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SFNext: Formerly homeless San Franciscan urges dramatic change

SFNext: Formerly homeless San Franciscan urges dramatic change
SFNext: Formerly homeless San Franciscan urges dramatic change 03:10

SAN FRANCISCO -- For many of us, it's hard to imagine how San Francisco can have so much wealth, and yet so many people are homeless and living in poverty. 

But for one man, his viewpoint may offer some perspective and a hard lesson.

His name is Joe Wilson. He was once the graduate of a military prep school and was accepted into Stanford University, but bad luck ensued.

His mother had a stroke, and Wilson had to drop out of school to become her full-time caretaker. Then the money ran out, and Wilson found himself homeless, sleeping on the street and in dire need of help.

In 1983, Wilson found that help at a place called Hospitality House. Today, he is the Executive Director of the organization.

Hospitality House was founded in 1967 and opened its doors about the same time the city's homeless problem emerged. The organization is located in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, Sixth Street corridor, and Mid-Market area. 

Decades later, not much has changed. The need for help remains strong. Hospitality House still serves the unhoused. The problems have not yet been solved. 

Wilson said he sees it all unfolding on a much larger scale. Part of the issue reaches far back to 400 years ago, and the Elizabethan Poor Laws. These laws made a clear distinction between the "deserving" and the "undeserving" poor.

From his perspective and experience, he explained what's needed is systemic change.

"We have to do something about housing," Wilson said. "We have to do something about our economic system that reproduces poverty and homelessness at an alarming rate." 

He told KPIX 5 that a lot of people may not like the proposed solutions. He added that real help and real answers will come with a cost.

"Because poverty is an economic problem," Wilson explained. "So, the solution is economic. Whatever solution we embark upon, is going to cost money."

He added one of the most important tools you can give anyone who is unhoused, is to look them in the eye, and recognize them as a human being.

Wilson told KPIX 5 that all humans need to have a sense of community and acceptance, that is rooted in second chances and redemption. 

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