This angry letter sent by the Castro Merchants Association to numerous city leaders earlier this month prompted a response from two city officials. Detailing a long list of issues that residents and businesses in Castro have long struggled with, including the presence of homeless encampments and a large number of people with apparent mental health issues harassing residents, businesses and visitors to the LGBTQ neighborhood, the letter implored officials “to take action.”

What generated the most buzz around the August 8 merchants’ letter was the threat of civil disobedience by businesses that withhold fees they pay the city.

The only official response the trader group received was a lengthy letter from Dr Hillary Kunins, director of SF behavioral health and mental health services at the Department of Public Health, and Noelle Simmons, chief deputy director at the Department of Homelessness and Support. Lodging. This letter outlines the many actions the city and DPH have taken or are taking to address the issues discussed in the CMA letter.

Reactions also came from residents of the LGBTQ neighborhood. More than two weeks after the letter was sent and a week after the Bay Area Reporter broke the story, the merchants association has heard from many other individuals and neighborhood groups expressing the same frustrations, Dave Karraker said. , co-chairman of the CMA and owner of MX3 Fitness on Market Street. He said he received 30 emails from various people as well as professional organizations and businesses.

The response was strong enough that he is now talking about forming a coalition of actors to get the city to do more. Other neighborhood groups such as Corbett Heights Neighbors, Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association and Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association have also reached out, Karraker said. The BAR contacted these organizations for comment, but they did not respond before press time.

Paul Allen, a retired resident of 30 years who resides in Corona Heights, said he supports the CMA’s efforts. Although he is the secretary of neighbors of Corbett Heights, that organization will not be able to address the issue until its next meeting in September, he said.

“I personally totally support what traders are doing and the issues they are raising,” Allen said.

The former corporate attorney said he recently heard District Attorney Brooke Jenkins speak to the issue and was pleased to hear her call for more coordination between city departments to address the issue.

“We need more than talk and plans,” Allen said. “We need action and results.”

Cedric Ng, a gay man and, with his husband, a home owner in Castro for two years, was another of those people who reached out to Karraker. Citing his own frustrations, Ng told BAR he felt great sympathy not only for small business owners, but also for people who are homeless.

“We need a coordinated effort,” Ng said. “Help us and help the homeless. We can’t let them rot on the sidewalk.”

Ng said he would like to see the Mayor of London Breed and city officials set out a timeline of their efforts to address the issue, with regular updates, as did Dr Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser. Joe Biden, did so at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“Is someone doing something?” he asked. “And can you show us?”

Businesses have been feeling the pinch for some time, and for Kathy Amendola, owner of Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tours, whose job is to guide visitors through neighborhood streets, the problems are front and center.

In a letter to the BAR, Amendola recounts an episode that occurred one morning in July.

“In the top 45 [minutes] of my walking tour, the group was approached 5 times between Flag, Beaux and Market at Noe,” Amendola said, referring to the rainbow banner at Market and Castro streets and a nearby business.

“Five individuals – crazed, drug-infused junkies – approached and stood with my tour group while they were belligerent, barefoot, smelly; one guy was taking a puff from his meth pipe and another was shouting to bloody murder and pull down his pants and moon in traffic,” she continued. “I had my finger on my pepper spray with every incident. Over the past few years, it’s been very dangerous for me to do walking tours, no matter what time of day.”

Another day, in the space of two and a half hours, she said, she encountered five different episodes with some of the residents of Rue de Castro shouting directly at her guests; blocked the entrance to Pink Triangle Park while she was using drugs, forcing her group to find another way to see the monument to LGBTQ Holocaust victims; exposed themselves to his guests and a school group; another guy urinated on himself and others camped out on the sidewalk in front of Walgreens; and a man “without pants” exposed himself in the street.

Persistent cases of “outdoor drug use, encampments, lawlessness, criminality and lack of [San Francisco Police Department] maintaining a dozen public health and safety code violations, unnecessary city services and extremely negative behavior in the Castro is unacceptable and detrimental to our businesses, daily life and the mental health of an entire community,” said writes Amendola.

These incidents add to the anxiety of an already traumatized community, she said.

Members of the LGBTQ community “already suffer 2.5 times more stress, anxiety and depression due to social oppression. This is outright discrimination on the part of the city and it has created a crisis of mental health in the Castro,” she said.

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Since the BAR story appeared, several local news organizations, including KTVU 2, ABC 7, SFist and the San Francisco Chronicle, have also reported on CMA’s letter.

While the letter never indicated the group’s intentions if their demands weren’t followed through, Karraker told BAR and other media that CMA members would resort to civil disobedience if they didn’t. they had to. Castro merchants could start withholding fees they pay the city until they see action, he said.

“It’s clear to me based on the reaction, too many people have just had it,” Karraker said in a phone interview.

One statistic Karraker regularly points out is that about 50% of homeless people refuse shelter, and efforts to help those who are clearly unable to make sound decisions for themselves run up against state laws. New efforts to make guardianship laws more responsive have met with strong resistance from civil rights advocates, as well as disability activists.

In her response, Kunins notes that one of the main issues she addresses is the problem officials have with people refusing the services offered to them.

“For people who consistently refuse help, city agencies are working together to use all the tools we have to support the well-being and well-being of the individual and to protect the safety of the community, including involuntary care when individuals are eligible,” Kunins’ letter reads.

“However, California state law sets a very high threshold for these takes, and often that threshold is not met, even when it appears to the public that an individual ‘needs assistance,'” she continued. “To address growing concerns in the Castro, we have implemented a weekly case conference specifically focused on those identified as needing assistance by the Castro community. Through regular case conferences across all departments, we solve the problems of individual cases and collaborate to engage and connect individuals with care.”

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who has been deeply involved in efforts to resolve the issue, said he understands the frustrations of CMA — and others. More beds are needed, he said, not just in San Francisco but throughout the Bay Area.

“It requires a reinforced police response and a reinforced health response,” he said, acknowledging that they were already doing this, but that it needed to be done more effectively.

“I think as a state we’re not where we need to be and the effects are very much felt in a place like San Francisco,” he told BAR.

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