In California: Opioid, Homelessness Epidemics Collide in Midterm Showdown
As the inked dried on the new opioid fighting-bill, SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, tech leaders offered to pledge their support to help stop an opioid epidemic that killed more than 48,000 Americans in 2017.
The law expands access to drug treatment and prevention programs across federal agencies and moves to block shipments of drugs such as opioids and the very dangerous fentanyl from entering the country.
Google, for one, created a locator to mark 1,000 Walgreens locations on Google Maps where people can dispose of unused prescription drugs. Twitter highlighted National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on its platform to tell people where to drop off their leftover prescription drugs.
Yet, back in their native land, these California tech behemoths are in a ballot battle over what to do about a troubling byproduct of their collective financial success, coupled with the opioid epidemic: homelessness.
In San Francisco, tech sector growth has priced people out of affordable rentals and mortgages. The most recent report indicates that the streets of San Francisco host 7,500 homeless individuals.
In fact, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family of 4 making $117,400 a year is considered low income, qualifying them for state housing aid. The problem is so big that no altruistic use of their media platforms is going to solve the issue.
Add a skyrocketing opioid epidemic to the simple lack of affordable shelter in the same geographic location and you’ve got a deeply entrenched homeless and cleanliness crisis of epic proportions.
The problem has landed Proposition C on the November ballot, an initiative that places a maximum gross receipts tax hike of .7% on businesses with revenue of more than $50 million annually, earmarking it for housing and helping the homeless.
It would come out to between $250 and $350 million annually - double what the city already uses. The city says would house up to 5,000 and prevent the eviction of another 30,000.
Residents and visitors to the city are at a breaking point. According to service calls placed to the local “3-1-1” reporting number between 2018 and 2017, San Franciscans saw a 48.7 % jump in reports of needles lying around, a 39.2% jump in homeless encampments, and a nearly 11% increase in reports of human waste.
Pragmatism Threatens Democrat Brand of Compassion
The mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and a multitude of tech leaders are against Prop C claiming that such a cash influx would be badly managed and ineffective at tackling the problem.
Politically, it's called into question the liberal brand of compassion that has kept the Democratic Party in California afloat and its coffers full. But in a politically unpopular move, Mayor London Breed says that the measure lacks accountability.
“The City needs to audit the $300+ million we are already spending on homelessness,” Breed said in the statement. “Before we double the tax bill overnight, San Franciscans deserve accountability for the money they are already paying.”
But the founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, has squeaky-wheeled his support to such an extent that it has sparked an online snark fest between him and Twitter Chief Jack Dorsey. Salesforce is San Francisco’s largest private employer.
Benioff started with the usual "if you don't want to help the homeless this way then you're bad and greedy" ploy. But Twitter chief Jack Dorsey hit back:
Then they got into it with the predictable "you're not compassionate unless you pay" ploy versus the "hold on , don't put words in my mouth" response. And this rolled out just weeks before Californians vote on the proposition.
Dorsey went on to explain that Fintech companies like his Square will bear a greater burden than a Salesforce.
However, the influx of tech success, skyrocketing real estate prices, gentrification of neighborhoods previously inhabited by low-income housing, combined with industrial strength drugs flooding the place means that pragmatic action needs to be taken fast.
The first question is: Whose responsibility is it to inject more resources.
The second is: How are taxpayers to trust that San Francisco will properly mechanize a checks and balances system that accurately reports successes and failures as it carries out a plan?
And finally, where will these usual liberal talking points of social justice go when the 2018 midterms wind down? Few of us are used to listening to Democrats talk about balance sheets and the need to spend within means.