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I Lost My Shit in San Francisco

by KJ Thomas 2 years ago in humanity

But at least I didn't get burned alive at some party, at least not yet.

Ghost Ship Trial verdict courtroom sketch (credit: Vicki Behringer)

I found myself inexplicably crying while I read the verdict in the Ghost Ship fire. I didn’t know any of the victims but I’ve been to parties like that in San Francisco, held in illegal warehouses, not up to code, people living there illegally.

One time at an after party in SOMA I tried to step out for a cigarette and the exit was so crowded that I just gave up and went back to dancing. It was like 75 people trying to squeeze through one single door all at the same time. I also used to go to shows at Merchants of Reality, which closed shortly after the fire. Are the two related? I don’t know, but I can tell you if I was living illegally in some building that was supposed to be a warehouse and had never been inspected by the fire department, I’d get real antsy after watching 36 people burn to death in a situation just like that.

It’s really, really hard to survive in San Francisco. The rent just goes up and up, and rent control hardly helps at all. Affordable places come with a month-to-month lease if any, and it’s real easy for a master tenant or a landlord to kick you out because they feel like it, no reason necessary. If you’re not here with a trust fund or a high-paying tech job, your finances are always precarious and your living situation follows close behind. Between getting kicked out of places and the cost of living going up, the rent I pay has more than doubled since I moved here seven years ago. There are times when I’ve had incredible experiences, sharing passion and creativity in a dynamic community, but there have also been times when I asked myself why I was doing this. There have been times when the low-paying jobs I was working sucked up all my time and energy. My studies have suffered from it, and my creativity even more so.

I’ve never fully ruled out sleeping in the park and showering at the gym, much less would I rule out living in some illegal arts housing if it meant I could write full-time and live in the city. At this point I feel like when I’m picking a place to live I just want to make sure I know all the exit routes and my own personal safety procedures, like living under some sort of post-civilization anarchy.

I really want to know how many people are living in unsafe housing because they have a passion for the bay area arts community and the cost of living is so high. I’d like to know how many people have ever done this, and if the Ghost Ship fire altered their world-view about their lifestyle.

What a prescient name for a place where 36 people burned to death. Communities need artists, they need beauty and creativity, they don’t need to sequester their artists in death traps. What an ugly statement about modern values, about capitalism and the value of human life.

I’m not sure I can make a strong judgement myself on the culpability of Derick and Max in this incident. I don’t know them and I haven’t heard good things, but I can also say with certainty that it isn’t only their fault. I don’t believe the landlord didn’t know what was going on and I can say with certainty that the housing market in the bay area has exceeded the bounds of human decency. I feel consistently outraged by the amount of money being extracted from us. Creativity is the thing that made this place valuable in the first place, and if the community can’t learn to appreciate that then the community is burning itself.


KJ Thomas

I'm chasing after whatever this whole thing is building to. You can talk back to me here: and my profile artwork was made by my good friend Tabitha:

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