Book Review: ‘San Fransicko,’ by Michael Shellenberger

San Francisco
Why do progressives destroy cities?
Written by Michael Schellenberger

This investigation into the causes and costs of the homelessness crisis in San Francisco, written by journalist-turned-culture warrior Michael Schellenberger, holds true to one important thing: The city’s progressive leadership has proven completely incapable of ending the massive spectacle and tragedy on the streets. Today in City by the Bay, one in 100 residents is homeless, and between 2005 and 2020, the number of people sleeping on the streets or in tents nearly doubled, even as the number of homeless people declined elsewhere in America. Of the city’s estimated 8,124 residents who are currently homeless, 73 percent are “homeless” — meaning they sleep outside doors, in tents, under highway lanes. (In New York City, by comparison, only 3 percent are homeless.) Across the bay, in Alameda County, which includes Oakland and Berkeley, the situation is worse by some measures—homelessness has nearly doubled in the past five years. “There is cruelty here that I don’t think I have seen, and I have done outreach on every continent,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on a visit in 2018.

Shellenberger in “San Fransiko” pledges to explain how it went and how we can solve it. That, he says, means blaming progressives and Democrats, who control every level of city and state government. “How and why do progressives destroy cities?” he asks.

He is right that there is little to no frank discussion about the apparent contradictions between good intentions and the questionable outcomes of Gulf region policies. San Francisco, which set aside $1.25 billion for homelessness and related services from 2018 to 2021, spends more per resident than Los Angeles or New York City, but a failure of clear leadership and planning, and ineffective nonprofit management, has resulted in massive waste. Last year, for example, city officials turned the Civic Center Plaza into a “safe sleeping location,” setting up tents for 262 homeless people. Each city tent costs $61,000, 2.5 times the average annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

Unfortunately, Shellenberger is not really interested in having an accurate discussion of failed policies. His ultimate goal is more ambitious: he wants to redefine homelessness as a problem not caused by poverty or lack of housing, but rather by addiction, mental illness, and “lack of belonging,” by which he means “choice.” Claiming that the homeless choose to live on the streets is an old conservative cliché, but Schellenberger injects it with new life by blaming the “pathological altruism” of progressive, awakened culture. He writes: “One word, ‘homeless’, entails a whole malignant discourse that unconsciously and subconsciously operates in our hearts and minds, ‘making us unable to comprehend the reality before us.

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