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San Francisco, USA


Homeless in San Francisco

The Chronicle run another story on homeless congregate around the city hall, a familiar story that has perhaps intensified, dashing the hope that the recent economic boom could perhaps alleviate the situation.

Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

The booming tech industry, which I am a part of, was accused of not doing its part to solve the social issues. Some people see them as rich brat, aloof, disconnected from the general public, and have little awareness of the city's social problems. I am not sure if there is much factual basis in such stereotype. I maybe biased. My guess is, compare to other mainstream business, say insurance companies, commercial contractors, law firms, or fashion retailers, tech companies are probably doing more work, not less, to directly address some of these social issues.

In my last company, we have organized a monthly volunteer event to a homeless shelter. I have participated one month. We are helping out in the cafeteria. The sheltered housed three hundred residents and they are served meal each day. With just a handful of cooks and workers, our help in the cafeteria are very welcomed. A few of my colleagues were at the counter filling and handing out food trays. I was a general helper at the floor. Sometimes there are people with physical difficulty, I brought food to their table so that they do not have to get in line. Other time I clean the table to make it ready for others. After dining hour, we stayed behind with the cook to clean up. We stacked the tables and chairs by the wall and mopped the floor. The place was clean and tidy ready for the next day. I took pride in the work.

Now that I have read the Chronicle article, I have more thinking about that experience. It strike me that something is wrong there. Why aren't the residents volunteer to help themselves? We work hard in our day job, taking care of our own chores at home, and we still find time to help others. Why aren't the residents, who get free food and free housing, work to help themselves? It is right that some of them are old or has physical problem. They should be excused. But the other three quarters are able bodied. The most difficult population, those who have mental illness or drug addicts, are not in the shelter anyway. Not that I am not willing to help. I just wonder what stop them from working for themselves. Wouldn't it be great if they can help themselves? Wouldn't be great if they can help others too?

I agree it will be fairly extraordinary for a shelter resident to be so motivated enough to go to help others. But perhaps this is what they really need to get themselves out of the long term dependency situation. More than food and shelter, some coaching and some extra motivation is perhaps what they need the most.




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