen fights over cocaine. He's witnessed indecent exposure. His girlfriend was scared at a theater once. Keller wonders, when will the city do something about the homeless problem?
Other residents, politicians and business owners have raised those concerns for years, and his mayor just added $80 million to the homeless budget, in an attempt to support and rehabilitate a growing population of people living on the streets -- more than 6,600 by last year's count -- that hasn't been tended to for decades.
But within a few paragraphs, Keller's rhetoric derails, and reveals his truly shocking mindset:
The residents of this amazing city no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. 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. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.
The backlash was swift and unrelenting -- earning him the nickname of "tech bro" -- likely because his letter cut much deeper than one wealthy blogger making off-color comments. He's a stereotype for the young, independently wealthy newcomer with a blind naivety toward the effects of gentrification. Much like Shkreli became the face of corporate greed that we love to hate, Keller has quickly become our scapegoat for that wealthy, care-free executive type who's had it up to here with the poor, yet offers nothing for his city's rehabilitation.
Keller's three years in San Francisco hardly afford him the right to complain about a homelessness problem and wealth gap that have plagued the city for decades. The "riffraff" he sees on the street would have been his neighbors before the region's economic boom -- 71 percent of the 6,686 homeless people counted in January last year were originally residents of the city, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
It's a vexing problem that has stumped mayors and city planners alike, which deserves national attention. Unfortunately, Keller's call to action isn't one of support on securing more housing, or focusing on mental health issues, but a demand that local authorities banish "riffraff," like they did before Super Bowl 50. Of course, the city's plan backfired, as attempts to reshuffle homeless people away from "Super Bowl City" were met with protests and, well, an ongoing homeless problem.
Keller is now backpedaling on his letter, telling The Guardian that his real interests lie with the San Francisco's response, not with the poor people themselves.
“The thesis of the post was that inaction by the city and officials is not working. We all as citizens of San Francisco need to figure out how we can improve the city and address the homeless and drug addiction problem straight on,” he said.
Keller also updated his post with an apology for calling the homeless "riffraff," saying the comment was "insensitive and counterproductive."
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