A few days ago, a San Francisco columnist promoted a story about homeless people who got off a SamTrans bus at the end of the bus line in San Francisco near the Embarcadero. While he did not outright accuse SamTrans of providing the homeless a free ride across county lines, he did not have to; he had the help of some San Francisco politicians in creating that very impression.
The modern “reporting” echo chamber prompted a raft of stories on the local news. Indeed, their cameras captured a handful of what appear to be homeless individuals disembarking from a bus at the end of the line. San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes the end of the line stop — near some very high-priced condos occupied by those who would, perhaps, prefer not to have seen the reality of the homeless situation quite so closely — used words like “unconscionable” and “homeless dumping.”
But blaming a transit agency lawfully serving paying riders for those same people being homeless seems peculiar at best and disingenuous at worst. Numerous homeless folks become SamTrans riders because SFO, an airport fully owned by the City and County of San Francisco, is buying SamTrans tokens and giving them away free — through SFO Police — as a means of clearing the terminals.
SamTrans is a public transit provider and does not, nor should it, discriminate against paying customers who want to get on the bus — homeless or not. That said, there is an end of the line where all passengers must depart.
But there’s more to this story than a blame game and irresponsible reporting. Simply put, our homeless population deserves better. Over the full course of 2019, San Francisco counted 17,595 homeless humans within its borders. Based on this number, there are 30 cities in the Bay Area with smaller populations than the homeless population of San Francisco. The regional and state numbers are much higher. These human beings (many of whom suffer from mental health issues and have fallen on harder times than most of us can truly imagine) deserve so much better than to be used as fodder for a fictitious issue just to get a headline and a day of press attention. These times call for serious leaders and serious ideas. We should all be focused on working together as regional partners, with the state, to not only reduce, but eradicate homelessness. We cannot claim to know the solution that gets us there, but we are quite certain these baseless and sensational claims are not part of it.
Charles Stone is the former chair and a current member of the SamTrans Board of Directors, a member of the Peninsula Joint Corridors Power Board (Caltrain), the chair of the San Mateo County Library JPA Board, and the vice-mayor of the City of Belmont. Karyl Matsumoto is the current chair of the San Mateo County Transit District Board of Directors, sits on the San Mateo County Transportation Authority Board, City/County Association of Governments, and Caltrain Modernization Local Policy Makers Group, and is a councilmember and former mayor of South San Francisco.
These are their individual views and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any organization with whom they serve.