A few months ago, Colton Haas and I traveled to the once beautiful city of San Francisco, hoping to have a question answered: What happened to San Francisco?
Erica Sandberg, a community advocate and journalist, broke it down for us: "Right now the major issue — people always call it homelessness — but the major issue is drugs."
While San Francisco has always battled homelessness and currently has about 7,000 homeless people, the drug issue is exacerbating the problem.
The city currently hands out more than 400,000 syringes each month but only 246,000 are returned, leaving 154,000 syringes left on the streets.
We spent our first day walking around the Tenderloin District, only to see our fellow Americans defecating on the sidewalk, shooting up in broad daylight, and overall living in third-world conditions. In one children’s playground we visited, there were wrappers that once held drugs and caps of syringes.
We also spoke with several homeless people — many of whom told us they were addicted to drugs and desperately want help.
One young man told us that he came to San Francisco at age 18 hoping to have fun, became addicted to drugs, and is now starting to look back at the five years he believes he has wasted living on the streets and doing heroin.
Although not shown in the video, one of the most frightening moments for me was when a homeless man saw our camera and hollered at me to "film this!" When I turned around, there was a syringe sticking out of his wrist and blood dripping down his arm.
The next day, we traveled to the tourist districts and still saw signs of the homelessness crisis and opioid epidemic. While interviewing parents chaperoning a field trip for elementary schoolers, there was a man lying in the grass with his pants pulled down — completely visible to the young kids only 100 feet away.
The most shocking part about our entire time in San Francisco was not the drug problem— we knew that was an issue— it was the open use of drugs. As Colton told me, "I’ve never seen anyone shoot up, and now I’ve seen at least 10 people do so." In broad daylight, in a playground, on a street corner, in a tourist district — it doesn’t matter.