This is no surprise to anyone who lives in San Francisco, and certainly no surprise to anyone with children in San Francisco, but the just released 2010 census data shows a net decrease of about 5,000 children living in the city. Kids and families leave San Francisco for lots of reasons, and high housing costs and quality of life concerns are what I typically hear about.
The accepted narrative is that families with children leave the city because of the cost of housing and the quality of schools. And as the father of a young child, I’ll be the first to agree that housing is expensive and that public school quality is wildly inconsistent, with the application and districting process (although recently and gradually improving) so byzantine and arbitrary that even the most organized parents eventually feel like pulling their hair out and collapsing in a pile of tears.
That said, it is politically incorrect in San Francisco to discuss the role that “quality of life” plays in driving children and their families from our city. In particular, the city’s chronic inability to make meaningful change with our homeless population, many of whom suffer from mental illness, alcoholism, or other issues that make their presence even more challenging.
Speaking for myself, I don’t want to have to trip over a passed out homeless person while walking my daughter into a coffee shop or restaurant. I don’t want to explain why someone is defecating in a public place. I don’t want to worry about my family being attacked on muni by a deranged individual. I want to be able to take her to a park or playground without having to worry about cleaning up garbage left behind by a homeless encampment.
And given how much a little slice of heaven costs each month in property taxes and mortgage, I feel all the more strongly about these things. I know that the solution to the problem of chronic homelessness is not an easy one, and I’m not an advocate of round ’em up and lock ’em away. But, unfortunately in my experience, too many of our elected leaders feel that homelessness is a valid and acceptable life choice or they lack the political will to make meaningful change.
If San Francisco wants to be home to children, it needs to be a place where children can be safely at home in public.