Panhandling in San Francisco
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: sa-ga
List Price: $10.00
15 Jun 2002 00:30 PDT
Expires: 22 Jun 2002 00:30 PDT
Question ID: 27062
I would like a potted history, by a researcher familiar with the milieu, of panhandling in downtown San Francisco. How did it come to be so tolerated? Is there an active political movement in its support? Do some citizens and visitors find it as unpleasant as I do?
Re: Panhandling in San Francisco
Answered By: juggler-ga on 15 Jun 2002 03:58 PDT
Hi. Two web sites, of opposing viewpoints, provide a broad overview of the chronology of San Francisco's homeless problem. Coalition on Homelessness Timeline http://www.sf-homeless-coalition.org/civilrights.html "Willie Brown Shows How Not to Run a City" by Brian C. Anderson and Matt Robinson, City Journal, Autumn 1998: http://www.city-journal.org/html/8_4_a2.html In a nutshell, the homeless controversy in San Francisco dates back more than a decade. During the term of office of Mayor Art Agnos (1988-92), certain policies were adopted that resulted in increased numbers of homeless individuals living on the streets and in public parks. Until 1988, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) regularly "swept" places like Golden Gate Park and Civic Center, using "anti-camping" laws to clear out homeless individuals residing in those places. In 1988, however, the SFPD adopted a "Rights of Homeless" bulletin that marked a shift in strategy in dealing with the homeless. Large numbers of homeless individuals were allowed to temporarily reside in Civic Center Plaza, which would later be dubbed "Camp Agnos." This Google search displays web pages about Camp Agnos: ://www.google.com/search?client=googlet&q=%22camp%20agnos%22 In 1992, Frank Jordan, a former police chief, replaced Art Agnos as S.F. mayor. Jordan promised a new approach to the homeless problem. Launched in 1993, Jordan's matrix program had two elements: (1) police-issued tickets to the homeless for such things as "aggressive panhandling" and public drinking; and (2) programs designed to provide services to homeless individuals. It was the first prong of the Matrix program that generated the most controversy. Homeless rights advocates argued that "panhandling" was free speech protected by the 1st Amendment. For more information about the Matrix Program, visit links displayed by this Google search: ://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&client=googlet&q=%22frank+jordan%22+%22matrix+program%22&btnG=Google+Search Matrix was generally considered a failure and Frank Jordan was tossed out of office in favor of current mayor, Willie Brown. The Matrix Program was officially scrapped, and Matrix tickets were dismissed. However, homeless rights advocates believe that little has changed during Brown's tenure and that his policies are essentially similar to Jordan's. Brown's critics on the right generally agree that the homeless problem has not improved substantially. As to the second part of your question, yes, there is an active political movement that supports the rights of the homeless in San Francisco. Groups such as the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and Food Not Bombs point to inadequate social services and the high cost of living in S.F. as root causes of homelessness. Arguing that being homeless should not be considered a crime, these groups actively oppose police and business efforts to remove homeless people from the streets. San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness: http://www.sf-homeless-coalition.org/ Food Not Bombs: http://www.sffoodnotbombs.org/ As to the third part of your question, yes, many S.F. residents and tourists do express negative views about the homeless. See this Associated Press article, "San Francisco Full of the Homeless" by Michelle Locke from August 9, 2001: http://projects.is.asu.edu/pipermail/hpn/2001-August/004434.html Furthermore, a January 2002 poll indicated that the homeless problem and affordable housing were the two top concerns of S.F. voters. As such, politicians such as Supervisor Gavin Newsom are advocating new strategies aimed at reducing both panhandling and the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets. See this article, "Newsom's plan for homeless finds favor," by Ilene Lelchuk (January 20, 2002) in the S.F. Chronicle: http://projects.is.asu.edu/pipermail/hpn/2002-January/005414.html All sides would probably agree, though, that San Francisco's homelessness problem is unlikely to be solved in the near future. I hope this helps.
rated this answer:
Terrific! Thankyou juggler-ga and bethc-ga!
Re: Panhandling in San Francisco
From: bethc-ga on 15 Jun 2002 07:14 PDT
Hi sa-ga, I just thought I would add a personal observation to jugglers excellent research, I lived in San Francisco for three years, leaving about a year ago. The list of things that I miss about San Francisco is a long one. I can only think of one thing, however, that I was glad to leave behind the homeless. In San Francisco it is impossible to leave the house without being accosted by panhandlers on every corner. Some sections of The City are worse than others, of course (Union Square and SOMA being two areas that I frequented that are especially bad), but the problem is pervasive, and, to answer your question, most of the people that I know in San Francisco are very bothered by it. The panhandlers in San Francisco are very savvy. Some employ children, cats or dogs to differentiate themselves from their unencumbered brethren, and to tug at the heartstrings of those tourists and residents who might not otherwise be moved to donate. There was one particular man that I recall who sat in front of Macys. I had to pass by him once a week on my way to a class, and the sight of that poor cat tethered to the panhandler by a dirty length of string always bothered me greatly. I considered this to be a form of emotional blackmail, and I doubt that the cat ever got his fair share of the days take. So I stocked up my cupboard with cans of cat food, and each week I would set several cans in front of them on my way past. Now cat food cans, as currency, are a lot heavier to lug around than quarters, but it was my way of making sure that my donation went to the intended recipient. In San Francisco, every action taken to better The City was viewed by advocates as an attack on the homeless. When a law was passed prohibiting public drinking in certain city parks frequented by children, I recall one City Supervisor (Sue Bierman, I believe) making an incredible comment to the effect that those with homes can have a glass of wine in their living rooms; the parks are the living rooms of the homeless; ergo, the homeless should be allowed to drink in the park. Only in San Francisco would this pass for logic! I also recall that a long-vacant building in a very seedy section of Market Street was purchased with the intent of making it into usable office space to house the business of the purchaser. Now, in most places, this would be viewed as a positive action (vacant and derelict = bad for your city; occupied and productive = good for your city). Not necessarily so in San Francisco. Advocates viewed this as an attack against the homeless. Well, now I shall step down off of my soapbox, having, I hope, given you some personal insight. I did not, by the way, leave San Francisco for the above reasons. It was a corporate relocation thing. I now live on Cape Cod, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum, on many levels, from San Francisco. I love it here, but I will always miss "The City". Regards, bethc-ga
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