Changing perceptions of homelessness in San Francisco

Media Cause is a digital marketing agency with a mission: to scale the impact of organizations doing good.

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 San Francisco wasn’t always like this. But over the years, residents have become desensitized to seeing their neighbors on the streets—and, to hearing the promises from officials to help improve the situation go unfulfilled. While frustrations keep growing, progress has stood still.

When Media Cause began working with the All In Campaign, created by Tipping Point Community as part of its Chronic Homelessness Initiative, the organization was facing a dual, and daunting, challenge: How could they more effectively hold elected officials accountable to their plan of reducing homelessness? 
And maybe even more importantly, how could they get an apathetic and skeptical public to care? 

We knew one of the harder challenges would be convincing them that it was also everyone’s responsibility to pitch in.Taking a cue from human and behavioral psychology, we hypothesized that simply providing people with facts and figures in an attempt to change their minds might just come off as more “wallpaper” to be ignored.


With the strategic platform of questioning as our north star, we built our campaign’s concept, and execution, around the basic transformative power of asking WHY. 

  • Why are we one of the wealthiest cities in the country, yet more than 8,000 SF residents have no safe place to call home?

  • Why do we walk by our unhoused neighbors and ignore them? 

  • Why do we care more about the cleanliness of our streets than the people living on them?

  • Why do we accept the situation as it is, rather than questioning what it could be?

  • Instead of pointing fingers at people experiencing homelessness, or expecting someone else to step in, WHY aren’t WE doing something to help? 

By asking these types of questions, we aimed to start a bigger conversation, and help people not only rethink the way they perceive their homeless neighbors, but also get curious about the role they could play in helping to create real change.


Every night, an average of 8,000 people find themselves with no place to call home.

Integrated Campaign Execution


To bring our strategy and approach to life, we blanketed the city (once the shelter-in-place orders were lifted) with provocative questions that invited San Franciscans to reexamine their own beliefs: turning apathy into empathy, misperceptions into compassion, and inaction into involvement. 

 In other words, we asked questions that we hoped would get people to care—and act.

The first layer was overcoming apathy through awareness. We ran an OOH campaign, using buses and posters in store-fronts across the city, as well as a digital ad buy, to ask the WHYs and HOWs of homelessness to San Franciscans.

Geofenced Digital Ads

The second phase of the campaign will be the geofenced digital ads surrounding the area we have placed 50+ posters scattered around San Francisco. 

“When it comes to homelessness, people have such strong opinions, and they’ll shut down any information that challenges their beliefs. Using the questions approach helped us cut through that defensiveness and communicate our message from a place of shared curiosity.”

— Luisa Montes, All In, Communications Manager