No one doubts that San Francisco has a homeless problem.
There are more than 6,500 individuals living on the streets and it's increasing every year. As the city – and the wider Bay Area – continue to break all records in terms of affordability thanks to the ongoing tech boom, the problem is only going to get worse.
That's why the City of San Francisco last year finally created a new department of homelessness; why there were not one but two measures on the recent election ballot about homelessness; and why both the San Francisco Chronicle and The Guardian have created reporter positions and set aside resources to cover the issue.
Among those determined efforts to tackle the serious and complex problem surrounding homelessness, however, sits a delusional tech bro who appears determined to use the recent trend in hate-celebrities to boost his profile.
Back in 2013, Greg Gopman became a hate figure in the City by the Bay by posting a rant on Facebook about the homeless people he was forced to endure while walking to his tech job. Calling them "degenerates," "hyenas" and "trash," he observed:
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us.
Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn't made anyone's life better in a while.
Greg had seemingly forgotten that homeless people are also human beings who did not grow up with the benefits he had. His heartless, cruel posts seemed the very epitome of the "tech bro" culture that San Franciscans had been unhappily enduring for a number of years. So many people decided to let Greg know what they thought of him.
What they didn't expect was that he would enjoy the attention.
The Bay Milo
Much like the recently disgraced Milo Yiannopoulos, Gopman cannot resist basking in the limelight, even when that light is intended to act as a warning to others.
A few months after leaving the company he had set up that runs hackathons, Gopman began promoting himself by reminding people of his "viral" rant and claiming he had the answer to the city's homeless problems.
He started a blog in which he claimed he could now "talk for hours about the causes of homelessness, the struggles faced by those trying to fight their way out, and all the data" – although the accompanying hyperlinks went through to the most easily discovered resources on homelessness.
Two weeks later, he posted another blog post with more links and some unattributed screengrabs from other people's reports. Now, it turned out, he had spent a year researching homelessness and decided that he alone could fix it.
Posting the same content on Medium, Gopman declared he would hold a sort-of homeless hackathon where people would "create an affordable and scalable homeless housing plan."
Neither the media nor city hall could resist the tale of redemption: a tech bro that has seen the light and decided to use his talents to work for broader society rather than himself. And so Business Insider ran the same content – even though the publication had never shown any indication of being interested in homelessness before. And that resulted in other media outlets, including Techcrunch and even The Guardian, following suit.
The media coverage attracted others and resulted in a series of meetings in which, amazingly, it turned out that there was no easy answer to homelessness and all the best solutions relied on a huge amount of additional resources that people were unwilling to provide.
Regardless, Gopman presented his masterplan in June 2015 – a series of "community transition centers" in which homeless people would be housed in futuristic geo-domes. It was brilliant. It was revolutionary. It has its own website with artists' renditions of what it would look like. Crucially it got even more press.
The only problem was the idea was garbage.
The people whose job it is to help homeless people in San Francisco, and who have decades of experience in doing so, thought the whole concept was worthless. "It reminds me of a dog house," a senior aide to the mayor told one outlet.
The same aide said of Gopman: "He threw something out there, but people working with him got sick of his ego."
Gopman's response was to question the integrity of the officials, claiming that "the people in charge of helping the homeless really don't care." Whereas a man who had posted several blog posts largely about himself apparently did.
He claimed that the mayor was actually secretly behind him and his idea – despite the public criticism – and that money wasn't a problem. He didn't let the rejection of his idea get him down. He stuck with it and worked hard at revising and perfecting the idea until ... no, only kidding, he went on an eight-month "sabbatical," left the Bay Area and travelled around the world.
A new idiot emerges
While Gopman was away, several other tech bros tried to steal his position as heartless-idiot-in-chief, most notably Justin Keller, who posted an "open letter" to the San Francisco mayor about the homeless problem in February 2016.
Keller unwittingly followed Gopman's example when he argued that people who have money should not be subjected to those who don't. He wrote: "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."
He warned that "there is going to be a revolution" if the issue wasn't resolved soon. And so there was – but not of the kind he was expecting. One of the more amusing – and pleasant – was the satirical invention of CLEANR® glasses: "With a mobile app that syncs to your CLEANR® glasses, simply select the income level of people you prefer be left out of your life experience."
Gopman meanwhile returned to San Francisco, this time working at a VR company – again running hackathon-style events. When he took a short-term contract with Twitter, his name popped up on people's radar again. When one outlet reminded itself of his 2013 rant and Twitter didn't extend his month-to-month contract, suddenly Gopman was again a victim.
Here we go again
And then, for a second time, just three months later, here he is again pushing yet another terrible idea for the city's homeless problem.
This time, rather than geometric dog houses, Gopman has hit on the brilliant idea of buying a cruise ship and berthing it in the Bay. He was inspired, he says, by the story of the USS Peleliu, which housed several hundred homeless people in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
And, as hard as this is to believe, the people in charge of actually looking after the homeless situation think it is a stupid idea.
But, of course, they don't. According to Gopman.
He told The Guardian he has spoken to the city's main homelessness official, Jeff Kositsky, and that Kositsky is following up his ideas. But the official's spokesman, Randy Quezada, couldn't confirm anything was happening.
“We should look at every idea that comes our way, but that doesn’t mean that we should do everything everybody thinks we should," Quezada told the newspaper.
We don't know why Gopman craves public attention so much. But what we do know is that he loves hosting big public events, and suffers from terrible ideas. He is periodically overtaken by incredible self-belief and a drive to deliver some kind of huge program. For short periods of time, he is prolific. But then, when it falls apart, he disappears for months.
Not that Gopman's time and summaries of other people's work are worthless. One of the biggest problems with the homeless, he has repeatedly and correctly pointed out, is the failure of our society to adequately care for and look after the mentally ill. ®