I was in San Francisco at an American Sociological Association conference, aptly titled Hard Times. In this city of gilded and new age cultures (incongruently juxtaposed) we see the world of privilege co-existing with a street scene that could have been from the Middle Ages or from some dystopian future. This isn’t my first visit. I’ve been here several times, as recently last year, but I didn’t stay in the Tenderloin district. Here, feral humans mingle freely with house humans, able to express themselves openly in ways I don’t see in Austin. Of course Texas is not known for it’s tolerance and I’m pretty sure most people think we’re all packin’ heat. The homeless in Texas are allowed on some blocks, street corners and under bridges and the watchful eye of Johnny Law. California and San Francisco, in particular, is more tolerant and offers medical care and other benefits.
I didn’t realize that Austin, Texas is such a sanitized environment. In some ways, the open presence and the number of homeless people who find community in the streets of San Francisco more truthfully reflects the proportion of people who teeter on the brink of losing their “middle class” existence. Without family or other social networks, many are at risk.
San Francisco is the site where the United Nations charter was signed. Perhaps we should move the Statue of Liberty to the West Coast, where the poor are more welcome. It is a confounding situation and one that begs the question of liberty and justice for all. I am still processing a welter of mixed emotions.