Drugs, homelessness, real estate crisis put San Francisco on slippery slope to decline

Drugs, homelessness, real estate crisis put San Francisco on slippery slope to decline

Former West Coast shining star continues to struggle with housing crisis, homelessness, deadly drug epidemic

By Emre Basaran

ISTANBUL (AA) - San Francisco, formerly one of the most popular and thriving cities of the US and California, an economic powerhouse and one of its biggest states, is facing a host of serious issues, with a shrinking population reflecting its multiple woes.

A drug epidemic and a rise in the number of the homeless, due in large part to rents that are out of reach for most people, have led to future prospects for the bustling city to be mixed at best.

- Fentanyl proves deadly

Fentanyl, a highly potent opioid drug 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, has wreaked havoc nationwide but hit San Francisco harder than most.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle daily, the city might be poised to exceed a record 700 deaths per year for 2023, only three years after the last deadly threshold was reached.

The drug overdose epidemic appears to have been concentrated in the city’s Tenderloin district, where Mayor London Breed declared an official state of emergency in December 2021.

The data also shows another grim figure: compared to 2010’s 13 overdose-related deaths per 100,000 people, just a decade later the rate stood at 49 per 100,000, a whopping 370% increase.

African Americans, who make up nearly 6% of the city, are the demographic hit the hardest by the drug epidemic, the Chronicle reported.

The city, known for its ‘60s hippie history and permissive stance when it comes to drugs, has not only been hit by Fentanyl-related deaths, even though they account for three-quarters of drug overdoses. Methamphetamine is also widely used in the city and also leads to numerous deaths.

- Homelessness and beyond

The drug epidemic and homelessness in the city are deeply intertwined.

A stone’s throw from San Francisco’s City Hall is the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Willow Street, which have been plagued by an encampment along with open-air drug dealing and use.

Public defecation and open drug use are commonplace, with many residents loudly decrying safety concerns and steep declines in the value of their properties.

Some lush condos now look out onto sights their owners had never counted out: a street filled to the brim with tents, and homeless people shooting up drugs and relieving themselves in public.

Though residents voiced their concerns about the ongoing encampment, drug use, and safety issues, many feel their calls for help fell on deaf ears.

Speaking to local broadcaster ABC7 in June, a resident complained local authorities are doing nothing to solve the ongoing problem.

“After we created tickets on 311, they never got back to us,” she said, referring to an app that lets users report irregularities to the authorities “They just closed the ticket without doing anything.” The resident also showed a screenshot of the SF311 app labeling an encampment as “cleared” even though it was not.

Residents also reached out to San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston for help, who told ABC7: “We continue to demand that the mayor and city departments bring relief to both housed and unhoused neighbors on Willow Street.”

- Office vacancies break records

As one of the most expensive cities in the US, San Francisco and its downtown feature many pricey office spaces, which were increasingly abandoned due to the convenience of remote work – especially in the wake of the COIVD-19 pandemic – and rents widely seen as exorbitant.

Even though the rise in the number of artificial intelligence-based firms led to a recent boom in real estate in the city, which is known for being a tech hub, the downtown has long suffered from abandonment of office spaces.

The office vacancy rate in the city hit a record-high 29.4% in the first quarter of 2023. The city’s upscale Westfield Mall fell to an only 55% occupancy rate, leading it to abandon its lease.

- Housing crisis still a major issue

Due to its traditionally high rents, San Francisco has been called one of the priciest cities to live in. Because of the tech downturn, homelessness, and the drug epidemic, rents have gone down somewhat, but housing remains a major issue for the city.

The housing shortage has been a persistent issue for the city since the 1990s, eventually in 2015 giving it the unwanted distinction of being the most expensive city in the US for renting, according to website Zumper.

With the median rent in the city getting dangerously close to $4,000, people are moving out to the suburbs and other counties in the Bay Area, especially those privileged enough to be able to work from home.

US Census data shows that San Francisco's population shrank from 873,000 to 808,500 between April 2020 and June 2022, a trend blamed on sky-high rents, a high crime rate, the drug problem, and the city’s homeless population stoking rising fears.

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