SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco tech entrepreneur’s lament over homeless and drug-addicted “riff raff” plaguing his adopted city has earned him some international notoriety as a tone-deaf tech bro.

Justin Keller, described on his LinkedIn profile as the founder of server software firm Command.io, published what he called an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr. In it, Keller described how encounters with homeless people ruined his recent get-togethers with his parents and girlfriend.

In his letter where he voices his “concern and outrage over the increasing homeless and drug problem that the city is facing,” Keller seems to suggest the “money and political pressure’ that resulted in homeless being shooed away during Super Bowl week be made permanent.

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 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.

San Francisco’s burgeoning tech industry has been blamed for skyrocketing rents and exacerbating an already intractable homeless problem.

Keller acknowledges as much, but said those who enjoy the fruits of their tech labor deserve to do it without feeling unsafe or looking upon people who are suffering.

I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.

The blog post has garnered nearly 5,000 “kudos” on Keller’s website – his own version of likes – as well as an enormous backlash and stinging rebukes in publications such as The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.

One writer shredded Keller by saying he “wanted to take the time to compliment you on a brilliant piece of satire,” although by all appearances Keller was serious and has defended his position in subsequent comments.

Keller has also been roundly mocked on Twitter, and his @johnny5sf Twitter handle has been tagged in a flood of negative tweets.

At least one unfortunate Twitter user with the same name (@justinkeller) has had to clear up that he’s not the tech bro in question and has issued his own “Open Letter To The Other Justin Keller.”

Following the firestorm, Keller also added a footnote to his open letter: “I want to apologize for using the term riff raff. It was insensitive and counterproductive.”


Carlos E. Castañeda is Senior Editor, News & Social Media for CBS San Francisco and a San Francisco native. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.

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