Since part of Jeff Kositsky's job as the director of a new, five-week-old city department on homelessness is to appeal to his connections in the world of technology, it makes a sort of sense that he would turn to curious and tech-savvy San Franciscans on our local Reddit page for an "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) session. Kositsky, formerly the popular head of the Hamilton Family Center, did so yesterday, echoing some of the declarations he'd made in the pages of the Chronicle this June. Kositsky appears no-nonsense, upbeat, and unwilling to accept the popular narrative that San Francisco homelessness is mismanaged and becoming worse while still avowing the stakes of the critical problem that homelessness represents — mostly for people who are homeless but also for those who are not.
Kositsky addressed questions with a matter-of-fact sassiness endearing to many that suggested his familiarity with the AMA format, one that popular national politicians have experimented with themselves. For example, when asked what single item homeless people should be given, Kositsky answered thus:
In extremely "well actually" Reddit fashion, user mm825 replied that "I phrased my question very deliberately, Homes are not items, I can't buy 100 houses and give them to homeless people in my neighborhood. Hell, the city can't even afford those homes, how about some short term solutions?"
Kositsky's new reply: "socks"
Here were some more answers to interesting question that are well worth reading or revisiting. The whole AMA can be read here.
Question: What's the number 1 thing an average SF resident can do to make any kind of impact on homelessness?
Answer: Say hello to homeless people on the street. The more they feel connected to others the more likely they will seek assistance. Practice radical compassion! If you want to go deeper, try some radical generosity and donate to one of our great nonprofit partners.
Question: Do you think the homelessness problem stems more from a lack of education (of the general populace of how to best help the homeless) or from lack of money (public or otherwise) for programs to help them?
Answer: Homelessness is a failure of our real estate market to meet the needs of low-income individuals. Interesting that the biggest housing subsidy program is the mortgage interest tax deduction....
Question: What small change do you think could make the greatest impact?
Answer: Consolidating our 13 data systems into 1 will make a great impact. It is not a small change but it seem easier than producing 10k units of subsidized housing in the next year.
Question: It seems like many people in SF view the technology sector as being needlessly invasive and gentrifying, encroaching particularly in more destitute neighborhoods like SOMA and the Tenderloin. What is your opinion? What steps can be taken by tech companies to improve their reputation in this regard?
Answer: I do not believe any particular sector can be blamed for homelessness. The federal government stopped investing in affordable housing in any meaningful way in 1978. There are also some perverse incentives in the way our real estate market works. However, there is lots of wealth and talent in the tech sector and they can play a part in the solutions - and many do. Shout out to Google, Salesforce, Twitter, Zendesk, Dolby, Adobe, AppDynamics and so many others that I have not mentioned (sorry to those I forgot).
Followup Question: What are those companies doing that is helping out? Outreach? Education?
Followup Answer: Donating money and lots of it. Volunteering. Serving on Boards of Director. Donating products and technical assistance. Lending office space. Did I mention money? Also, should mention that about 5 tech companies sent senior engineers to our offices to help us make the final decision on the SAS product we are using for our new data base. Poor vendor had the hardest interview ever.
Finally, Kositsky jumped in with some "answer to question nobody asked yet." As he understands it, "35% of the homeless population suffers from mental illness and 37% substance abuse disorders. We are currently working to address encampments in the NE Mission and will then move on to another neighborhood check our website next month for more info. There are not more homeless people/capita in SF than in other similar cities. It is more visible here because most services are in the central part of the city."