Homeless shelter opponents use attack as ammunition in fight against city

A still image of the attack on Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Watermark condominium building on Beale Street in San Francisco (Courtesy photo)

A week after being attacked outside her condo building near the Embarcadero, a woman amplified calls Sunday for city officials to halt construction on a homeless shelter next door to her home.

Paneez Kosarian was grabbed by a man early last Sunday morning as she tried to enter her building at 501 Beale St. She blames the assault on San Francisco’s homeless, mental health and drug problems.

The suspect, 25-year-old Austin James Vincent, has no local address and is believed to be homeless.

“It’s a drug problem,” Kosarian said at a press conference Sunday, holding back tears. “This is mental illness and you’re putting them right next to our house. How can you put us in danger?”

Kosarian has allied herself with Safe Embarcadero for All, a neighborhood group that has filed a lawsuit seeking to block San Francisco from moving forward with plans to build the 200-bed Navigation Center.

The group has seized upon outrage over highly publicized survelliance footage of the attack to demand that city officials voluntarily stop the construction.

“He kept pulling me, wanting to take me somewhere, I don’t know where,” Kosarian said. “These people are not in the mental capacity to be around so many of us without proper patrolling.”

But homeless advocates question how the homeless center and the attack are linked when the Navigation Center is not set to open for months.

“There are horrific assaults that happen every day, perpetrated by folks whose housing status is never mentioned,” Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said on Twitter.

“It is incredibly cynical for Nav Center opponents to amplify this incident and use it to push back against a Navigation Center in their neighborhood,” Friedenbach wrote. “Violence is never OK. Demonizing a class of people simply leads to more violence.”

On Friday, Mayor London Breed indicated that The City would continue to build the center.

“We need to move forward with building shelter beds so when we are getting people off the street, we have a place to put them,” Breed said.

Safe Embarcadero for All alleges that the attack is part of a growing problem in the neighborhood.

Wallace Lee, the group’s president, told reporters that crime and encampments have gone up in the area since construction started at the homeless shelter.

“It is irresponsible to build a 200-bed shelter, which The City admits will house active drug users and the mentally ill, in the middle of 10,000 residents when The City is unable to ensure our safety,” Lee said.

Yet the most recent crime statistics available show that crimes including car break-ins and assaults are down in the police district that includes the area along the Embarcadero as of the end of June.

Southern Police Station recorded a 20 percent decline in violent crimes at that time compared with 2018, as well as a 25 percent dip in property crimes, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s June Compstat report.

The attack has also led to blowback against a San Francisco Superior Court judge who decided to release the suspect ahead of trial.

On Thursday, the rank-and-file police union called for San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken to be reassigned to Traffic Court over her decision to release Vincent.

Van Aken said in court Friday that she had not seen the video when she ordered his release and required that Vincent be given a GPS ankle monitor.

District Attorney George Gascon also said Thursday that The City had found Vincent a temporary bed.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

 

Austin James Vincent (Courtesy SFPD)

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