San Francisco's drug, homeless crises exposed by citizen journalists

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The human misery and squalor on the streets of San Francisco has fed up residents who have taken to Twitter, posting grim and graphic images that spotlight problems they say are only getting worse.

“It’s my city, my home. I love it. And to see it destroyed like this is just devastating,” says Erica Sandberg, who calls herself an “SF War Correspondent” on her Twitter page. 

Armed with her cell phone and a sense of purpose, she chronicles the decay and drug use along San Francisco’s famed Market Street, just steps from the city-run Tenderloin Center that claims to address these very problems. 

Sanberg then tweets images she says convey a reality beyond what local media show. When Fox News traveled with her Oct. 3, she was highlighting drug use and homeless tents outside a bus shelter and subway elevator.

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A San Francisco bus stop crowded with homeless people.

A San Francisco bus stop crowded with homeless people.
(@EricaJSandberg/Twitter)

“Good, safe, clean public transportation is essential to a functioning city,” she tweeted that day. “Inviting, isn’t it?” Her post also called out the city’s transportation chief and his six-figure salary. 

Sandberg and others have filled Twitter with grim pictures aiming to raise awareness and pressure city officials to clean things up. Many posts show open-air drug use and drug dealing and spotlight the city’s focus on harm reduction over mandated treatment programs.

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An elevator for disabled people to access trains has been closed due to the homeless drug crisis.

An elevator for disabled people to access trains has been closed due to the homeless drug crisis.
(@EricaJSandberg/Twitter)

But advocates for the homeless criticize these posts. In an email to Fox News, a spokeswoman with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness said that “taking pictures of someone who likely is experiencing the worst time in their lives and then shaming them publicly can only hurt their chances of leaving it behind, as social media tends to follow people around.”

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But, according to Sandberg, “The most ethical thing you can do is to shine a light on the actual situation. To turn your back and to say it’s not happening, or I’m not going to take a picture of this, videos of this, I’m not going to share it … What that does, it hides it. It pushes everything under the rug. And then they don’t get what they need. So it’s wrong. It’s wrong *not* to show it.”

San Francisco bus stop crowded by homeless people.

San Francisco bus stop crowded by homeless people.
(@EricaJSandberg/Twitter)

Another citizen journalist who has 17,000 followers doesn’t plan to stop either. Her Twitter page is called “Jenny, Girl from Fourth World,” because, she says, conditions in San Francisco are beyond Third World.

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“Some of my Twitter posts,” Jenny said, “I get a lot of angry feedback. ‘How dare you film,’ whatever, and I’m just like, ‘Well, it’s a public street! If they can be sleeping here, and I’m walking here, why can’t I film it?'”

These Twitter users say that the future of the City By The Bay is at stake. They say that by showing the unedited, unfiltered truth about what’s happening, their thousands of followers will be better informed and engaged.



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