Tech Startup Dude’s Open Letter About Homeless ‘Rifffaff’ Sparks Outrage

by Mike Albo

February 22, 2016

It’s common knowledge that in San Francisco, tech companies and their employees have been pushing out low-income and minority communities. Rental website Zumper anointed San Francisco as the bedroom with the highest median rent in 2015. The figure for a one-bedroom in October was a record $3,670.

As the divide between rich and poor grows, a mini-genre has developed: “tech-bros” firing off angry letters and posts about homelessness in the city and how the government isn’t dealing with it. In 2013, startup founder Peter Shih ranted on Medium about “10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition.” Homeless people were number 6. A backlash ensued—posters with his photograph showed up around the city. 

In 2015, startup CEO Greg Gopman posted a rant on Facebook. 

He later apologized for it and has tried to make amends.

Last week, another tech industry professional, Justin Keller, posted an open letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr voicing his “concern and outrage over the increasing homeless and drug problem that the city is faced with … the city is becoming a shanty town …worst of all, it is unsafe.”

After citing a few examples of incidents, Keller writes: 

“I am telling you, there is going to be a revolution. People on both sides are frustrated, and you can sense the anger. 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[1] seem to up and vanish. I’m willing to bet that was not a coincidence. Money and political pressure can make change. So it is time to start making progress, or we as citizens will make a change in leadership and elect new officials who can.”

The post went viral, and has sparked another major public backlash. Not long after, Keller footnoted his use of the term “riff raff” with an apology. 

Blogger “Broke Ass Stuart” responded with an Open Letter to Justin Keller: “I read that you’ve been here over 3 years, so I can imagine how hard it must be for you to see the city change from the clean, quiet tourist destination of 2013 to the vile, riffraff-saturated hovel of 2016.” And the Twitterverse lit up with disgusted tweets, including one from a person unfortunately also named Justin Keller. 

Of course this will probably blow over for Keller, but not for homeless individuals who have to face negative treatment and judgment on a daily basis. But Keller’s indignant letter further shows how deep the divide between income levels is growing in our country, and how San Francisco has become one of its most polarized examples.

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Tech Startup Dude’s Open Letter About Homeless ‘Rifffaff’ Sparks Outrage