Pitchforks aplenty were brought out in comment-section condemnation two weeks ago when we covered the story of a homeless mom panhandling with an infant on Market Street. But deep in the reeds of that story was the fact that the “homeless mom” was not technically homeless. 34-year-old Megan Doudney and her infant daughter did have a private room at the Tenderloin’s Hamilton Family Shelter. Certainly there is a fair semantic debate over whether someone staying at a shelter is, in fact, “homeless” — that particular shelter offers private rooms and three square meals a day for up to six months, not as a permanent arrangement.

But that debate is totally irrelevant to the demonstrable fact that many “homeless moms” are not actually homeless. Some are not even the mothers of the children they tote. Chronicle writer Heather Knight, who wrote the original piece that brought national attention to Doudney and her baby, follows up by speaking with several City Hall and law enforcement officers on their experience with the women who panhandle with children in tow.

Former SFPD Central Station captain David Lazar told the Chronicle he often encountered panhandling moms with ‘Need Help’ signs. “I would say, ‘Well, are you staying in a shelter?’ Nine times out of 10, they would say, ‘Oh no. I have a home. I live in Union City or Fremont, and I’m just here for the afternoon,'" Lazar said.

He added that many of the children were not even the panhandler’s children, but essentially ‘borrowed kids’. “They have the children with them in an effort to get people to donate money or other items to them thinking they’re homeless with a child, and they’re not,” he added.

We should note that San Francisco Child Welfare Services will not remove children from panhandling parents. They remove children only in the case of abuse, malnourishment, or health issues — panhandling with a kid does not qualify. And we should also note that there are indeed homeless youth in San Francisco, with the most recent homeless point-in-time count finding that there are 1,363 children and transitional-age youth on the streets of the city.

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