On a peculiarly warm winter day at SF State, when the noon sun was highest in the sky, students flocked to the quad in crowding numbers, filling the area as they rushed to class or took a break to enjoy the day.
The pathways around the Cesar Chavez building were packed with student organizations recruiting new members, intermixing with the steady traffic of students entering and exiting the library.
Amat Ali, an international student from Yemen studying interior design, sat alone on a bench close by to the doors of the library, holding her bag close to her lap. She looked out admiringly at the sunlit quad.
“My favorite place to go is Ocean Beach,” Amat said, “I went back to Yemen over the summer and the ocean there is really salty, but here I don’t taste it in the water when I go swimming with my friends. I like the ocean here much better and the cold weather in general.”
“I am afraid of the sharks though,” Ali said with a laugh, “But I don’t go too deep into the ocean, just close to the beach.”
Ali is one of the many international students that choose to attend SF State for its vibrant community and closeness to the city’s landmarks. However, as more international students come to study abroad here, they are surprised to see the pervasive homeless situation in San Francisco.
“What I’ve realized is that there are more homeless people now since I came first here in 2009,” said Amat Ali. “There wasn’t as much homeless people back then, but now they are starting to increase more every day. They don’t have shelter, and most of them live on the street and it’s really cold at night … I don’t know how they handle it.”
Mutsumi Koga was also out on the grass on campus, along with her two fellow classmates from Japan: Shuhei Miura and Figi Kim, all three majoring in business.
“It was very surprising the number of homeless people here in San Francisco,” said Kim.
In a homeless count and survey report done by the city of San Francisco last June, it was reported that 7,499 people were homeless in San Francisco. Only a short drop from the homeless population reported back in 2015.
“I can’t believe the streets here are filled with litter sometimes along Market and Montgomery,” said Shuhei. “I go back to Japan this December and it’ll be something I tell my friends and family.”
Over 4,000 of those homeless counted were unsheltered and slept on streets in the cold. District 6, which consists of Union Square, Tenderloin and Civic Center accounted for the largest homeless population in the city with 3,680 people who are homeless.
New initiatives to aid the housing of San Francisco’s homeless are underway. With a planned construction of a modular factory inside the city’s limits that may reduce the cost of building housing units by 20 percent and speed up production by 40 percent at the most. This announcement was made by London Breed and served as one of her final acts as acting mayor.
However, plans are still tentative and may change depending on who becomes San Francisco’s mayor in the upcoming June election.
Many international students were quick to point out that while San Francisco’s homelessness is a particular problem, it doesn’t take away from what they most enjoy about the city. When asked if San Francisco’s problems overshadow its benefits, students were quick to say no.
“I can also see a lot of good things around the city,” said Koga.
Richard Jono, a marketing student at SF State, said that no one should take a single bad experience and paint it as a whole.
“When I talked to my dad he told me that these were only my experiences,” said Jono. “And only one out of the many I should expect from studying abroad and living in San Francisco.”
In a statistical summary for the Spring 2017 semester, SF State reported an international student population of 1,604. Eighty countries were represented in the report with most students coming from either China, India or Japan.
“I went to high school in Los Angeles, but I like university in San Francisco much better,” said Nishi. “People here are friendlier, they are more open minded.”
Business was the leading department, holding 586 international students, a large number compared to engineering, the second leading department with only 166 international students.
“We all came from Japan and there we don’t have as much diversity as compared to San Francisco, so it’s been cool. But the stores here close way too early.” Koga said, causing the two guys next to her to laugh.
Kunye Li, a student originally from China studying business marketing and living in Daly City, found comfort in the large number of Cantonese speaking students in SF State and around the greater city.
“There is a lot of Chinese here, so it’s easy to get along well. Just go to any Chinese restaurant in the Sunset District and you’ll find them.” Li said with a laugh.
“I went to City College before,” she continued. “And there wasn’t as many international students there, so I didn’t really meet anyone. There are more here at SF State.”
“I really love the diversity of San Francisco,” said Amat Ali, staring out at the quad again. “There is a lot of mixed students, there isn’t just one race, it’s a melting pot and that’s something that is important for me.”