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City officials take firsthand look at Castro District public safety issues

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Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Mayor Mark Farrell walked through the Castro District Monday morning for a look at homelessness and public safety issues in the neighborhood. (Photo by Sadie Gribbon/Special to The Examiner)

City officials took a walk through the Castro District Monday morning to get a street-level view of issues with homelessness, cleanliness and crime in the neighborhood.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is running to keep his seat as District 8 Supervisor, met with Mayor Mark Farrell at the corner of Castro and 18th streets for a tour that took in trash on the ground, homeless people living on the sidewalks and a car with smashed in windows in a parking lot on 18th Street.

The final stop was at the Harvey Milk Memorial Library, which has been the recent recipient of new outdoor lighting, tree trimming for visibility and a fence to keep people from loitering.

Homelessness, and specifically homeless youth, were the primary points of concern for Sheehy and Farrell, who were accompanied by police officials and department heads including Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.

“Since I’ve been in office, one of the things that has been hardest for me to deal with is what is going on in the Castro,” Sheehy said, referencing the issues of homelessness in the area. “Our response is always to call the police or the DPW (Department of Public Works) to find them a place to stay. We cannot solve the problem until we find places.”

Sheehy is a supporter of Proposition D, a June ballot measure that would tax commercial rents to allocate funds toward housing and homeless services, which he says is the first step in solving the multifaceted problems in the Castro.

“The problem is that we haven’t put enough resources into addressing the problem,” Sheehy said.

“One of the target areas is here, in the Castro,” Farrell said. “This is going to be the number one focus area that we have across the city of San Francisco.”

Following the walk, the mayor’s office said it would initiate several improvements in the neighborhood including additional homeless outreach during evening hours and the closure of the public parking lot on 18th Street between 1 a..m. and 7 a.m. in an effort to reduce loitering and drug use in the lot.

In addition, the city will expand the Healthy Streets Operation, a multi-agency cooperative effort to respond to non-emergency complaints and connect homeless residents to proper housing and health services, from its current focus around Market and Castro Streets to reach further into the district

The visit by Farrell and Sheehy was greeted with skepticism by some neighborhood residents. Daniel Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants Association, joined them on their walk but said afterward that he thought the condition of the streets Monday morning was not representative of the Castro.

“This morning when I got here, there were three or four DPW (Department of Public Works) trucks and DPW workers and we had cops and we had Homeless Outreach Team members sort of cleaning and sanitizing the situation,” Bergerac said.

“I think that it creates a false narrative, it doesn’t allow the powers that be to really see what is happening in the neighborhood,” he said.

Robby Peddycoart, a San Francisco resident who has been homeless since 1992 and lives on Castro Street, said that despite the visit he felt that the needs of the homeless residents are overlooked by city officials.

“My experience is that we are underserved and we need some help out here,” Peddycoart said.

He was unaware of Prop. D, and said he felt that the homeless needed a representative in City Hall.

“What is Prop. D? That’s my whole point. I don’t know what Prop. D is, it is not right in front of us,” Peddycoart said. “We don’t have a voice right now. We’re being kept out of the process.”

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