I visited San Francisco about 15 years ago, when my brother was working there. It was a lovely city, full of amazing locations recognisable from films, a lovely zoo, so many parks, museums and picturesque districts. I had a great time.
Sadly, should I revisit, that won’t be the same experience.
The beautiful city by the bay, where Tony Bennett famously left his heart and which poses as a beacon of progressiveness, has more billionaires per capita than any other on the planet.
Not long ago, a seven-bedroom home here recently sold for $38 million (£29 million), while at the Michelin-starred Saison restaurant, the ‘kitchen menu’ starts at $298 a head and reservations require a $148 deposit.
The city authorities have a huge $12 billion budget, handing their 31,800 staff average annual pay and benefit packages of an astonishing $175,000.
Yet the tide of homeless, addicted and mentally ill people washing up here has become so severe that a global expert on slums claimed San Francisco may be more unsanitary than some of the poorest parts of Africa and Asia.
Just read that again. Don’t believe it? Read the eyewitness testimony:
Almost instantly after I arrived, I saw three people smoking crystal meth through glass pipes, then others with the facial scabs and sores associated with this destructive drug. One man with matted hair sat slumped in a stupor wearing just grubby underpants.
Another, clearly under the influence of heroin, had ‘nodded off’ and was static on a child’s bicycle. A third urinated on the street.
A woman changed her clothes from a tatty suitcase on the pavement.
Others shuffled pathetically or rolled slowly along the street in wheelchairs. Some were clearly suffering mental distress, such as a man in his 50s begging for cash who told me he was waiting for his air force pension.
A street cleaner showed me a box filled with used syringes that he had collected, then I met two charity workers picking up needles from the pavement.
How many do you find a day, I ask?
‘Between 300 and 600, depending on the weather,’ one replies.
And when your mind has stopped boggling, read how this insane situation happened:
‘You have to develop a thick skin,’ says Sonya Lee, 24, supervisor in a Starbucks branch surrounded by bustling boutiques, expensive hotels and smart restaurants.
‘Every day, people come in and take stuff. It’s dreadful but we don’t know what to do.’
But surely you call the police? Well, no. Because SF is a city owned by progressives. And gives us a glimpse of how dysfunctional such a place can be…
City authorities claim their key problem is the high cost of housing combined with past failures to build enough properties. But many blame something simpler to solve: the lack of law enforcement.
‘When you tell vagrants that anything goes, it leads to the anarchy you see on these streets,’ says Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think-tank and a conservative essayist.
She believes we are witnessing a ‘real-life experiment’ into what happens if society stops enforcing bourgeois norms out of sensitivity to vulnerable people.
And it ain’t pretty…