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“We live in a free market society”: San Francisco tech founder’s rant against the homeless

San Francisco has at least 6,600 homeless people.
San Francisco has at least 6,600 homeless people.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

A San Francisco tech company founder is upset about the city's homelessness problem — not that at least 6,600 people are homeless in a city with skyrocketing housing costs, but that the "wealthy working people" and their relatives have to see them.

In an open letter to the San Francisco mayor and police chief, Justin Keller, the founder of, described three incidents involving homeless people who were drunk or high and publicly distraught.

You might think Keller would go on to call for better mental health treatment or specific new policies to address homelessness. But he argued that the real problem was the effect the homeless have on the people around them, who had "earned" the right to live in San Francisco:

The residents of this amazing city no longer feel safe. I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they come visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place…

The city needs to tackle this problem head on, it can no longer ignore it and let people do whatever they want in the city. I don’t have a magic solution… It is a very difficult and complex situation, but somehow during Super Bowl, almost all of the homeless and riff raff seem to up and vanish.

The homeless did not just "up and vanish." As the Wall Street Journal reported, they were given priority on 150-person waiting lists for the city's most popular shelter program.

Keller later apologized for using the term "riff raff." But Silicon Valley executives seem stuck in an endless cycle of vilifying San Francisco's homeless.

In 2013, Greg Gopman, then the CEO of AngelHack, wrote on Facebook that "degenerates" in other cities "realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town." The post went viral.

Gopman now calls it "the worst mistake of his life." He spent the next year trying to understand homelessness in San Francisco, and came up with the same solution that has solved the problem in Salt Lake City: The best way to help people stop being homeless is to give them homes.