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App Wants to Track Every Homeless Person in San Francisco (bloomberg.com)
39 points by pseudolus 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments



> and last year voters approved a measure to raise $300 million annually to tackle the issue by taxing local companies.

> Yet there are about 7,500 homeless ...

Wait, what? 300,000,000 / 7500 is 40,000 per person.

Yes, I know San Francisco is expensive. I lived there for a couple of years (as an entitled tech bro, of course). But holy cow, if you ever wanted yet another metric to demonstrate the craziness that is SF living costs, here it is.


As this comes up in most threads on how SF spends money on the homeless:

- The SF homelessness abatement budget includes a lot of money to support low income renters and other services that are used by people you might become homeless if not for city assistance.

- Considering that health coverage for a high tech worker with no chronic conditions can easily run 20k+, it's not surprising that an unhoused individual who may have many health conditions costs more to care for.


I wasn't trying to imply that the money is being misspent, FWIW. I was just illustrating how inflated numbers become in the distortion field that is San Francisco.

As to your points:

- Sure, preventative measures make complete sense. Of course, even low income, subsidized, budget housing is still stupidly expensive in SF, compared to the vast majority of the US. And of course, even just being virtually anywhere on the BART lines to SF/Bay Area are notoriously expensive. [1]

- Again, totally agree. Health care costs be high, yo. But we can agree that they're only artificially high because of systemic issues in the healthcare system of the US, right? :) [2]

I understand that lucrative career opportunities exist in concentrated industry meccas like SF/NY. Even still, I can't but help shake my head when I try to fathom the orders of magnitude that folks in the SF reality distortion field deal with. Especially when compared to ... well, pretty much anywhere else in the world, really!

[1]: https://venturebeat.com/2016/04/04/this-bart-real-estate-map...

[2]: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/health-costs-how-the-us-...


I think the baseline people compare with is a single person who shares an apartment who may make $20/hr. Think recent HS or 2yr college graduate at their first job and being able to make do.


If $40k /person/ year bothers wait until you see what we spend on juvenile offenders in the state of California ($300k / person / year!!!)

https://www.ocregister.com/2019/01/31/we-need-a-bold-vision-...


Also the cost of doing nothing and supporting emergency services workers constant calls...


In addition to what some other commenters have said, I'll add that 7500 is a point-in-time count, it's lower than the total number of people that are homeless in SF at some point during the year [0]

0: http://hsh.sfgov.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/San-Francisc...


This years PIT just occurred in janurary 24th. It happens every odd numbered year. I’m not sure when the data is released but exciting that we’ll better insights soon


This is everything wrong with SF thinking. An app that can be as automated as possible, as impersonal as possible, but solve nothing because it doesn't actually facilitate anything. I suppose it could facilitate something: Oppressive governments might want something like this to help track the undesirables.


I'm not defending the practice, but it's disingenuous to suggest that it solves nothing. Ostensibly it's a means by which the city can determine which programs are most effective at getting the homeless population off the streets which I think is a laudable goal.

As illustrated by the article, there's no shortage of money, but that money doesn't seem to be effective in addressing an issue that residents of the city are very concerned about.


Do you have a better idea? Genuine question.


Read Why some people will choose to sleep on the streets of Manchester this winter[0] for a bit of background.

To me the key paragraph is:

> When professionals help try to bring some structure and organisation into the chaos, it can take many attempts to succeed and the biggest obstacle is not always about providing a roof

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2012/dec/31/home...


I regularly volunteer in a shelter. I have had a few of the attendees go a long paranoid rants about staying off the grid, big brother and so on...It seems like a large number of people that I've met want to be on the street. Anyone have any thoughts or data to support or refute that?


If you meet someone who 'chooses' to be homeless, you should wonder what their other choices were. I doubt they chose homeless over, say, good job and loving family.

Most of the people who 'choose' street life have truly awful alternatives. Drugs, mental illness, family abandonment, etc are often at play. Convincing themselves that they want to be homeless can also be a form of adaptation to make the condition more bearable.


Just my opinion: I imagine that with neuroplasticity, there are plenty of positive connections to their current positions. Coping mechanisms can attach positivity to anything, can justify attaching negativity to anything else. It seems like if they hadn't learned how to cope they would be dead. :/


> But ONE System faces immense obstacles just getting people to sign up. City employees must gain subjects’ trust, learn their real name, and persuade them to join a monitoring system. Participants must sign the program’s medical-records privacy protection forms—a tough task for those suffering from mental illness. To get into permanent housing, program members need to pass a background check, which can take 45 days and requires an identification card, something that many people living on the street lack.

The article addresses that. If you thought big brother was watching you, this would seem to fit nicely into that, wouldn't it?


> If you thought big brother was watching you, this would seem to fit nicely into that

I've seen a few interesting discussions of this idea with regard to mental illness in general.

If someone says they think the government can track their location at all times, is scanning their phonecalls, and shares that data with an international conspiracy... are they schizophrenic, or just talking about the NSA sharing data with Five Eyes?

If you ask somebody to sign a narrow, research-only privacy waiver for a drug trial and they say you're going to share that info with a tech company that already has a secret profile of their entire life... the NHS did pass private medical records to DeepMind.

If they say online ads are talking to them personally as part of a coordinated campaign to brainwash them, it turns out you can have that done to somebody for $30.

It doesn't particularly seem like this is a general problem in terms of diagnosing or treating people; paranoia disorders follow pretty clear patterns of thinking, and they're usually self-validating whether or not there are actual conspiracies afoot. But the specific case of asking people to sign consents and agree to monitoring seems like a major hurdle, and I've seen some doctors point out that they can't even choose low-intimidation wordings because consent forms are usually written by legal to cover all possible cases.


Yeah, the disorder has gone from "big brother is watching you", which is a given, now it's "big brother is watching you specifically and they want to do you harm".


I have only anecdotal data to support my opinion that this is a truly dumb idea. It really tells of the lack of empathy for people on the street


If you want to stay off the grid, why live in a city full of CCTV and other ways to track people? Why not live in the forest?


Because instead of being filled with bleeding-hearts who will give you food and money, the forest is filled with bears and wolves who will eat you.


Money is just a way to track peoples spending. There are serial numbers on it. If you want to stay off the grid, live in a nice remote cabin.


Who tracks serial numbers of cash transactions?

Where can I get one of those free cabins, and will my friends join me?


On what land is that even legal to do without paperwork?


For a fixed cabin, effectively none, although I see two possible ways around this.

The basic problem is that no matter what you find in terms of unregulated off-the-grid living, you need to own property in order to legally put up a permanent residence. Generally this involves being a titled landowner, which requires paperwork and in basically all cases payment, either to purchase land or via property taxes. (You can find local governments offering free land, but it comes with extensive rules and at most temporary property-tax exemptions. Tax-free land, meanwhile, will have to be purchased since homesteading is no longer legal. The newest direct homestead claims were made in 1986, while the indirect tactic of patented mining claims ended in 1994.) You could potentially get a landowner to guarantee you such rights for free, but that still sets a minimum standard of legally-binding paperwork signed with the owner.

Option one to avoid paperwork is to live off the grid without a fixed address. Lots of 'tiny house' residents build homes that are in principle movable to avoid building code hurdles, but they generally own property; I'm not sure where it would be legal to park a mobile home or towable cabin indefinitely, but there might be places. You could live out of an RV or any other property that genuinely does relocate, but that's going to mean filing paperwork to keep a vehicle registered. Finally, you could abandon even a semi-fixed residence and just permanently camp on public lands. As far as I know this is legal if you can survive doing it, but you'll generally need to follow some inconvenient rules; through much of the Southwest you can camp freely on public land if you relocate by at least 25 miles every 14 days.

Option two is to live illegally with an eye towards eventual legal ownership. Adverse possession must be "open and notorious" and generally can't be used to obtain government land, so you'd probably want to check out state laws and choose an abandoned mining claim or other unattended property. (Montana has remote land and particularly favorable rules for this sort of thing, and Alaska of course maximizes open space.) This will involve quite a lot of paperwork and lawyer's fees if the original owner contests your claim, but that's true of any legal challenge. Since title can be created without proactively filing any documents to show ownership, I think this counts as "without paperwork".

To my knowledge, the 'traditional' approach where you build a fixed cabin somewhere and it's legal from day one without paperwork is completely impossible. Doing it with paperwork but no payment might be possible, but I don't know of a way.


Those people are psychotic (to varying degrees). You should take what they say as true of how they feel, now how things are.


Risky territory.

They're still American citizens. By what mechanism do we determine that they're psychotic and therefore not allowed to live off the grid? Do we lock them up in a psych ward until they "admit" to their insanity, for the crime of ranting?


Wanting to live off the grid is not the same thing as wanting to live in the conditions that SF homeless inhabit. And who said anything about locking them up?


Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.


The paranoia being about being tracked, and then not want to give your information to a tech company who's devoted to tracking you doesn't seem totally unwarranted.


Exactly my point :)


this sounds like big brothers + homeless people. while the intention might be noble I don’t see it working. and i have to wonder how else are we going to try to tackle this issue next. maybe microchip all the homeless and detect them wirelessly so we can build a real time map? /s you know what? let’s do that for all people.


I can see why it would be helpful to be able to find someone with a history of mental illness, who is likely avoiding help. But I agree that it crosses into very murky territory, and the avenues of abuse are many. Couple of quick meetings, maybe some legislation, and suddenly the police and councils have access to a GPS map of homeless individuals. Then they can deploy security and anti-loitering measures wherever a few too many show up.


It’s amazing what can come out techies brains.


> There are as many permanent housing beds as people who need them.

That does not match what I've read elsewhere.


Why do we need an application for each person to have installed.

What happened to good old-fashioned caseworkers who got to know each aid recipient (homeless person) and understood the needs/issues for each person and was the advocate for the person to help resolve the issues around receiving the aid that currently available...maybe I being too naive


You're right! Caseworkers are absolutely critical to a functional social services system!

Perhaps they could use a records management system that helps them keep track of everything across a sizable, and maybe not perfectly coordinated, series of agencies? It might even make it easier to advocate for our vulnerable neighbors and friends who need understanding, compassion, and assistance.

Right now I'm sure you're thinking "Surely SF caseworkers have something like that!". And that's a very reasonable assumption to make - they certainly do now. They didn't before, when care and aid for those who are unhoused was more disorganized.


I'm sure this is just the "beta" of a system that the creators wish to implement on a larger scale. First it will be homeless people, because they're barely even registering it as reality. Next, it will be prisoners, those on house arrest, and people who committed a felony. Commit a crime, be watched all the time. That's the future we're heading towards.

They just started with the homeless people and prisoners because those people can't fight back.


People on house arrest already have ankle bracelets to track them, and people in prison are tracked because that’s how prison works.


Except that the program is voluntary. Nothing to “fight back” against.


It's voluntary until it's not, like when valuable services become locked behind it.


Are not some people homelss/nomadic by choice because they wanted to live off the grid? Does not idea like this conflict with their ideologues and individualism?

I am not discussing state of being homeless but one's choice to live independent from the majority of the society.

Source: Once helped a college friend with her thesis by helping her conducting interviews with homeless people living near our university campus.


There are definitely some (mostly) young, carefree people who actually opt-in to that lifestyle. They're probably overrepresented near a University. They have friends and family they could go stay with to get back into society at a moments notice. I feel like they get conflated with people who "choose" homelessness because they have an addiction, or because the church that runs the shelter abused them as a kid, or because their schizophrenia makes them paranoid about social service workers. They need help to function in society, the same way an asthmatic would need help running a 5K.


How do you help someone who does believe they need help? And what gives you any right to do so?


Yes, check out /r/vagabond.

It's an interesting culture. I remember one article where they were trading "markings" or their own little "hobo symbols," and one self-described "hobomedic" was sharing his extremely convoluted symbol, saying "if you ever see this, there's medical help available here!"

No idea what "medical help" might mean, but based on his "kit pics" it would involve aspirin, Band-Aids, and holistic oils. Also, the choice of his own convoluted"symbol" over universally recognizable symbols like a + or something has its own implications.


Sometimes I look at "normal" society and wonder if the vagabonds are just ahead of the curve ;)


In the Cory doctorow "Walkaway" sense, they are the protagonists. However, until their culture merges more with open source Medicine and science and 3d printed farming technology, I don't think they'll be any more than relatively naive college aged people with potentially dangerous theories about surviving in the cold.


>Are not some people homelss/nomadic by choice because they wanted to live off the grid?

I'm sure there are, but people who are nomadic by choice is not the problem that cities are trying to solve.

The _public_ issue of homelessness results from mental illness and drug addiction and societal restrictions on enforced institutionalization, rather than resulting from free choice or even lack of income.


Yes there are some who are homeless by choice. However they are a tiny minority. The vast majority are homeless lack the ability to care for themselves.


I am homeless in SF and have been to the 9th floor of Silicon Valley.

NOPE. No way, no how, am I enrolling in this.

The data trail that this will create makes my stomach churn.

All I need to get off the street is $1500/mo to meet my needs and interview, well enough to make a first impression. I am there as of Jan with fam and friend support.


And for the other thousands of homeless people who aren't a haircut away from a programming job, what do you recommend?


I’ve heard their vendor Bitfocus is really dropping the ball on this project.


Wow! Another stupid project from tech geniuses.

In place of taking care of the initial problems (« soaring rents and the difficulty of treating substance abuse, mental illness, and other health concerns » as mentioned in the article), let’s create an app to track people whereabouts! Everything is fine... At least the article tell us this shit doesn’t work.


Yeah, better establish a great system of universal healthcare and built social housing mixed with normal housing everywhere around the city. And get the poor a small basic income to get them off the streets until they find a new dignified job themselves.

Europe does stuff like that in case they need some examples to copy.


And we should ignore the plight of starving and dying people until those systems magically appear here?


And yet Europe still has a lot of homeless people. Europe hasn’t “solved” homelessness either. It’s unsolvable.


Eh, I don't think it's stupid it's just not going to solve homelessness. I'll preface this by admitting that I'm not well-versed with the problem (other than what I see), so this could be off-base and I'll feel stupid for having written this.

Understanding the who/when/where of homelessness isn't stupid - Epidemiology is a well-respected field built around just that (for health and diseases, obviously). Certainly part of solving the problem is understanding the distribution of the problem.

Does anyone currently track that information with any appreciable amount of accuracy? If so, I could definitely see this as being pointless. If not, sounds like really useful information to know.

Obviously lots of questions and suspicion here makes sense, like why it's a private company and not an NGO, why they can't anonymously track this information, etc. but "tracking whereabouts" is also a feature of many epidemiological studies.


You're right! SF needs to address housing, treatment, and health care! SF doesn't need another iOS app shat out by some smug prick with no clue.

One of SF's problems is that it's been impossible for the city to meet needs and coordinate care over a sizable population when it can't figure out who needs what and where reliably. The idea here is basically a medical record system so that SF can deliver all the items you so wisely and correctly point to! When you know someone's history, what has and hasn't worked for them, you can figure out how to compassionately delivery to them the treatment, housing, and care they need.

Not only are you right about what's needed, San Francisco is right there with you.




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