San Francisco

Tale of the Gutter: Who Are These Punks?

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Around this town, especially in the Haight, where I live, “gutter punk” has become synonymous for something along the lines of distasteful street varmint. Mentioning those two words together usually incites a reaction from people… a groan or some version of “fucking terrible.”

When I first moved here, back in ’04, my attention was always drawn to these street kids and I usually gave them money. But now, I (like many of my fellow city-dwellers) barely even notice when I step over a gutter punk, or a flock of gutter punks, so accustomed I’ve become to seeing their grimy bodies sprawled in front of doorways, trying to sell me weed, using their puppies to lure cash or food from tourists, holding tragic cardboard signs that have phrases like “Why lie? Need money for beer” to “Please spare change for bus fare” scrawled in black marker.

Who are these creatures? Are they all 19-year-olds from upstate New York or Sacramento or Florida, fleeing affluent homes in a disgraceful attempt to keep ablaze that path set forth by the original transient hippies of the ‘60s? Are they SF State dropouts? Artists astray? Are some of them as mean as they seem? Are they willing to tell me why they’re here, hanging out in the laundry mat and clogging up the entrance to the Golden Gate Park?

Whoever they are, they’ve wormed their way into the fabric of this town for decades now. Even Gavin Newsom’s sit/lie law that passed last year hasn’t done much to rid the streets and sidewalks of the people and their puppies. Gutter punks are here to stay.

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With this column, I don’t mean to celebrate gutter punks, or ridicule them. I simply want to find out what the hell they’re doing here. I want to know where they sleep when it rains and how successful they are at panhandling.

I want to find out how these ultimate broke-asses survive.


Check back for weekly profiles of these urban campers, in succinct Q&As. Let’s find out who the gutter punks are.

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Angela Zimmerman - Sit/Lie Surveyor

Angela Zimmerman - Sit/Lie Surveyor

I’m an East Coaster at heart but fell in love with San Francisco the first moment I laid eyes on this pretty city and can’t seem to stay away. Except for the fact that we never get hot nights or thunderstorms, San Francisco's been mighty kind to me. I got to work for Bill Graham's rock 'n' roll archive and serve as Editor-in-Chief of Crawdaddy! Magazine, which gave me the opportunity to bring a historic print mag to the digital realm and interview some of my music idols. Today I work as an editor for a non-profit media organization, which fills my days and pays the bills, and I write about music and film on the side when I'm not pacing around my apartment trying to convince myself to do something creative, constructive, or active with my time. I'm a lover of Thai food, weeping willow trees, music festivals, Soul Train, and the Golden Gate Park.


  1. Roy
    June 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    As of yesterday’s stroll through Buena Vista park, I can tell you where they f*ck.

  2. stephanie
    July 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    what are they doing there? i don’t know, maybe being fucking human and unsheltered. what makes you so goddamn ignorant that you think all of these homeless must be playing some game just because of how they are dressed? that it’s fun for them and they wouldn’t have it any other way? do you think it’s easy to be homeless? i’ve been homeless off and on multiple times since my parents don’t give a shit about me, and “gutter punks” as you call them were my only friends. i’ve fot a severe anxiety disorder and it’s hard for me to work/live/survive on my own. every time i get on my feet something seems to happen for it to fall through. i can tell you i never had any fucking fun being homeless, and if i travelled it’s because it’s simply easier to be homeless in one part of the country than another. the world is not friendly, understanding, very smart as a whole, and the entire system of this country is fucked, if you haven’t noticed. so very fucking sorry if you have to step over someone who is HOMELESS in your nice shoes as you go about your day knowing you have a safe HOME to go to. most stupid column i’ve ever read.