To the city and people of San Francisco:
Like you, we are frustrated, confused and dismayed by the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in our city. Like you, we want answers — and change.
So begins one of the most ambitious journalistic projects I’ve ever seen. It’s called the SF Homeless Project and it is being perpetrated by a coalition of 70 of print, blog, broadcast and other media partners in and around San Francisco, a city truly plagued by homelessness. The effort is a sincere attempt to tell the stories of real people, to record government response, to propose solutions for the 6,600 men, women and children who live on the streets of San Francisco every day. The project is a model of cooperation that may well prove important to all of us moving forward.
The San Francisco Chronicle calls homelessness “the defining characteristic” of a city that is as wealthy and as technologically adroit as any in the world. The newspaper has lent its credibility to the project by actually linking to dozens of other news sites that are each in one way or another a competitor. It is humbling to see that some issues are more important than business considerations. If you are looking for a reason why we are different from, say, Nike or Taco Bell, look no further.
I confess I don’t know the genesis of the project. It’s unclear who gets “credit” and perhaps that is by design. The stories themselves are the thing. Among the things I’ve learned since the series began is that one in five of the city’s homeless are under the age of 25. Four in 10 of the city’s homeless are members of the LGBTQ community. Two in 10 say they had traded sex for a place to stay. …
California Sunday Magazine carried a stunning collection of photos, showing what homeless youth carry with them. Others have focused on the homeless Chinese population or those in the near suburbs. The stories have taken to task the five mayors who have done little that is effective to curb the problem in the last 20 years. (The inability to solve the problem is something that I’ve written about before, by the way. My words were just as ineffective as the work of those mayors.)
What will become of all this? Maybe nothing. But a couple of state legislators are calling on the governor to declare a state of emergency over the homelessness problem as a direct result of the series. And I can tell you the city and its surroundings are buzzing because of this project, and in the end, that is our mission. The lesson, for me, is that sometimes the issues are big enough to call for some strange bedfellows. Sometimes community is more important than commerce.
This is how you shine a bright light. Are there partners you could summon for big projects in your community?