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    5%, 36%, 60%

    By Brett Andrews

    At first glance, it is almost impossible to find the relevance of—and correlation between—these percentages unless, of course, you happened to be the person who recently attended three separate presentations: one on San Francisco’s changing demographics, one on homelessness and one on poverty. I am that person!

    I have had the fortune of living in a few of our esteemed American cities over the course of my life. I was raised in the Pittsburgh area, lived in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, and for the past 15 years have called San Francisco my home. Each of these cities presents unique offerings that make them distinctive in their own way and abidingly similar in others. All of them are multi-cultural, and are teeming with educational and career opportunities. They also share one ubiquitous characteristic—they all have an underserved and underrepresented population.

    What does 5% represent? It’s the percent of African Americans that reside in the city and county of San Francisco, based on the most recent U.S. Census. The striking observation about this percent is that it is significantly lower than the national average, hovering at approximately 12%.  From the moment I moved here, I have paid attention to that growing delta. I often questioned why, in a world class liberal city, would there be such a low representation of African Americans? There are many contributing factors, theoretical and otherwise. Unfortunately, we will have to save that discussion for another time.

    Let’s move onto 36%. Recently I attended a presentation on homelessness. Just about half way through, the presenter shared a statistic from San Francisco’s Point-in-Time Homeless Count as the percentage of homeless who are African American. I have to admit, if given a quiz on the presentation, I’m not sure I would pass. Once I heard this startling statistic, everything seemed to go quiet in my mind (and a bit dark). I now have two numbers, neither of which bode well for anyone who has cared about changing the ecology of disadvantaged individuals. Okay, so 5% of San Francisco’s residents make up 36% of the homeless population … .

    Finally, and arguably the most stunning statistic: 60%. Based on our City Performance Scorecard – Poverty in San Francisco, 12% of the San Francisco population lives in poverty, and African Americans make up over 60% of this poverty level.  

    So, here’s what we have—a minority group, making up a minority portion of the San Francisco population, but a majority of the homeless and impoverished? And unfortunately, the picture doesn’t get much better when you look at all people of color. I don’t bring this to our attention to be a downer, but to raise awareness around the fact that we (all San Franciscans), have to address these historical, systemic and resistant issues that have stymied the progress and advancement of certain segments of our community for decades.

    In my work I often get asked, “What can I do to help?” Of course, financial support is great, and volunteering your time is noble and needed. We can also do something that is equally as generous and profound, and well within our control: we can augment our view of the world to recognize and embrace the fact that everyone has value, and there should never be a discounting of anyone’s life. We must resist the urge to judge and compartmentalize others. As a 53-year-old gay African American man, I have been discounted, and I have also been celebrated and supported. I can tell you, the latter feels so much better.

    As a shining city on a hill—one that has led the way in developing innovative models of care and treatment—we must widen out our attention and bring into focus issues of inequity that surround financial stability and independence, access to quality education, job opportunities and homeownership, all of which are economic and social constructs that directly impact a person’s quality of life and overall wellbeing.

    Everyone should be able to experience the joy of being seen—respected, valued and loved. We can do better, and we will.   

    Brett Andrews is the Chief Executive Director of PRC (, which is the only place for people living with HIV/AIDS or mental health disabilities to get comprehensive benefits counseling and employment services in San Francisco. Andrews is a member of the San Francisco HIV/AIDS Provider Network, the San Francisco Human Services Network and the Mayor’s CBO Taskforce. He additionally serves on the Board of the National Working Positive Coalition.