‘Hippie diaspora’ of the 1970s and ‘great flood’ of 1986 were turning points
No one seems to remember when the first homeless camp sprang up behind the Guerneville Safeway. “I think it was around the turn of the century,” recalls Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, asked when he first noticed homelessness emerging as a permanent fixture of the lower river’s landscape. He meant the 20th century, not the 19th.
“It’s a recent phenomenon,” agreed Guerneville historian John Schubert. In the old days, “We didn’t have homeless” the way it is now, said Schubert, whose books, “Guerneville Early Days” and “Tales of the Russian River,” chronicle the lower Russian River since the late 19th century.
Although they lived out of their vehicles (covered wagons), no one called America’s westward pioneers homeless. San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake left many Northern Californians without shelter, but not trapped in the seemingly dead-end squalor now taken for granted on Bay Area streets. In the 1930s the Great Depression hit hard but proved no match for California’s post-war prosperity.
Then something changed. Maybe it was Baby Boomers breaking free from “the rising tide of conformity.” Maybe it was the Great Society of the 1960s headed in a direction few had foreseen.
By the 1970s San Francisco flower children and Vietnam veterans alike were huddled in Market Street doorways selling acid and pot. Hippies living in vans and buses lined Golden Gate Park’s panhandle until the city outlawed their vehicles as…
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