There's a woman near my office who I see every morning on the way in and every evening on the way out, standing on the sidewalk, selling Street Sheets and doing her best to look pitiful, I guess, which is kind of tough because she is always clean, wearing nice clothes, and generally looks to me like she could have just stepped out of a minivan.
[Ed. note - in case you're not familiar, Street Sheet is a newspaper thing that anyone can go pick up for free and then sell on the street. It's designed, I think, to minimize the weirdness on both sides that can happen when you hand someone money, because if you're buying a Street Sheet it's a business transaction instead of simply giving money to someone.]
Now, I'm not saying that you have to be dirty and scabbed over to be a legit panhandler, but it does make one go "Huh" when you see the same person every day in the same spot, but wearing different clothes every day and generally looking not all that different from the person behind you in line at Out the Door.
So I wonder, what's up here? How did this become her best option? She's not there in the middle of the day, only during commute times, so I wonder what she does all day. Some kind of addict, maybe? She never appears to be intoxicated. She doesn't look mentally ill, either, and appears to be having pleasant and normal conversation with the people who stop and give her money. Hey, maybe it's just the job she's picked.
There are around 6400 homeless in San Francisco (according to a 2007 count, the most recent I could find after 35 seconds of Googling) and we spend, as a city, 190 million fucking dollars on the homeless every year, or almost 30 grand per homeless person. Something is seriously fucked up here, because it sure doesn't seem like we're getting our money's worth. I bet it costs a lot less than $30 K to put someone up in an SRO for a year. I know that a lot of the homeless are mentally ill, and a lot are addicts of one kind or another, but it seems like we could be doing something to address those problems instead of just throwing money at them.
Look, if I knew how to fix the homeless problem, I'd be elected mayor or maybe even Emperor Norton II. And what the woman on my way to work is doing is perfectly legal. I just can't figure out why people keep giving her money.