Unless you’ve been living under a freeway, and perhaps even if you have, you’ve likely heard all the hubbub caused by Justin Keller’s rant about the homeless problem in San Francisco.  Picture a startup CEO stepping over sidewalk-sprawled homeless, annoyed that the”wealthy working people” of the city have to endure an eyesore of “homeless riff raff” on their way to work.  Yeah, he actually said that.

Keller wasn’t entirely wrong about everything, but the way he went about saying things made him look insensitive at best, an imbecile at worst. The overall tone of self-entitlement and lack of compassion Keller displayed is what did him in. Keller is clearly very intelligent, having founded Commando.io, an online server management service. But intelligent people say stupid things all the time and being dubbed another “tech bro” didn’t help matters.

The inconvenience of homelessness

Keller’s rant had some merit. We all know there’s a growing homelessness problem in our country, but his insensitive comments came on the heels of two other “tech bros” voicing similar complaints, and with the same air of elitism. Keller painted a picture of frat boys who forgot the kegger was over, tiptoeing around the impoverished while carrying an expensive latte and complaining about the weather.

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From all appearances, Keller isn’t exactly another billion dollar techie. He laments in his own defense that he’s a good guy who lives in an ordinary apartment. However, his caviler attitude towards those who need compassion and understanding only plays into the spoiled rich kid stereotype.

A community within a community

I live near a freeway underpass, and just on the other side used to be my favorite burger joint. It’s still there, but the underpass has turned into a small community of pitched tents, sleeping bags and shopping carts. Sometimes there’s so many people camped out, there’s barely any room to pass through the encampment without feeling like you’re disrupting someone’s home. It feels disrespectful because I wouldn’t want anyone cutting through my personal space like that.

The natural thought is “the police should do something about it.” But what can they do? Where do these people go? And the problem is growing. There’s public parks in Los Angeles with hundreds of homeless people, backdropped by swings and playsets that no mother would dare let her child play on.

Hey Tech Bros, how about an app that actually matters?

Do we really need another time killer?  Another pixel game? Another way to hook up? Which way do we swipe to get an app that can actually solve some real-world problems?

What we need is some sort of Think Tank solution that actually helps the homeless, as opposed to snarky attitudes that marginalize them even further. Yes, it’s a big problem, but Tech Bros are smart (that’s why they’re Tech Bros) – surely they can think of something.

Just spit ballin’ here, but…

  • How about an AirBnB-style app that connects people with a hot meal and a bed for the night?
  • How about an app for job seekers with no address?
  • How about an app that connects companies willing to hire the homeless with individuals looking for a job?
  • How about a smartphone donation program so people have a way to access these apps in the first place?

No easy answers

It’s important to remember becoming homeless could happen to anyone for any number of reasons. I myself was homeless for a brief time after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think it could be me living under a freeway underpass.

Obviously we all feel compassion, or should anyway. Obviously we don’t know the solution any better than Keller. But he’s right about one thing: we need to find a solution, and fast.

If Pauley Perrette taught us anything, it’s that homelessness is everywhere, even in the posh neighborhoods of Hollywood’s glitz and glam. Perrette felt compassion and tried to help. Keller apparently thinks complaining about the problem is the best he can do. And neither one of them is safe in Shanty Town.

So where does that leave us?

What Keller’s rant should teach us is that we’re all too quick to judge, whether it’s Keller judging the homeless or the rest of us judging Keller. But what will any of us actually do about it, aside from going on yet another internet lynching?

Here’s a twist – instead of moaning about Tech Bros or Silicon Valley’s downtrodden, post your solutions for the homeless problem below. Maybe you’re the true genius who can make everyone’s lives better and teach us all a thing or two about compassion. And that would be a wonderful thing.

photo credit: qz.com

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