Roberts: In your face: Hate increases homelessness
This file photo taken in March 2018 shows a sign at Facebook's office in Menlo Park. Kyodo via AP Images.

It is a simple, family-friendly app that keeps me connected to family members, current friends and acquaintances from years past — Facebook connects me to my relational world around me. What’s not to like about clicking the like button? Who doesn’t love to see photos of your friends on vacation, your cousins eating the perfect meal or your parents on a cruise?

But just a few weeks ago, my perfect Facebook community began to crack. I felt like a character on The Truman Show movie, where the perfect life and community was simply a farce. Earlier this month, well-known company brands began to stop advertising on Facebook in protest of the hate and lies being promoted on the platform — companies like, Coca Cola, Hershey, Ford.

Is my feel-good, virtual community really just a hidden venue for this country’s dark, hate-filled, evil extremist groups preying on an innocent society that merely longs to connect with each other?

Is this another Russian plot to destroy our country? Or does this virtual society simply lack the controls to stop the darkness?

As a leader who promotes a society where everyone has a home, I have seen firsthand how hatred and lies prevent us from providing solutions to homelessness.

I’ve participated in and led hundreds of community meetings across California trying to convince a neighborhood to allow us to build a services facility or an apartment building for people who are homeless. Most neighbors ask well-intentioned questions, wanting to know the facts of how such a program would affect their neighborhood. Who will be in the building? How will we provide a safe and secure environment?

But in some community meetings, I have encountered vile hatred toward our homeless neighbors. A community member’s body is positioned to fight, eyes seeking to intimidate and words are harsh…

“Those homeless people are just criminals, rapists and drug dealers!”

“They will ruin our neighborhood!”

“They don’t belong here!”

Their actions are even more severe. They set up Facebook pages to promote their poisonous views to others.

The real result of all this hatred? Sometimes we can’t build that home for a person who is homeless.

Then, there is the data that shows a disproportionate number of black Californians are homeless (40%), far more than their representation of the whole population (6.5%). This in-your-face data tells us that we have a significant racial equity problem in our society which causes more and more black Californians to be homeless.

And, yes, Facebook pages, comments, advertisements are quietly (or sometimes loudly) promoting the concept that people of color are not as worthy as white Californians. So why are we surprised when we see these disproportionate statistics? And, worse, why are we surprised to see more black Californians living on our streets?

Can it be that lies, hatred and the promotion of inequity will cause people to end up being homeless? Can a simple app that started as a way for college students at Harvard to socially network be a platform for hatred, resulting in more people becoming homeless?

The fight to force Facebook to change its social networking platform is real. Hitting any company’s bottom line — in Facebook’s case, boycotting advertisement revenue — should push this needle of human rights, racial equity and anti-hate forward.

I wish I could return to my utopian Facebook community, where we all click likes and post happy photos. Where we wish people happy birthday and show off our latest vacation selfies.

But darkness lurks behind the scenes of this “perfect” virtual society. And, if we continue to ignore the fact that some of us in our society want to promote lies, hatred and inequity, then others will get hurt. And even end up living on the streets.

Other than a virtual Facebook community, there is, however, one utopian society that I will continue to fight for… a California where everyone has a home.

San José Spotlight columnist Joel John Roberts is the CEO of PATH, a statewide homeless services and housing development agency that provides services and housing in San José. Joel is also a Board member of Silicon Valley’s Destination: Home. His columns appear every fourth Monday of the month.

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