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San Francisco has an estimated homeless population of 6,600. Photo via Flickr/Euan.
San Francisco has an estimated homeless population of 6,600. Photo via Flickr/Euan.

San Francisco and Seattle are facing unprecedented social stratification, thanks in large part to their booming technology industries. The mayors of both cities have introduced major initiatives to deal with homelessness but so far they’ve failed to have a significant impact on the issue. While many members of the tech community seek to find solutions and help marginalized populations, one CEO would rather they just “vanish.”

Justin Keller
Justin Keller

In an inflammatory open letter to the San Francisco police chief and mayor, CEO Justin Keller describes several altercations with homeless individuals and laments the city “becoming a shanty town.”

The full letter is available here.

“I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society,” wrote Keller. “The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.”

The tech industry has played an undeniable (albeit not singular) role in San Francisco’s housing crisis. An influx of highly paid tech workers has caused rents and the cost of living to rise, pushing many long-time residents out of their homes. In light of that fact, Keller’s comments have sparked a flurry of backlash on the web.

“It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff seem to up and vanish,” he wrote. “I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence. Money and political pressure can make change.”

[Keller later issued this statement: “I want to apologize for using the term riff raff. It was insensitive and counterproductive.”]

Seattle is now faced with some of the same challenges as San Francisco, though it has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of its neighbors to the south. As the tech industry plays a major role in shaping “New Seattle,” hopefully it can foster a more sensitive dialogue about homelessness than Keller presents.

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