San Francisco to Gradually Enforce Panhandling Law

A new panhandling law in San Francisco, Calif., took effect May 25, but city officials said enforcement would be gradual, the San Francisco Chronicle reported May 25.

“The most appropriate way to approach this is doing a public health-based outreach,” said District Attorney Kamala Harris. “We’re not going to solve this problem through the criminal-justice system. I’m anticipating we’re going to get people into treatment programs.”

San Francisco voters approved the anti-panhandling law last November. Under the law, it’s illegal to panhandle within 20 feet of ATMs and on traffic dividers and highway ramps.

The law also emphasizes referring homeless people to drug-diversion or mental-health programs. About 70 percent of the 15,000 homeless people in the city are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, while 30 percent are mentally ill.

“We’ve learned that just throwing the homeless into jail doesn’t really change their behavior, so that’s not what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Public Health. “It’s a last resort. What will happen is that we will be engaging them, helping them understand that they have other choices.”

For the time being, police officers plan to give panhandlers a verbal warning. If they become belligerent, a citation would be issued. But for the most part, social workers will be approaching panhandlers to encourage them into emergency shelters, addiction treatment, or counseling.