SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – San Francisco police have confiscated the boards and tables a handful of people, both young and old, were using to play chess in San Francisco’s Mid-Market area.

The chess games, which have been taking place near Fifth and Market streets for years, have been a staple of the gritty neighborhood.

But with the area going through a major makeover, police confiscated the playing equipment earlier this month, meaning many of the players, mostly local homeless people, are now left without a place to play. Police said it wasn’t the regulars that were the problem, but the hangers-on, who were engaging in illegal drug use and gambling.

Authorities said complaints from local businesses have gone up in recent months, but homeless advocates said chess is one of the few positive things that the homeless and elderly have that gets them out in the community.

Douglas is one of many who has played street chess in the area. “They look forward to it. It’s like when you go to the park and your kids want to play on the swings. They look forward to that after school,” he said. “These people look forward to playing chess everyday and they come from all walks of life from around here – just to play chess.”

The chess games may return, but police said it will only happen if a local business wants to pay for a permit to allow them to be there.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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