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"Gutter punks" in San Francisco

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

Is it really all that different than the 1960s?

From my inbox comes a link to this LA TImes story.

From his second-floor apartment at the counterculture crossing of Haight and Ashbury streets, Arthur Evans watches a new generation of wayward youth invade his free-spirited neighborhood.

The former flower child was among the legions of idealistic wanderers who migrated here during the Vietnam War to "tune in, turn on and drop out."

But Evans, who has lived at the same address for 34 years, says he has never seen anything like this crowd, who use his flower bed as a bathroom and sell pot outside his window.

They're known as gutter punks, these homeless kids with dirty dreadlocks and nose rings, lime-green mohawks and orange spray-painted faces, who panhandle with cardboard signs that riff on their lifestyles. "Please Help Us Get Un-Sober," one reads. Another: "Please Give Us Weed, Beer or Money."

Sometimes aggressive, they block sidewalks as they strum guitars or bang on bongos. Gangs of them skateboard down the middle of Haight Street. Some throw used hypodermic needles into a nearby pond they call Hep-C Lake.

Evans, 64, says they should get help, clean up or go home.

"I used to be a hippie. I wore beads and grew my hair long," he said. "But my generation had something these kids do not: a standard of civilized behavior."

Panhandler Jonah Lawrence, 25, insists it is residents who need civilizing. "They say, 'Get a job!' " he said. "And I say, 'You got clothes for me? Or a place I can take a shower so I can look for work?' It's so bogus to tell me to get a job if I have nothing."

To me, the difference is one of degree, not of kind.

Granted, I'm from GenX, the generation that followed the Boomers. I was a toddler during the "Summer of Love." And I don't think I visited San Francisco before 1980 or 1981. But I am familiar enough with the history of the area to know that the "romance" of the 1960s started with cheap housing and proceeded from there.

The fabric of the neighborhood was forever altered in 1967 during the Summer of Love, much to the dismay of many residents. Psychedelic rock music was entering the mainstream, and received more and more commercial radio airplay. The song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" became a hit single. The Monterey Pop Festival in June further cemented the status of psychedelic music as a part of mainstream culture and elevated local Haight bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane to national stardom. A July 7th Time Magazine cover story on "The Hippies: Philosophy of a Subculture", an August CBS News television report on "The Hippie Temptation"[1] and other major media interest in the hippie subculture exposed the Haight-Ashbury district to enormous national attention and popularized the movement across the country and around the world. Thousands of disaffected youth migrated to the Haight-Ashbury district, including many runaway teenagers, irrevocably altering the social structure of the neighborhood. The Diggers, a local "community anarchist" group famous for its street theatre and for providing free food to residents every day, held a "Death of the Hippie" parade as the new residents poured in.

In response to this new population migrating to the Haight-Ashbury, and the growing medical crisis caused by increased drug use and lack of health insurance, Dr.
David E Smith opened the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic on June 7, 1967. His goal was to provide free medical care without predjudice under the motto that "Health care is a right, not a privilege". The Clinic still operates in the Haight-Ashbury District today.

San Francisco has some of the most liberal policies regarding homeless and panhandling. If anything, those policies just attract more who are either unwilling or unable to care for themselves.

I know it sounds terribly heartless, but the problems today are a natural extension of what happened in the 1960s and 1970s.

Is it really compassionate to excuse someone from the consequences of their own actions?

Posted: Sun - June 3, 2007 at 12:45 PM

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