Knots of homeless people have indeed been a fixture of Haight Street for decades. And some neighbors, particularly ones in the $3 million houses to the south, have complained the whole time. Nowadays you will see clots of kids outside the Huckleberry Youth Services on Cole near Haight, or the Haight-Ashbury Youth Outreach a block down Haight Street. They have tattoos and piercings, and wear on their faces the trauma of heroin habits, alcohol addiction, and, often, infection with hepatitis C.

San Francisco doesn't have enough skilled caseworkers, shelter beds, transitional housing slots, detox services, or methadone clinic spaces to get them started on the long route off the sidewalk. Instead, the current "short-term" solution involves days and days of police officer comp time and books and books of nuisance tickets.

On Jan. 12, David, a guitar-carrying twentysomething in a Baja hoodie, was hanging around near the corner of Haight and Cole with four other youngsters, two of whom were panhandling. He'd recently been stopped by a cop on Haight Street — for jaywalking. "I can see getting a ticket for smoking a joint in public. But walking across the street to get some water?" he said.

The thing about such tickets is that if they pile up, they can lead to a warrant. If an arrest results in a night in jail, homeless people can lose all their possessions, medication, identification, and paperwork for social services. And when they're released back on the street, they might be more stuck than they'd already been.

If Chief Gascón is successful, his temporary solution of nuisance citations will run its course, and cops will go back to their regular jobs fighting actual crimes elsewhere. A permanent sit-lie ban will get passed, doing absolutely nothing to get gutter punks, dope fiends, sexually abused runaways, leftover Summer of Love drunks, mentally ill people without health care, the desperate unemployed, or any other homeless people off the street. But when they lie on the sidewalk, they'll be required to leave space for pedestrians. And those with dogs will be more likely than other San Franciscans to have tags jangling from their pets' necks.

Having pretended to solve this one, San Francisco will be able to move on to doggedly solving its next problem.

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