By analyzing media coverage between 1950-2017 on select youth-serving organizations it is apparent that San Francisco’s attitude has shifted substantially. However, while the world has quickly changed over the past half-century, the unique approaches to addressing some of these challenges have remained largely the same.

Are these approaches working?

Beginning briefly before the ‘60s when child and family services had a different focal point in California, one can learn about the statewide initiative to “plan for children’s mental needs” at a two-day mid-century conference on children and youth that consisted of 2,500 authorities on child welfare. The result of the conference was the ethos that “youth’s needs for security in a world starts in the home, and then can be fostered by community, State and Federal agencies all dedicated to this single task.” The task force highlighted the children of migrant families as the primary target for support programs, with goals of offering education to each youth and employment opportunities for parents that would prevent the families from relying on their children’s income as a means to survive. Do those same principles not apply to all youth? — A safe and secure environment and enough financial freedom to access education.

Moving on to the past half century, one sees a shift in the way social services are defined and received in San Francisco. The language around social services in the ‘60s as covered in the ‘80s designated support programs as “anti-poverty” efforts, recognizing a need to help street gangs and purportedly helping them navigate “dealings with school officials and police.” These “jacket clubs” were supported by Youth for Service, which helped the kids “feel involved in the community.” Check out coverage on citylab.com to view a brief documentary.

Youth for Service


Youth for Service (YFS) made up much of the anti-poverty efforts in San Francisco in the early 60s by establishing community work projects, including home repairs for older persons, various community maintenance projects and more. Overall, the program did not yield a net positive long-standing impact for the participants, though specific aspects did benefit those who took up leadership roles.

Some of the aspects of the program that are reflected in modern organizations include the bluntly titled “Weekends Away from Poverty,” which enabled “inner city teenagers” to leave the city for a weekend.

After operating for some time, YFS received a cash grant of $250,000 to place out of school youth in jobs that provided meaningful work experiences, which was deemed the Neighborhood Youth Corps.

Journalists followed up with participants 10-20 years after they exited the program to see what impact the program had and found that most of the participants from the work projects and job programs were still stuck in low-wage, limited-skill jobs, but that those who took leadership positions within the program had benefited to a greater degree.
The Neighborhood Youth Corps attempted to enhance the offerings of the program by placing youth in apprenticeship jobs, including plumbing, carpentry, electrical trades, but unions blocked the program claiming that it was “full of minorities, who only threatened their jobs.” The director of the program was, however, able to secure a position where the youth could gather seaweed at the beach for $1.35 per hour, a wage which the youth would later protest and view as “‘bribe money’ to keep them off the streets,” which resulted in many of the youth quitting the program. The kids largely wound up in short-term, non-union, low-paying jobs, though some fared well with placements as bus drivers, longshoremen, or construction workers, and some fared worse winding up in prison, or, in some cases, dead.

While the general program did not have much positive long-term impact, the private corporation Standard Oil sponsored a sub-program dubbed as “Operation Sparkplug,” which trained youth and worked towards placing them in permanent jobs. Trans World Airlines and Bechtel did the same. However, all three corporate partnership programs ended after 1-2 years of operation.

In the 80s the YFS program still existed, but changed focus to GED support and job placements. The job opportunities were for the most part unskilled opportunities with little room for advancement where businesses only ostensibly participating in the program for a short period of time, withdrawing after they “paid their social debt’. Coverage highlights an archetype of the unemployed at the time, that “the unemployed represent no constituency, make no demands, and rarely even vote.”

One man, Michael Bernick, went on to found an organization that still exists today: Renaissance “an inner-city job-training and business development corporation” that provided job training and created for-profit companies that employ those who were newly trained. Today, Renaissance is still in operation and can boast that it has helped open more businesses than any other nonprofit int he Bay Area. Their approach in the 80s was to offer business and advanced business classes, and they “graduated” in the early 90s to open up a small business incubator, and from there added in a financial resource center, and expanded their services, catered to niche sectors, then added in a program for those who are formerly incarcerated and later for low-income women. The program over the years instilled “the philosophy of free enterprise into their very souls” by “[not treating the trainees as robots]”.

Why this approach?

”Job training has limited effect on reducing unemployment because it doesn’t create significant jobs,” said Bernick. “The data suggests that more than two-thirds of new jobs are generated by businesses with under 20 employees.”

Mid ‘60s and onward

As San Francisco’s flowers began to bloom in the late ‘60s, circumstances for youth in need shifted dramatically and began to include transient youth seeking refuge, drug addiction and mental health challenges and more. Many organizations were founded at this time, though this article looks at Huckleberry House specifically. Editor’s note: Join our mailing list if you’d like to learn about other organizations that have been serving the community for decades—we’ll be covering them as well.


Huckleberry House

Huckleberry House was established on June 18, 1967 with at least 300 teenagers climbing the stairs for support by October of the same year. It was the first shelter for runaway and homeless teens in the United States and was started with Glide as the fiscal agent handling money from the San Francisco Foundation with several hundred youth using the services. The main purpose of the house then was for youth to be reunited with their parents with additional legal, medical and psychiatric services available.

In 1967, the news reported Huckleberry House as a “way station for runaway children” and later as “the home for hippie runaways on Broderick street.” At this point in time the Diggers were offering “feed-ins” at Golden Gate Park and people were flooding to San Francisco.

A documentary released in late 1967 called “The Runaways’ was aired on KGO in December, a color special hosted by Jim Dunbar that “depicted the problem as it exists today in San Francisco” — focusing on youth who have “been lured from their homes on the premise of a new, free life in the city, primarily in the Haight Ashbury” and claims the Huckleberry House was a part of the “anything for expression society”.

The services were not provided without obstacle throughout the year. A raid in October of 1967 resulted in the arrest of the directors after a mother complained to police that her son had slept there for three days without her permission. Some community members were outraged by the police raid and called it a war against children. Later the charges were dismissed with then-Mayor Joseph Alioto praising Huckleberry House for its work and declaring July 17-23 as “Huckleberry’s or Runaways Week”.

Later only in 1974 was being a runaway youth decriminalized by the US Congress in the form of the National Runaway Act.

Over the years Huckleberry House did not receive much love for decades to come. In the early 70s, it was still described as “the grimy abandoned waif” (by Ralph J. Gleason), though in 1972 Huckleberry House was able to provide day-shelter support for clients who were accessing methadone clinics provided in the city under a $12.8 million federal grant awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Following this grant the city was able to support about 1,000 people facing methadone addiction. Despite this the house was still touted as a teenage slum by some, written by one writer as being created out of unusual good luck: “the right take and the right place: San Francisco, as the flowers were wilting in the late sixties.”

At the time the organization followed “the contemporary notion that criss can be a creative condition: it must be lived through, not stifled.” This concept carried on.

After a stint in the Sunset, in 1976 Huckleberry House moved back to the Haight (to 1430 Masonic Ave.), but was shut down after a month due to neighborhood opposition, who felt as though “the neighborhood was saturated with these kinds of services,” with Steve Lieberman, director, arguing that other services in the area were focused on ex-convicts and seniors whereas Huckleberry House served “juveniles.” As the City provided funding for the nonprofit, the board had jurisdiction over its fate and with that power unanimously denied an appeal for the space. Huckleberry House then had to navigate how to make their program work within the confines of what was admissible.

They persevered and by the 80s the media covered Huckleberry House as a “crisis center for teenagers” and wrote about benefit shows rather than controversy.

Today, Huckleberry House is summarized as a service that began “that historic summer as an emergency response to the flood of kids pouring into the Haight. It was a joint effort by organizations including Glide Memorial Church and the activist group the Diggers, which were growing alarmed as the flowers-and-rainbow vibe of the neighborhood turned into something more desperate” by the Chronicle’s Kevin Fagan.

Larkin Street Youth Services

On February 2, 1984, Larkin Street Youth Center opened on Larkin Street as a referral center for a 20-bed shelter and also provided job counseling and referrals. At the time in the 80s there were nearly 1,000 homeless youth in San Francsico. The myth that providing services in San Francisco would result in homeless youth from across the country flooding into the City was a component of then Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s messaging, who initially resisted establishment of the new center.

A study conducted in the ‘80s found that most of the city’s 1,000 homeless youth had fled homes where they faced sexual or physical abuse and that prostitution, drug abuse, and mental health problems were common issues that they faced as homeless youth. The motivation for support at the time was that “the young people do not disappear. They will not go away,” as said by Russell Zellers, then-head of the Criminal Jusitce Council subcommittee that drafted a report. The report recommended establishing a long-term program that offered mental health and drug-abuse treatment in addition to more temporary drop-in counseling and shelter services with the expectation that youth would be reunited with their families where safe and possible. Such services were also suggested to be managed by the Children’s Emergency Services division of the department of Social Services rather than juvenile or probation agencies.

Later in 1984 the center risked losing its funding (a one-year $180,000 federal grant was running out) after helping about 800 youth inside of the first year with a range of services, including counseling, day shelter space, medical care, food vouchers, and help navigating the “social service maze.” Their screening process primarily resulted in service for youth who were homeless for 60 days or less and “showed a strong motivation for change”.

At the time in 1984 the City only had 24 beds for runaways under 15 and another 10 beds for those 15-18. Today, Larkin Street Youth Services still has a referral program on Haight Street, though usage of the program has oscillated in volume due to private programs that have been established in more recent years.

Please sign up for our mailing list for part II!