San Francisco’s Alcohol Program for Homeless Leaves Taxpayers Paying for People to ‘Walk in and Grab a Beer’

By: James Dorman | Published: Jul 03, 2024

San Francisco is looking at a divisive new approach to help the city’s homeless population tackle issues around alcoholism. However, the scheme isn’t a conventional rehabilitation or reformation program of the kind people might expect. 

Instead, it looks to provide homeless people with controlled access to free alcohol. Naturally, this has been met with criticism from residents.

California Is an Expensive State to Live In

California isn’t a cheap state by any means, even for the highest earners. Taxation plays a large part in this.

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The Tax Foundation indicates that those earning $1 million or more now pay a staggering 14.4% tax rate. This is up from 13.3%, which was already the highest income tax rate in the U.S.


High Costs Are Driving a Homelessness Epidemic

California also has a pretty well-known homelessness issue. These high costs of living, particularly an unaffordable property market, likely contribute to this widespread homelessness.

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It’s estimated that there are over 170,000 people in California are homeless. This is the largest homeless population of any U.S. state and contributes to 30% of the nation’s total homeless population, despite California only making up 12% of the country’s population.

The State Is Also Seeing an Exodus of Wealthy Residents

California’s costs are affecting the most affluent citizens as well. There seems to have been a mass exodus of California’s wealthy over recent years, with data suggesting that 75,000 people left the state in 2023.

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These individuals are likely moving due to the taxation issue, with Nevada, Texas and Florida proving attractive alternative destinations due to the lack of state taxes

Those Who Stay Still Have Issues With the State

All of this has led to something of a perfect storm for taxpayer unrest. Those who haven’t left the state to make a home elsewhere are left paying exorbitant taxes, and they aren’t necessarily happy with how the state is spending these taxes.

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California has a number of controversial, taxpayer-funded initiatives to tackle different social issues. One that’s drawing a lot of criticism involves supporting San Francisco’s homeless alcoholics.

San Francisco’s Homelessness Spending

San Francisco is reportedly spending between $2-$5 million a year on a support program for the city’s homeless population. It aims to tackle alcoholism among the homeless.

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It isn’t a targeted rehabilitation program or something designed to help homeless people overcome their alcohol addiction. Instead, it provides them with alcohol.


The Managed Alcohol Program

The Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) is a program whereby nurses provide controlled doses of alcohol to people, mostly homeless people, who struggle with chronic alcoholism.

A bottle lying on a black surface with a simple black-and-white label reading “Vodka”

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The alcohol is free to these people. They receive their state-provided alcohol at specific times of the day, with the program being run out of a former hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.


Support for MAP

Public health officials feel the benefits of the program far outweigh the cost. By providing people with controlled access to alcohol at specific times, the aim is to keep homeless alcoholics off the street.

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It is also intended to relieve stress on the city’s emergency services. The hope is that keeping homeless alcoholics off the street and providing them alcohol access in a controlled environment will reduce calls to the police and keep participants in the scheme out of ERs.


Residents Weren’t So Enthusiastic

When the program went public though, residents were less enthusiastic. Many feel it’s a waste of taxpayer’s money.

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Many struggle with the fundamental logic of trying to tackle alcoholism among San Francisco’s homeless population by providing them with free alcohol. They feel there are other, better ways the money could be spent to help them.


People 'Just Walk In and Grab a Beer'

Adam Nathan, chair of the San Francisco Salvation Army Advisory Board, has been particularly vocal in his strong criticism of MAP. He describes it as a setup where homeless people in the program “just walk in and grab a beer.”

Close-up of someone filling a glass of beer from a beer tap.

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His blunt put-down of MAD as a program that is basically “giving out free beer to people who have alcohol use disorder” carries weight, given the work the Salvation Army does directly with the city’s homeless community.


A Lack of Transparency From Lawmakers

Nathan, like many residents, has concerns regarding transparency in how the program was approved. He questions when lawmakers approved the program and whether any public hearings were carried out before it was implemented.

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He even goes as far as to question the basic legality of MAD, asking why it’s “hidden in an old hotel.”


California Has Unsettled Residents

California is seeing a mass exodus of its most wealthy residents, with the main reason for the move being taxes. The state also has a skyrocketing homeless population, and the taxpayers who remain have to foot the bill for controversial social programs through exorbitant tax rates.

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The criticism for a program that essentially looks to curb alcohol abuse by giving free drinks to individuals with alcohol misuse problems is understandable. The fact that it’s being paid for with taxes that residents are already unhappy about paying only amplifies frustrations. Add this to frustrations around issues like California’s minimum wage increases, and it’s easy to see why the public is so ready to vocally condemn MAP.