Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Panhandling in San Francisco ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Panhandling in San Francisco
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: sa-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 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?
Subject: Re: Panhandling in San Francisco
Answered By: juggler-ga on 15 Jun 2002 03:58 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Two web sites, of opposing viewpoints, provide a broad overview of the
chronology of San Francisco's homeless problem.

Coalition on Homelessness Timeline

"Willie Brown Shows How Not to Run a City" by Brian C. Anderson and
Matt Robinson, City Journal, Autumn 1998:

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

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:

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:

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

San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness:

Food Not Bombs:

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:

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:

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.
sa-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Terrific! Thankyou juggler-ga and bethc-ga!

Subject: 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 juggler’s
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 Macy’s. 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
day’s 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".



Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy