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Homelessness is a man-made disaster

We San Franciscans are no strangers to tremors. We live in earthquake country. We’ve weathered some major ones, and we continue to prepare for the Big One we all know is coming someday. But let’s ask ourselves: Is the ground not already shaking? Homelessness is a man-made earthquake, a painful and destructive rift in the social contract, and addressing it requires a major relief effort on the part of us all.

Those of us who are now living on the street feel the ground trembling beneath us. We are left permanently unsettled, facing continual relocation, constant upheaval and insecurity — like refugees in our own city.

At GLIDE, we have directed ourselves to the suffering of the poor and marginalized, including those without shelter, for more than 50 years. For us, it begins with unconditional love, acceptance of all people as they are, wherever they may be in their lives. In this spirit, we seek to form a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.

If we have learned one thing from our experience, it is that solutions take a community-wide effort — and that includes the voices and agency of those most affected. This principle remains at the heart of GLIDE’s array of direct services: daily free meals, child care and early childhood education programs, recovery and harm-reduction programs, workforce development and more.

It is also the soul of GLIDE’s new Social Justice Center, whose focus on service learning, civic advocacy and community mobilization builds on a 50-plus-year commitment to shaping a society that values equity and participation among all people.

We are all vulnerable to accident and tragedy in this life. We San Franciscans should know this better than most. Let us remember, as we confront honestly the dire issue of homelessness, that in earthquake country we rely on each other to be there in times of emergency. We survive not just by bracing ourselves for the inevitable but by harnessing a spirit of cooperation, coordinating with one another and our civic institutions to ensure shelter and support for all.
There are excellent cost-benefit arguments for doing so, to be sure.

There are public safety arguments and lifestyle arguments, too — no one wants to see suffering and desperation on their walk to work or school.
But with a healthy regard for the unpredictability of life and the restlessness of Mother Earth, we first of all come together as a community. This solidarity breeds compassion, reminding us that we are, after all, not so different from one another, each of us is somebody’s child, each of us capable of losing our footing on this shifting ground. In earthquake country it is this deep sense of community that is our terra firma.

GLIDE is pleased to share the following opinion piece written by our Co-Founder and Minister of Liberation, Cecil Williams.
This piece was first published by the San Francisco Chronicle on June 27.