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13 Nov, 2023 12:38

Xi credited with San Francisco homeless cleanup

A visit by the Chinese leader has spurred the Democrat-controlled city to deal with the issue
Xi credited with San Francisco homeless cleanup

An upcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to San Francisco has, according to critics, forced the Democrat-led local government to clean house and finally act against the city’s notorious homelessness levels.

San Francisco has been branded a “Homeless Mecca” by the US media. According to a July report by the local authorities, the city had 887 homeless people per 100,000 residents between 2019 and 2022, meaning slightly more than 7,200 homeless people among a population of roughly 815,000. The figure is the third highest in the US, behind only Oakland and Los Angeles.

Online comments have argued that without Xi’s attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit this week, local officials would otherwise have remained idle.

Some 30,000 visitors are expected to flock to the Californian city for the week-long international event, which kicked off on Saturday. Authorities have implemented tough security measures in areas allocated for the gathering, including the main venue of the Moscone Convention Center, the Fairmont Hotel housing the delegations, and the Exploratorium museum on the waterfront.

Part of the preparations involved removing homeless encampments as well other indications of their presence. Some critics of President Joe Biden have taken issue with the cleanup, arguing that tent camps have been hidden from the view of foreign dignitaries purely for decoration.

More than half of San Francisco’s homeless were classed as “unsheltered,” meaning they lived in “tents, cars, or other places not meant for human habitation,” the July report said. A third were “chronically homeless,” meaning they had been unhoused for at least a year or on four separate occasions in the last three years. The city authorities nonetheless maintained that the number of homeless people had decreased by 3% between 2019 and 2022.

“All it took was a communist to come to town for San Francisco to get their act together?” journalist Collin Rugg of the Trending Politics outlet said on X (formerly Twitter), sharing a video of a security fence erected for the event.

Political commentator Jackson Hinkle posted a ‘before and after’ comparison photo of the same location, remarking: “Patriots love President Xi!”

City officials said they had used existing funds to improve the visuals, and claimed they wanted to keep the streets clean after the APEC guests leave.

Private property owners have also cashed in. A recent “hostile architecture” project, intended to make public places uncomfortable for vagrancy, bought large metal bins usually used to feed livestock and placed them as planters along the streets.

“Buying planters won’t solve homelessness!!!” a note on one of them read, according to local news outlet Beyond Chron.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the problem was only getting worse, despite California’s $20 billion homeless housing program. The paper placed particular blame on the city’s lax policies on drug use and shoplifting, arguing that this attracted homeless people from elsewhere.

Chinese media published a number of unsympathetic articles about San Francisco’s problems ahead of the summit, with headlines describing it as a “total failure” and “garbage city.” The South China Morning Post compared the beautification to a “housework-shy couple who suddenly discover the neighbors are dropping round” and go into a “tidying panic mode.”

San Francisco added dozens of additional shelter beds as it uprooted several hotspots of homeless activities ahead of APEC, according to the Daily Mail, but some simply refused to move there.

“It’s like they’re trying to throw away human beings,” a 63-year-old man told the newspaper, after explaining that he fears being separated from his wife in a shelter.

Xi is scheduled to arrive in the US on Tuesday and stay until the APEC event ends on Friday.