Vital Signs

Vagrancy Law

San Francisco's municipal palace looks like the Wicked Witch of the West might live there, only there aren't any flying monkeys. But several years ago, the monkeys set up housekeeping right out front. Supplied with food, clothing, tents, and other amenities by "community activists," hundreds of wild-eyed tramps extorted money from passersby, drank cheap wine, urinated and vomited on the sidewalk, rutted in public, collected junk, and cooked their hobo cuisine over open fires. They did everything, in fact, but bathe. It was Mad Max Goes Homeless.

Left-wing Mayor Art Agnos was popular with all of San Francisco's special interests, from Forests Forever to Dykes on Bikes. But when he allowed vagrants and beggars—most of whom have criminal records, are crazy, and are alcoholics or dmg addicts—not merely to roam the streets but to set up a Bushville on some of the most expensive real estate in America, he was the ex-mayor at the next election. The new mayor is a former police chief and, in Bay Area terms, a member of the hard right. Frarik Jordan has promised to sweep the streets as well as City Hall Plaza, but he will have his work cut out for him; like every other local official in this country, he faces court rulings that empower the bums and disarm the cops.

Before the Supreme Court gutted vagrancy laws in 1972, the police were free—in the wonderful words of a Jacksonville,...

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