Mayor London Breed on Thursday said she wants more engagement with homeless people on the street and greater frequency in power washing sidewalks, and reiterated her commitment to opening a safe injection site.
Her comments came as she paid an unannounced visit to the South of Market Area to see firsthand the conditions there. A number of media outlets were invited to shadow her, including the San Francisco Examiner.
“We’re trying to clean it up down here,” Breed said to passersby greeting her.
Before she arrived, Roberto Sanchez, 37, who opened Pentacle Coffee eight months ago at 64 6th St., said that the conditions on the street are inconsistent. Sometimes The City is on “top of it” but then there may be a period of time when “they haven’t been around in a while.”
His biggest concern was those living on the street who may suffer from mental illness. They are a “wild card when they come through the door” because he is unsure how they may act and “they can be threatening,” he said.
Breed’s walking tour, which began at Sixth and Jessie streets just a few blocks away from Twitter’s headquarters, was guided by Sandra Zuniga, director of the Public Works Fix-It program, which coordinates cleaning efforts on specific areas.
“So how often are they powerwashed?” Breed said of the Sixth Street sidewalks. “Unless the community benefit district is doing it on a regular basis … they are power washed ad hoc,” Zuniga said. “Once a 311 request comes in then somebody gets sent out.”
“That’s what we need to change. At least once a day,” Breed said.
Passing by feces, Breed said, “Watch out. Let’s get 311. Get them out here and come and pick it up and power wash.” A few paces later, “That looks like urine,” Breed said.
She passed by several residents who had a place to stay but were just hanging out and others who were homeless.
Along with the signs of people struggling, there were also signs of help.
Breed took interest in a new building where construction was wrapping up. She entered the foyer and was greeted by KC Cavness, general manager with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, who explained to Breed the 1036 Mission St. affordable housing project comprised 43 low-income units and 40 units for the formerly homeless. She said 30 people have moved in to date.
After Breed left, Cavness told the Examiner, “Being hands-on like that is a big plus.”
Halfway through the walk, Breed saw much room for improvement: “We’ve walked several blocks. We’ve seen maybe four people, five people cleaning up. I’m not seeing any police officers, I’m not seeing anyone from the homeless outreach team. I’m not seeing anyone except a merchant doing power washing.”
She said that she would like to see regular engagement with those living on the streets by city officials, such as members of the Homeless Outreach Team. “I envision them walking on the streets and being out here where we know there are people who are homeless. We should be out there every day, ‘What can I do to help you? What can I do to help you? What can I do to help you?’ Till the point where they are like: ‘Fine you can help me,’” Breed told the Examiner.
She also passed areas known for drug use. Syringes or syringe caps littered the sidewalks, including on Stevenson Street, behind the American Conservatory Theater.
Breed is a proponent of opening safe injection sites to reduce syringe litter and help steer drug users into treatment, but since heroin and other intravenous drugs are against federal law, The City is wary of the legal ramifications. Breed, however, said she is committed to figuring out a way to make it work.
“I am going to aggressively push to try to get it done this year,” Breed said.
When asked about why the delay, she said, “I am trying to open one. I wish we can open one yesterday. But I also have to be responsible in the approach.” She said she wanted The City to be prepared for any “fall out” and for those “putting their lives on the line to work at these facilities, I don’t want them in jail. I have to make sure that I am responsible in my approach.”
Breed was often recognized on the walk and frequently greeted. Some took pictures. “I voted for you,” said Stephanie Wilson, a resident of the nearby single-room occupancy hotel, the Alder Hotel. “I know you’re going to make change. I know that to be true.”
Wilson told the Examiner that she is with the Rafiki Coalition for Health and Wellness, a group that provides services to the black community, and that it was “beautiful to see her really in the community.”
Breed took a similar walk of the Tenderloin on July 13 to observe the street conditions there.
There is increased funding for initiatives in the city budget proposal to address street conditions, which the Mayor’s Office tweeted following the walk. The Board of Supervisors will take a second and final vote on the budget next week and then Breed has 10 days to sign it into law.