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.



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