SF’s Novel Solution to Panhandling


San Francisco has long been known as failing to deal with the issue of unsightly beggars on its streets.  Despite many attempts, ranging from employment programs to tough laws and everything in between, the city has not solved the issue…until possibly now.

San Francisco’s latest unique attempt might actually work – puppy pairing. In an unprecedented move through a program entitled Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos – aka WOOF – to be launched on August 1st, the city will try and lure its street inhabitants to bid farewell to their cardboard  lives, in exchange for fostering problematic puppies from the city’s Animal Care and Control.  In doing so, they will be eligible for a token stipend.

Of course, the fosterers will be expected to take their job seriously.  They will have to care for the puppies and train them to be ready enough for adoption.  According to the Mayor’s spokesperson on homelessness, Bevan Duffy, with this new idea, the attitude to the problem is shifting.  Rather than stopping the panhandling – which clearly keeps on failing – the focus is on meeting their needs for income while simultaneously helping the city and its animals.

This scheme has already had some successful cases.  For example, a year-and-a-half ago, Matt Traywick was living in the Empress Hotel – a housing complex – where he struggled with depression and isolation because he had left the streets and no longer had the same kind of support network he had been accustomed to from street-life.  No-one was around and he became incredibly lonely.  Then someone took him along to the Animal Care and Control shelter, where he fell in love with four-year old, undernourished, unkempt and neglected Charlie, and now the two are inseparable! They go out for walks at least eight or nine times a day and this has tremendously helped with Traywick’s mental health issues.  Plus, Charlie himself is looking and feeling great!  They have both found companionship, care and mutual assistance.

How the Scheme will Work

So how exactly is this scheme going to work?  First, potential participants will have to be screened before they are deemed appropriate for WOOF.  They have to be living in supportive housing (not on the streets) and the city of San Francisco needs to have evidence that most of them do have proper housing and only supplement their income by begging or just do so as they have nothing better to do with their time – not because it is their primary source of income.  In addition, applicants have to be able to prove their mental well-being; that they are not violent; are not hoarders; and are undergoing treatment for any kind of addictive behavior.  They have to pledge to forswear panhandling, and, should they be caught begging with the puppy, it will immediately be returned to the shelter.

America’s Recessional Impact

Around $1,000 will be initially invested into this project.  Should these individuals pass all the tests, they will be given between $50 and $75 a week, along with various training sessions led by an Animal Care and Control behavior specialist, in addition to regular check-ins.  They will also receive all the food, toys, leashes and healthcare for the puppy that they need, free of charge.  It is hoped that this program will help San Francisco’s shelter deal with its massive influx of animals, that has resulted from the economic downturn.  For example, today, the shelter is the recipient of 500 additional dogs annual than prior to the recession as owners cannot afford their upkeep anymore, once they have lost their jobs.  This situation has already been going on for a while.  Indeed, around 10 months ago, it was reported that the Animal Care & Control Service were at full capacity and could not take in any more animals.  According to the service’s deputy directory, Kathleen Brown, the number of dogs trying to get a place in the center have increased an additional 25 per month, as compared to figures in 2010.  She also noted the cost of caring for these animals, money people just don’t have.  One solution for the stray dogs issue was to slash the price of adoption in half. Clearly this wasn’t adequate; hence the homeless pairing idea.

The problem is worsened when approximately 15 percent of these dogs are deemed “unadoptable” as they are not socialized. The ultimate solution for these dogs is to be put down.  It is ultimately hoped therefore that this situation will change; the dogs will become adoptable and the previously-homeless individuals living in supportive housing programs will become great partners for this project.

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