SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco hopes a cold nose and a warm heart will help end the problem of panhandling.
In what could be the first program of its kind in the nation, the city beginning in August will offer panhandlers up to $75 a week to stop begging and foster puppies from the city animal shelter until the pups are ready for adoption.
The pilot program, called Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos, or WOOF, is intended to meet panhandlers' need for income while helping more animals avoid being euthanized.
"You can make it difficult for people to panhandle, but ultimately they're just going to go do it somewhere else," Bevan Dufty, the mayor's point person on homelessness, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Why not try to meet their needs for income in a way that helps the city and its animals?"
The city has previously tried to reduce panhandling with laws, including one banning sitting on sidewalks, outreach by service providers and an employment program.
Applicants for the WOOF program will be screened to weed out the homeless. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most panhandlers have housing, but beg to supplement their income or pass their time, the Chronicle reported.
Those suffering from severe mental illness or with a history of violence will also be barred. Anyone caught panhandling while in the program will lose the animal.
Dufty said he would eventually like to train the puppies' new guardians in dog walking, grooming or other skills that would allow them to hold regular jobs.
Rebecca Katz, director of the city's Animal Care and Control department, said the program will also benefit San Francisco's animal shelter, which has seen an uptick in dogs during the economic downturn.
Many of those dogs are considered unfit for adoption and are eventually euthanized. Katz said she is hopeful the program can help more of them find homes.
It will initially be funded with a $10,000 grant from philanthropist Vanessa Getty, but Dufty said he will seek additional donations.