Haight focuses on violence linked to mentally unstable

Recent violence on Haight Street involving homeless people suffering from mental illness has business owners and residents concerned and has heightened tensions along the famed thoroughfare.

Street peddlers and homeless people have flocked to the historic neighborhood, primarily between Baker and Stanyan streets, for years. Most business owners have learned to deal with any issues that may arise, according to one merchant. But after one store worker was attacked by a longtime street dweller and another man broke three windows at a local bank in July, residents and business owners met with law enforcement to discuss the problem.

“It’s an issue we have been dealing with forever really, but it’s become somewhat more of an issue recently because it is affecting the locals coming down to the streets that don’t want to be harassed,” said Bruce Lyall, owner of Recycled Records. “Is it worse than it’s ever been? No.”

Lyall, who has worked on the street since 1978, said the man who smashed the bank windows was well-known in the neighborhood and had been hanging out in the streets for at least 10 years.

At the meeting of residents, business owners and law-enforcement officials, officers told residents that they routinely pick up six to 12 people in the Haight each day who have severe psychological problems and are risks to others or themselves, according to resident Arthur Evans.

Officers go through extensive training to learn how to deal with homeless people who suffer from mental illnesses, Park Station police Capt. Gary Jimenez said, but there is still no one way to approach the situation.

“If I go to a bank and there’s a bank robber and I see a guy coming out with a gun I know what to do [because] it’s always the same situation,” he said. “But, with this type of thing, even if there is a chronic person, you have to play it by circumstance.”

Jimenez said officers are able to build a rapport with chronically homeless people and are often able to help them before a bad situation arises because they see them every day. In one case, officers cited a well-known mentally disturbed homeless man for punching his hand through a window, according to Jimenez. The man told officers he needed to see a psychologist, so he was sent to San Francisco General Hospital.

“San Francisco right now has in place a tremendous amount of resources available to these people,” Jimenez said, adding that typical patients are treated for 24 to 48 hours at S.F. General before being released.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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