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Gentrification is an environmental health problem
A Mission District homeless encampment sits outside the proposed location for the Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. on April 27, 2017. Photo: Karen Sanchez

Walking through the streets of the Mission District 20 years ago felt like a piece of my family’s motherland—a little bit of Nicaragua with some cacao, some pupusas from El Salvador, and you can’t get any better than some tacos from Mexico. The Mission was a reminder of the roots of where we all come from. That was the beauty of San Francisco. Fast forward to 2017, you can still see restaurants from all parts of Las Américas, but they aren’t serving the same population.

Gentrification is a growing epidemic in San Francisco, and especially in the Mission. As people of color and people of low income have been pushed out, a new colonizer—walking zombie-like with smartphone in hand, eyes cast downward—has arrived in the neighborhood: “techies,” we call them nowadays. We need to prevent people from getting pushed out of their homes because this is actually causing serious health problems for them.

In a recent story for Fusion.com, journalist Kashmir Hill reported that San Francisco has the second densest population of homeless people in the United States. There are 149 homeless people per square mile in San Francisco, with a total of of 6,686 citywide as of 2015.

These people frequently live in tents usually under freeways, avoiding being seen by the public and police. Living in these conditions, means living in areas with higher amounts of pollution, which causes high amounts of vascular and cardiac difficulties. This means that homeless people are at a higher risk of having problems with their blood vessels and their heart. Due to unsanitary and crowded living conditions, this population also has higher amounts of respiratory infections such as bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Past studies have demonstrated that children in a crowded room experience higher stress levels and higher rates of annoyance, which can if prolonged, ultimately affect psychological growth.

What can be done to prevent homelessness and crowded housing would be to put an end to gentrification. Rent should depend on how much a person makes. Although there is a below market rate (BMR) program in San Francisco, it only grants a limited amount of housing. This should be in place in all housing in San Francisco.

Elected officials should pay attention and care for the city’s natives, people who have lived in the city for many years, compared to catering to people who are new to the city and influencing the increase in rent. Since we the people, non-elected officials, don’t have much say in what they implement, we need to push them to understand the importance of gentrification and rent control. This not only affects the people getting pushed out but the community as a whole. People who are new to the community don’t always understand why there are high amounts of homeless, which then causes negative interactions between these two groups.

This is a letter to Mayor Ed Lee, and all supervisors in San Francisco. If you are as passionate as you say you are about our beloved city, then do something about it. Don’t allow any more people to get pushed out of their homes to then live on the street. We are all very concerned with bigger things going on in politics—which we need to continue to worry about—but let’s not forget our local government that is directly jeopardizing the environmental health of our community. Stop allowing the health of the people of San Francisco, of the Mission, our grandmothers and children, to be threatened by something that can be prevented.

Story by: Arianna Vargas