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Changes Made after Mayor, Sheehy Tour Castro

by Alex Madison

City officials including, from left, Police Chief William Scott, Mayor Mark Farrell, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, and Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, walked through the Castro district Monday to see the public safety issues in the neighborhood.
City officials including, from left, Police Chief William Scott, Mayor Mark Farrell, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, and Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, walked through the Castro district Monday to see the public safety issues in the neighborhood.  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Increased homeless outreach in the evenings, expansion of the Healthy Streets Operation, and limited hours for the Walgreens parking lot in the Castro are planned after a public safety walk in the area Monday morning led by San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell and gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

Launched in January by city officials, the Healthy Streets Operation aims to better respond to homeless issues, including clean-up efforts and more rapid and targeted agency response to homeless-related complaints.

City department heads also attended the walk, including Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, lesbian Health Director Barbara Garcia, Deputy Director of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Kerry Abbott, and San Francisco Police Chief William Scott.

During the walk, which started at Castro and 18th streets, Sheehy advocated for more resources for the homeless population with an emphasis on homeless youth, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ. He also plugged Proposition D, the "Housing for All" initiative on the June ballot he's supporting. The measure is competing with Proposition C, a free child care initiative supported by mayoral candidate and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. Both depend on money from raising the gross receipts tax, meaning that only one can take effect if both pass.

Sheehy, who was appointed by the late mayor Ed Lee in January 2017 after gay former supervisor Scott Wiener was elected to the state Senate, is running in June to finish Wiener's term. His main opponent is Rafael Mandelman, a gay man who's on the board that oversees City College of San Francisco. Mandelman was in the Castro just before Sheehy arrived for the walk.

This was the first public safety walk in the Castro for Farrell since he became mayor in late January, although he worked with Sandra Zuniga, director of the Fix-It Team, on March 8 to clean up the Duboce Bikeway near Market Street for one of the Fix-It Team's pop-up cleanup efforts. Zuniga also attended the walk.

At the beginning of the walk, Farrell announced his priority to tackle the city's homeless crisis as a continuation of Lee's agenda, including targeting the Castro district. He then handed the platform to Sheehy, who, Farrell said, was "taking the lead in keeping the Castro streets safe."

Sheehy talked about the need for more space dedicated to homeless people throughout the city and Castro district including Navigation Centers, of which the city currently has four, though none are located in the Castro. The centers allow homeless people to bring their possessions and pets and stay with their partners temporarily.

"We can't solve the problem until we find a place for these people to be off the streets," Sheehy said. "We need to seriously address this issue with compassion."


Homeless youth

He also talked about the need for a youth homeless shelter in the Castro. Nearly 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. The San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Market Street has a youth program six days a week and is one of the few places open on Saturdays where homeless youth can get a hot meal and rest for a short time.

Abbott said some of the city's shelters recently extended hours to include Saturday, a move she said was successful.

Garcia said DPH was "working everyday to respond to the homeless issue."

As the small crowd crossed Castro Street walking along 18th Street, a homeless man listening to the group, Robby, who would not provide his last name, gave his input on the matter.

"When do we get a voice?" he asked, visibly upset. "We are not heard. When do we get a voice in the process? We are people. We are residents. We are you."

The group stopped at the small parking lot behind Walgreens where a parked silver Mercedes had broken driver and passenger windows. Sheehy also pointed out that the lot was frequently used as a public urinal. As a result of the walk, the parking lot is planned to be closed from 1 to 7 a.m.

Mark Leno, a gay former California state senator and candidate for mayor, darted out of his campaign office to say hello to Sheehy and Farrell when the walk stopped at Jane Warner Plaza.

As the walk continued, a man aggressively yelled at Sheehy and filmed him with his cellphone, claiming he wrongfully rid the area of homeless people and accused local police officers of tearing their tents.

The group then made it to the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library at Jose Sarria Court, where Sheehy said, "Would you want to take your kids here? The library should be nice, clean and clear."

He then expressed that the LGBTQ community fought to have a safe environment years ago.

"The library is named after Harvey Milk. This is what we fought for: a community to have a family and be safe," he said.

Pointed out by Zuniga on the walk, the library's parking lot and plaza is undergoing phase two of the Library Landscape Improvement Project headed by Public Works. The project aims to improve safety and sustainability of the library's exterior areas.

Nearing the end of the walk, Sheehy said, "All we do is talk and nothing changes."

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