Yesterday we mentioned the growing issue of gutter punks in the Castro, something which may or may not have anything to do with the Sit/Lie ordinance and its enforcement in the Upper Haight. Haight blog Uppercasing shoots back that the issue of (arguably) homeless youth in the Haight hasn't changed much, so they argue there's been no migration out of the neighborhood. Are the numbers of these kids just greater, citywide, all of a sudden? Is there a different population seeking spare change and a place to chill in the Castro, maybe those who are LBGT? We reached out to S.F. homeless czar Bevan Dufty for some answers.
One main question we've always had about the kids lining Haight Street, and more recently the Castro, in various states of intoxication and apparent poverty was a) whether the majority of these kids are actually, chronically homeless, or whether they're just "campers," so to speak, from Mendocino, wealthy enclaves in Marin, or elsewhere in the state, who are just taking an under-funded vacation from their lives; and b) whether they are actually seeking city and non-profit services, or whether they're just hanging out for a couple of weeks on their way to other cities, if and when they can cobble a few hundred dollars together.
Dufty says that, "Within the Haight there is a dual dynamic. Some of these kids come to the neighborhood and they're heading to other places Portland, Seattle, you name it and they're incidental to the overall problem." But he points to the fact that the Upper Haight office of Homeless Youth Alliance (HYA) is packed every day with kids aged 13 to 29 who are seeking help, be it in the form of emotional support, mental health services, or needle exchange. The organization recognizes that the Haight "has become an international destination for youth who come seeking refuge from abusive families, alienating foster care and group home situations, and juvenile justice system involvement." And this is why Dufty isn't at all comfortable with people like us flippantly using the term "gutter punks."
Furthermore, he says his office is trying to connect HYA with Community Housing Partnership (CHP), and some bonus-round funding they've applied for under the McKinney Act which could potentially bring in $19 million toward a youth-oriented housing facility in SoMa. Dufty is working out the details of a potential master lease on a 44-unit building in SoMA which he foresees as being able to provide semi-permanent and transitional housing to homeless kids, like the ones HYA serves, who don't fit well into the city's homeless programs and other transitional housing.
"I see this as a really mobile population," Dufty says, referring to the less addicted or disabled members of the younger homeless population who have the potential to find jobs, say, in the Twitter cafeteria and ultimately improve their situations.
"The public only sees what's wrong," Dufty says. "They see transient kids lingering on the street and wonder why nothing's being done about it. But I see much more than that. I see all the hard work I and my staff and these other organizations are doing, and I see that there's a barrier to getting some of these kids the assistance they need, and I think there's hope."
Granted, he admits that one 44-unit building isn't going to solve the whole problem, but it will set an example for the rest of this population if they see 50 or more of their friends housed and working with a program to get their lives on track.
All this still doesn't answer our other burning question of whether there's been an uptick in the numbers of homeless youth on S.F. streets. Dufty says he doesn't feel comfortable speculating about that until the new homeless census numbers come out later this month.
We would argue that there has to be some trickle-down effect happening when even the most well off, educated, and together college graduates are struggling to find jobs. Last year it was estimated that 53% of recent college graduates were un- or under-employed, and that's really from no fault of their own. Many of them, of course, are living at home or otherwise living off their parents' dimes, but that's not possible for everyone, and at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, where college wasn't even possible and where other issues enter the picture, the result, we'd speculate, is being seen in microcosm on the streets of San Francisco. Weather-wise this is an attractive place to pause. And temperament-wise, this is a city that's always tolerated a certain amount transience not mention celebrated, at times, a lack of ambition and the right to just be.
As psychiatrist Mike Toohey, who volunteered for HYA for many years, always asked, by way of an icebreaker with new sessions with HYA youth, "How many of you came here for the free love?"