The Street Kids of San Francisco - Schmootography

The Street Kids of San Francisco

San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood straddles Buena Vista Park and Golden Gate Park, and has strong roots in rebellion, music, art, and love. Its location and history have caused it to become one of the top stopping points for transient youth. These youngsters live as nomads, often traveling between cities, and are disliked by general society.

However, these kids are often kind, creative, troubled, and have a right to live as they choose. They're usually on the move but I wanted to know more about them, where they came from, and where they hope to be. 

Because they're faced every day with resistance, it's difficult to gain their trust. But often times all it takes is a smile, respect, and recognition that they're human, too. 

  • Aiden

    There's so much folklore amongst the groups, and Digger gave us a crash course on the old tales and a temperature check on the recent politics of the San Francisco parks. The short: Don't go to Buena Vista Park, watch what you sell (if you sell), and things were much more communal in the old days. Aiden, his beast, calmly panted and listened with us in the sun. A dog of high standards, he gets only the best-quality food and so didn't need our donations today.

  • Doodling

    “Toes” draws portraits for people on the street. She seems shy at first, though she's one of the few that isn’t terribly high today. She’s mistrustful, or maybe embarrassed when I asked if she sold her art on commission. “I don’t know what means,” she says quietly, keeping her eyes on the skull she was drawing on the skateboard in her lap. I still am not sure if “Toes” is the proper spelling of her name, but I didn’t want to press her further. I’m allowed to take photos of her artwork as long as I don’t include the faces of her friends hanging out on the little hill. “That’s OK,” I say.

  • Bunny

    Noelle comes from the east coast where she had a brief stint in art school, but came to CA and lives here still. Her rabbit, Bunny, is constantly nosing her and nibbling for attention and she doesn't ever put her bag down for anything... even when juggling cumbersome trash bags and pincers. She says that locals have harassed her for cleaning the streets, claiming that our tax dollars already pay city workers to do it, but I'm stunned by (and can learn from) her optimism and nonchalance towards the verbal abuse.

  • Mystic

    A subset of the transient population rides the rails between cities. These riders take great risks as riding freight trains is dangerous due to the mechanics and other travers. Theft, violence, and rape are common. Not all dogs like that life, either, which is why "Pigpen" is in the park today with Mystic.

  • Loki

    I commented about Loki's size, as he was by far the smallest companion dog I've ever seen amongst the kids in the park. His owner, a rider, laughed and said it made it easier to hop trains, as Loki fits easily in his bib pocket. He got his name when he left his shoes on the porch, and the tiny dog somehow managed to poop inside a boot that was bigger than himself. A marvel of canine trickster physics, the dog suddenly had the perfect name.

  • Howler

    Not everyone on the street is there by choice, and not everyone on the street is young. Sometimes life lets you go and kicks you out of your apartment, and you've got to keep your wits about you. I met this man who was rubbing alcohol on his blistered toes. "I'm not used to this life," he says, and explained how he found himself jobless and homeless in the course of a week. He had a little money left and bought a train ticket across the country to where his friend would help him get back to work.

  • Doses & Scumbelina

    These two tiny puppies were on their way down the hill, riding along with a friend. Doses is the runt of Shortcake's litter. Although the street dogs have often interesting names, they're cared for extremely well as shown by random acts of unexpected tenderness here.

  • Noses

    The dogs' personalities are as distinct as their humans. Some linger at the edges of the group, watching and barking and making no move to be friends. Others run up and greet you faster than you except.

  • Never Let Go

    "Lyric" comes from Moscow by way of LA and is working his daytime hours cleaning up the Haight for the Sweepers. He insisted that despite his name he wasn't artistic, but I noticed he never let go of that notebook... even when changing bags.

  • Emma

    Emma's piercing blue eyes stand out from her silky black coat, particularly when she's catching her breath in the grass. Her chief concern is the tennis ball she endlessly flicks at you to throw, so she holds a bit of a grudge when her owner, Tea Fairy, is busy writing a letter to her mom.

  • Eyes

    Most street folks have a dog or other animal companion. Although life is nomadic and can be hard, these pets stand ground and watch over their pack even when they're passed out or high, oblivious to the world.

  • I'm Here

    Donations of dog-specific flea medication go fast. Some people don't take any handouts (even food or water), and others are willing to risk using cat meds on their canine companions if it makes just one day a little easier.

  • Auto Glass

    Found art is the best art. Each component is collected or gifted by a fellow floater, lending an extremely personal interpretation to the mixed media constructions lying on the blanket under a tree. More than the intricate details in each piece, I'm amazed that any artist is willing to sell something that was a literal culmination of their life journey.

  • Peace and Luck

    Dirt. There's dirt everywhere and it becomes a way of life. Neither dog nor person cares, although baby wipes are the #1 request from kids looking for a bit of human generosity.

  • Under the Sky

    A love of life still persists in San Francisco. "Tea Fairy" believes in fighting for everyone's rights, not just for causes based on your religion, your species, or the color of your skin. She paints and sells her artwork in Berkeley, but never on Telegraph where the troublemakers get caught. She actively distances herself from them but because she lives under the trees, society assumes she and her dog Emma are part of the group.