I noted last week that California Governor Gavin Newsom recently said the state was the “envy of the world.”

A longtime United Nations envoy would disagree. She recently visited the Bay Area and was astonished by what she saw.

When Leilani Farha paid a visit to San Francisco in January, she knew the grim reputation of the city’s homeless encampments. In her four years as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Farha has visited the slums of Mumbai, Delhi, Mexico City, Jarkarta, and Manila. The crisis in San Francisco, she said, is comparable to these conditions.

. . . .  At one point on her trip, Farha encountered a young man living underneath a highway underpass, cooking quesadillas on a small stove with an open flame.

“The last time I had seen someone cooking on the sidewalk like that was in India, with the pavement dwellers there, and here I am in San Francisco in a state with the sixth largest GDP in the world,” said Farha.

She asked the man about how he came to be homeless, and found that he had traveled from the Midwest after his mother died and his family broke down.

“I think he was in the midst of developing a psychosocial disability from the trauma of being on the streets,” she said.

The situation is about to get rapidly worse. A new study shows that there has been a 17% increase in homelessness in the city over the last two years.

The San Francisco report, released by the city’s Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing, paints a picture of a city in crisis despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year to tackle the problem. Nearly 1,200 people were on the waiting list for shelter beds the week of the January count.

Officials say they can’t keep pace with the number of people who become homeless in a city where the median sales price of a house hovers at $1.4 million and median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $3,700. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they had been living in a place they or their partner rented or owned, or with family or friends immediately prior to becoming homeless.

Given the dire situation, you might think that the area’s politicians may rethink their policies.

Instead, however, city officials focus on banning straws, painting over George Washington murals, and banning e-cigarettes.

As an added bonus, the new ban hurts one of the city’s more successful enterprises.

The sweeping restriction also puts San Francisco at odds with one of its most prominent hometown startups, Juul Labs, which last Tuesday said it bought an office building in San Francisco — the same day the city board unanimously backed the e-cigarette ordinance in a preliminary vote. The city’s board of supervisors ratified the e-cig sales ban Tuesday.

Juul claims the ordinance will “drive former adult smokers who successfully switched to vapor products back to deadly cigarettes.” It will also “deny the opportunity to switch for current adult smokers, and create a thriving black market instead of addressing the actual causes of underage access and use,” the company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

If these trends continue, San Francisco will have to clean itself up to reach the level of a third world slum.


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