San Francisco continues to struggle with its homeless, this time in the Castro, where the homeless have been congregating in plazas to the dismay of some residents.
Community leaders in the neighborhood are fumbling with ideas to deal with the exodus of so-called “street kids” — homeless youth often seen roaming in small groups — which have been congregating at Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas.
March 12, Supervisor Scott Wiener met at City Hall with members of the Castro Community Benefit District and representatives from the San Francisco Police Department Mission Station to discuss possible resolutions to complaints received about the transients.
Andrea Aiello, director of the Castro CBD, said the CBD and Supervisor Wiener’s offices have received complaints that include reports of drug dealing and use, drinking in public, urinating, defecating and laying in the flowerbeds. According to Aiello, someone even claimed to have gotten bed bugs by passing through the plaza.
“There’s been a lot of negative behavior or behavior that’s not respectful that makes it uncomfortable,” Aiello said. “These are people we don’t want to be around, and it doesn’t feel safe.”
The Castro CBD first took action last November against the homeless and “urban camping types,” as described by Aiello, when benches were removed from Harvey Milk Plaza to impede sleeping and camping, forcing the homeless elsewhere. Recently, the number of the red chairs and tables available at Jane Warner Plaza were reduced after the transients would take up much of the space and vandalize some of the outdoor furniture.
“It’s an experiment ” Aiello said about the removal of chairs and tables to improve the plazas. “Right now nothing is happening, and that’s not working.”
According to Aiello, ideas suggested at the meeting included increasing police presence and using the space to hold more public events at the plazas, similar to “Live in the Castro,” a series of live performances during the summer hosted by the CBD at Jane Warner Plaza.
San Francisco has had a history of attempting to deal with undesirable populations. Last November, the board of supervisors passed a nudity ban spearheaded by Supervisor Wiener, who represents the Castro where nudists roamed freely. In November 2010, the Sit/Lie ordinance was approved prohibiting sitting and lying on sidewalks, which was flagrant in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. A reduction in the prohibited actions are noticeable in those areas, but like in this case, the problem surfaced in another neighborhood.
Wiener’s office had little to comment on the removal of the sitting amenities in the plazas, only saying that the supervisor is interested in seeing the plazas “succeed.”
Adam Reichert, 43, is a homeless man who is disappointed by the way the city is handling the issue. He has been in San Francisco for six years and said he has never slept in the area even before the street kids because of “too many tweakers.”
“I can understand the neighbors complaining, but they’re making it hard for everyone in the neighborhood, including regular residents when there is only a handful of kids who are causing problems,” he said.
Thomas “TJ” Medina, 26, made it a point that just because he is homeless and is hanging out at the plazas, he is no troublemaker. He said he respected “most” of the rules like no smoking, and claims to have witnessed only “low key” marijuana use.
“Especially as a gay male, I love the Castro,” he said. “I respect the Castro, I respect the flag. I respect everything about what it is. From the businesses to whatever.”
Medina used to sleep in the plaza before the benches were removed, and said most of the altercations he had there were only with police removing them.
One of the other persons huddled on the grass patch was Christopher Zinger, 38, a homeless traveler who has passed through San Francisco several times, and says he enjoys the Castro community, the homeless and not. He said it is the police department’s responsibility to distinguish the troublemakers from otherwise normal transients.
“It’s lazy policy,” he said, bottle of whiskey in hand. “And it’s lazy social awareness and community. ‘Cause the fact of the matter is there’s bad apples in every tree, I don’t care if it’s a homeless tree or a rich tree. There’s bad apples and you have to be able as an individual to sort those out.”