San Francisco’s Street Kids

Over at Priceonomics, Alex Mayyasi looks at the culture of homeless “street kids” in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, where he says homeless youth tend to fall into two categories: the transient and homeless who found a home in the street kid community, and those with job prospects who made the decision to become a street kid because they preferred the street kid life. Most people in the community earn money by finding part-time gigs in construction, busking, selling weed, and panhandling:

Whenever Haight Street tourists or bar hoppers crowd the neighborhood, street kids panhandle (hold a palm out for money – resembling a pan handle) and spange (“Spare change?”). An average day of spanging brings in about $40. But with some luck and creative tactics (jumping out of trash cans to scare a group of teenagers, or telling tourists how to take the perfect picture of the Haight and Ashbury street signs), a day’s haul can break into triple digits.

This struck us as a good deal of money for the homeless. The street kids disagreed. “I have a spot downtown where I can make $50 an hour,” one girl told us. “But I try and respect the spot and not go too often.” Others added that spanging elsewhere easily brings in triple digits every day. Yet they still panhandle in the Haight even though it’s not their most profitable location.

Of course, it’s also a dangerous existence—the street kids are often robbed and attacked at night, don’t have adequate access to health care, and don’t get along with law enforcement.


14 Comments / Post A Comment

lizard (#2,615)

i call bullshit on making triple digits. maybe if they stole or harassed enough. I would never give money to those brats

deepomega (#22)

@lizard cool post

hellonheels (#1,407)

@lizard I’m sure people will jump all over you for this but I agree. Most of them have chosen that lifestyle and they are a real blight on the neighborhood. Any money they make must come from tourists who don’t know better, because I don’t know anyone who would give them change.

lizard (#2,615)

@deepomega they chose to live like that and brag about how much money they are getting from people. they literally chose to sit around and get money from strangers. they choose to beg instead of getting a job or going to school or contributing to society and i choose to judge them

gidge (#601)

I think that article is looking at the situation through some pretty rose-colored glasses. Also: ““We get enough food from leftovers and shelters. You only need money to buy beer, weed, and dank food.” I’ve had personal experience with people who actually really need the food, shelter, and resources charities and the government provide. I wouldn’t judge someone on their appearance or for buying a $10 salad when they can’t really afford it – but if he is straight up admitting they use the system to get their basic needs taken care of so they can buy drugs + booze then I have a pretty big problem with that.

deepomega (#22)

@gidge How would you keep people from doing that? You can’t means test panhandling.

gidge (#601)

@deepomega I’m not saying we should be police-ing panhandlers to make sure they “deserve” money. I am just saying I find the statement from the guy’s own mouth kind of offensive. Opinions – I gots ’em.

@deepomega You’re only allowed to beg for money in San Francisco if you say words like “cloud” and “user generated” and the sum you’re asking for it at least 7 digits.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

I always thought it was called panhandling because the neighborhood is adjacent to the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. I’m dumb.

I mostly just try to ignore these kids. Actually, I try to ignore ALL teenagers, panhandler or not.

iequalme (#3,293)

This article makes me kinda sad, because there are definitely lots of kids out there who are very much homeless, who had to struggle a lot, who got kicked out of their house for being gay, because of abuse, or whatever, and these ponces just sit around and “smoke weed” and “eat dank food” and they must know they always have a back up.

WhyHelloThere (#1,398)

@iequalme The thing is, it’s not really clear to me that these kids aren’t those kids. I mean, there’s the one guy who dropped out of his PhD program. But the girl who ran away from foster care? This article romanticizes street kids, and it takes them at their word that they choose and like that life, but it doesn’t really delve too much into what their other options are. And my hunch is that they’re not typically the happy hippie summer campers that the article wants them to be.

@iequalme I used to know some kids like this when I was in college. Most of them were bright and together enough that they could have probably made a go at holding a steady job and going to school, but quite a few of them did in fact lack those backup systems and HAD been kicked out or otherwise had their bridges fully burned (though there were a few who did come from middle class families that would bail them out in a scrape). So it’s not necessarily an either-or situation.

I think sometimes people have trouble understanding that it’s possible to be a “hipster” or a dippy stoner or know about art and also NOT have “your parents’ basement” as a fallback option. Some of the brightest, most articulate, funny, warm people I’ve known also had really serious problems, and you wouldn’t necessarily know from talking to them outside the indie rock show that they were in a dark spiral (and were actually sleeping rough or hooked on heroin or whatever).

sox (#246)

There is a similar “street kid” population in Asheville, NC (or at least there was in 2004ish). And I was making $9.50 an hour with no benefits to run a black and white darkroom for a camera store. These kids would sit outside my place of work all day, harassing people for money – including me – when I left work. On one hand, these were kids, like young teenagers you felt sort of sorry for, but on the other hand they were mean and thought a lot of themselves and also often would have very nice looking dogs on leather leashes and it was hard to believe they didn’t have a place to sleep at night. I was scraping by with my crappy pay and student loans and credit card debt and I have to say, it was really insulting when they wanted my hard earned money after I watched them chill on a bench all day.

Also, one time one of them asked me how I liked being a conformist and I did not try to rip their face off like I wanted to, but instead reminded them that they were conforming to something just as hard as I was, theirs just had pink hair, facial piercings and a bad attitude.

Wow. apparently I have a lot of thoughts about these street kid people still.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I have no thoughts regarding the morality of street kids and panhandling, but do think it is interesting that if they really average $50 a day, they make almost exactly as much money as I do as a full-time high school teacher (although mine is after taxes – I’m guessing they are not paying taxes).

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