I love San Francisco and after 12 years of living here and raising my family here, I can easily say that every inch feels like home. Yet there is a painful paradox to this city - it is both extremely rich and poor. This can be uncomfortable to talk about and difficult to face.
A paradox is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”
This is a city of technological optimism, human achievement, and dynamic progress. It is also a city of scarcity, inequality, and dehumanizing poverty. It is “both and”, and yes, seemingly absurd.
At times we are exposed to the stark, traumatic realities of poverty. There is nothing more disturbing than seeing children on the streets or sleeping in a car. It’s almost more than the heart can bear. But most of the time the dehumanizing effects of poverty are much more gradual and broad. Broad in that they are common communal experiences shared by the poor. General assistance and disability checks begin every month with resources that meet basic needs, but those checks are too short and the month is always too long. There is a desperation at the end of every month that erodes relationships, fractures family, and divides community.
Either way you see poverty, whether acute and obvious or slow and subtle, it always breaks people down. Breaking down the mind (depression and mental instability), the body (poor diet and lack of sleep), and the soul (isolation and desperation). It discredits a faith that proposes that we are all made in the image of God. Poverty teaches people that they live below others and will always be behind. It reminds people that their lives have less value. It is a lie that plays like a broken record.
One night when I had just moved here, I found myself serving a meal to the homeless at a local shelter. Later I joined some friends a few blocks away to enjoy a fancy wine tasting party. One minute I was in a shelter filled with desperation and the next minute in a high-rise apartment overlooking the beauty of the city. The extreme dichotomy gave me a disturbing sense of whiplash.
I don’t think one group or event was right or wrong. What was missing was the experience of knowing one another, of serving one another, and of giving to each other.
The poor live within another type of paradox that I have witnessed. In the midst of scarcity and insecurity, you also find radical generosity and an openness to let go and to give. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people living within the destructive behavior of their own self-preservation. But I have also witnessed my friends on the streets, those with nothing at all, who when given something good, instantly share what they have. Whether that is a meal, money, or even something simple like a pair of socks. There is a willingness to look out for each other since they know what it is like to have nothing. Their generosity is impressive and it is an honor to see their goodness at work at City Hope.
I hope to pass this experience on to everyone who serves with us at City Hope. City Hope is a place where generosity and compassion grow, even though we are located in a place of scarcity and insecurity. It seems unlikely and even absurd, but when given a chance, the goodness of God is on display as our neighbors gather and we learn to give. Thank you for your continued support as we live into the paradox of a city loved by God.
City Hope Community Center:
45 Olive Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
PO Box 641049
San Francisco CA 94164