Thomas Valerio, one of San Francisco's estimated 6,248 homeless people, walks along Ellis Street with his shopping cart. Source: Chronicle photo by John Storey.
During the early 1980s, homeless people began appearing in large numbers in the city, the result of multiple factors including the closing of state institutions for the mentally ill, the Reagan administration drastically cutting Section 8 housing benefits, and social changes which increased the availability of addictive drugs. Combined with San Francisco's attractive environment and generous welfare policies the problem soon became endemic. Mayor Art Agnos (1988-92) was the first to attack the problem, and not the last; it is a top issue for San Franciscans even today. Agnos allowed the homeless to camp in the Civic Center park, which led to its title of "Camp Agnos." The failure of this policy led to his losing the election to Frank Jordan in 1991. Jordan launched the "MATRIX" program the next year, which aimed to displace the homeless through aggressive police action. And it did displace them - to the rest of the city. His successor, Willie Lewis Brown, Jr., was able to largely ignore the problem, riding on the strong economy into a second term. Present mayor Gavin Newsom's policy on the homeless is the controversial "Care Not Cash" program, which calls for ending the city's generous welfare policies towards the homeless and instead placing them in affordable housing and requiring them to attend city funded drug rehabilitation and job training programs.