Monthly Archives: June 2022

Cool grey city of gatekeeping

I first posted this in response to an SF Chronicle op-ed.

The writer was accurately describing the way San Francisco’s social and emergency services can appear to be unresponsive or actively unhelpful to human need. But the op-ed was missing something: the strange way in which our city provides good things but rations them with bafflement.

Another amateur would-be helper generalizing from a confusing street incident to accuse SF social services of ineffectuality. They are actually often good.

But it’s true that SF constricts supply of services & rations them via confusion, partly by not publicizing contact info.

SF govt provides good services in inadequate supply and rations via process. Raw desperation isn’t enough: a person’s stated needs have to match an available program’s very specific template. Sometimes a person gets recognized as eligible and gets *great* help. Other times, not.

San Francisco has worked this way for 30+ years at least.

It’s not solely because of the current mayor, nor Covid, nor the way our general civic slouch toward fascism allows even frothingly eliminationist demands for erasure of visibly poor neighbors to be treated respectfully as innocent calls for street maintenance.

Though of course all of that makes the basic pattern more visible and worsens its effects.

But the problem goes back to a very old San Francisco sense of specialness.

It promises that wonderful things can happen, but only if you qualify, and nobody will tell you how to qualify.

In conclusion, Franz Kafka would have understood this place. He might have loved it with the strange sick kind of love that people still feel for a city after seeing people die from its faults.