Disclaimer: This post is not meant to dissuade anyone from going to San Francisco. Instead it is meant as a guide for you to have a wonderfully fulfilling visit.
This is a heads-up post to avoid surprises or unfortunate moments.
Under San Francisco’s Bad Side, I discuss:
- Health hazards
- Crossing Streets
San Francisco’s Bad Side
Crime, filth, dangers, unfriendliness. Any decent-sized city has a bad side, but a city with the wealth and resources of San Francisco should have minimal bad side. Look at Chicago for example. Ever since the current mayor of San Francisco took over, the bad side of San Francisco has gotten far worse than I ever remember it.
Be aware: If you go to San Francisco, you will see many human beings living on the streets. You will see their visible wounds and wonder about their invisible wounds. Some homeless will be passed out or sleeping. Some will digging through the garbage or collecting redeemable recyclables. Others will be asking you for money, food, or to buy a Street Sheet. Some will hold doors to a coffee shop hoping for any pocket change.
Last summer I saw a family of tourists by Union Square. (They were wearing shorts and tee-shirts in July so clearly they did not read part 1 of this series.) The family hastily walked through a block of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk or holding signs asking for help or just staring with empty eyes. I heard the little girl, maybe 10 years old, ask her mother in a voice that showed both sadness and anger, “Why are they like this?” The mother said something like, “Because no one takes care of them.” Without doubt, that little girl will never forget walking that block because clearly this was the first time she ever saw this side of humanity.
What to do: Whether or not you give the homeless money, acknowledge their presence. Look at their faces. Say something, anything: “Sorry,” “It’s only 25 cents, I hope it helps,” “No thank you,” “I’m a millennial, I don’t carry cash.” They are human beings, treat them as you wish to be treated, and none of us want to be ignored.
You don’t have to give just money. Maybe you give them your leftovers from the restaurant or the other half of your hot coffee. Maybe one of the ‘Buy two get two free’ sweatshirts that won’t fit in your luggage anyhow.
In 10 years in San Francisco, I talked to plenty of homeless people. Is that shocking? If you know me in person, I am a talker. The one thing that the homeless repeatedly say is, “I am not invisible,” because that is how they feel in society.
Special Notes on Homelessness
Common Sense: If someone appears to be having a psychotic episode, appears drugged out of their minds, or overly aggressive, use common sense and avoid them.
For you animal lovers: A good handful of the homeless people have cats or dogs that live with them on the streets. You will not be doing the animal or the human any favors by “finding a better home” for their pets. You will probably kill the homeless person by taking away the only love they feel. I have seen plenty of times a homeless person who was given food splitting the food with their cat or dog.
Beware of some hazards:
- Humans discharge waste, usually in a bathroom. A homeless person does not have many options of where to go to the bathroom, so they go in an alley, behind a garbage can, anywhere they can find. You may see discharged human feces or newspaper that was used for “cleaning” afterwards. Watch your step and what you touch.
- Phlegm carries diseases. It may be on the sidewalk, on the bus, on a railing. Avoid it and if it gets on you, clean thoroughly. Wash your hands often and carry some Purrell.
- Watch out for used hypodermic needles, especially if you bring your dog with you. If you or your pet step on a needle, seek immediate medical help. Wear shoes or sandals with good soles in San Francisco.
Use common sense like you would in any city to avoid crime. One crime to point out is smash and grab. In San Francisco Overview, I strongly advised not to have a car in San Francisco. But if you do, be aware of smash and grab. If you have anything visible in the car (a back pack, a bag, loose change, a jacket) your car window will be smashed when you are not looking and the item grabbed out of the car. This is epidemic in San Francisco and widely ignored by the authorities.
A few rules unique to San Francisco:
- The famous hills of San Francisco can make for bad sight lines. Cross at crosswalks only to avoid being hit by a bus or car that you never saw coming.
- Pedestrians should never stand in a bike lane just like they should never stand in a street.
- Some of the best photographs are from the middle of streets. Ask yourself if being hit by a car is worth the picture.
Final thought is for bicyclists – Lombard Street has a beautiful block famous for its 8 hairpin turns. Take my word for it: In addition to not being permitted, it is really, really, exceptionally stupid to ride your bicycle down Lombard street. Your bicycle brakes will not work once you get to the bottom, and you will still be going down hill.
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This San Francisco travel overview is broken into 10 parts:
San Francisco Part 6 – Avoiding the Bad Side
San Francisco Part 8 – Amazing Day Hikes Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 10 – Further Afield from San Francisco (and Worth It)