There were many complaints but few solutions as some 50 residents sounded off on everything from prostitution to too few garbage cans at Wednesday’s quarterly meeting of the Central Mission Neighborhood Organization.
One by one, officials addressed the complaints and argued that many of the solutions within their power are no better than temporary salves. Still, residents and officials tried to grapple with that reality.
San Francisco Mission Station Police Captain Dan Perea, for example, agreed that prostitution is a nuisance, but getting rid of it is tough, he said. Prostitution involves human trafficking—a problem beyond an immediate remedy.
Neighbors argued that foot patrols would deter prostitutes and their johns. Yes, but there aren’t enough cops for a 24-hour patrol, Perea said, adding that other crimes in the area take priority. “The officers that are on a foot beat, specially at night, if there is an emergency and they have to respond, the foot beat has to get back on the car”.
Nevertheless he added that he didn’t want to give people the impression that they are on their own.
He has eight-officer crews that go undercover and patrol the area on-foot for a few hours every day, he said.
The community, he added, should be proactive.
Residents were quick to offer some solutions, including public shaming of johns on social media, a neighborhood watch committee (Perea cautioned that there were steps to setting up a committee) and motion lighting.
Perea agreed on the need for the latter.
Greg Dicum, a resident and member of the Central Mission Neighborhood Organization, added: “The geography of our neighborhood is perfect for street prostitution because you need places that are well lit like Capp and 20th to show yourself and then places that are not well lit to do the transaction,”*
Perea added that the installation of lights must also follow a process with the city, as there are rules about where the lights can go and the intensity of the light.
The neighborhood organization created a list of the dark spots last year and will coordinate with District Supervisor David Campos’ office to follow through. Dicum’s organization has consolidated as a neighborhood watch group.
What about speed bumps? Yes, said Dicum, They have already registered with the SFMTA for speed bumps, and installation happens once a year. It’s unclear if the Mission will get any, as the group submitted a request last August.
In the midst of the meeting, Stephany Ashley, who identified as a former sex worker and the director of St. James Infirmary, a SoMa-based health clinic that also serves prostitutes, raised her hand.
Instead of focusing on simply getting rid of prostitutes, Ashley asked the group to consider the violence the women face. She mentioned a study by UCSF that shows sex workers also suffer violence at the hands of law enforcement—a situation that prevents them from cooperating with police.
Many of the sex workers have been part of the community for years and must be treated as such, she said.
Captain Perea acknowledge that sex workers tend to ask for the officer’s badge numbers during a police operation but dismissed this as a way for sex workers to discourage officers from detaining them. The captain mentioned that there is a system for filing complaints against an officer and that since March none have been filed.
Next on the agenda was the issue of homeless encampments, a topic the captain was anxious to address since earlier in the week Mission Local had run a piece on the permanent nature of the camps.
Perea again explained that police could do little about the encampments beyond what they always do: move them and give them citations. Nothing prevents homeless people from coming back to the same spot they were moved from, he said. “We disrupt the activity, it’s displaced and they go somewhere else,” Perea said. “This is not a police-only problem.”
The SFPD works with the Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Health in moving the illegal encampments. “We go out to these illegal encampments, we wake up everybody up, we try to direct them to services through DPH (Department of Public Health), they have shelters as an option and they have long term services. They make those calls about who can go to where. Nine times out of 10 when we ask somebody ‘Do you want to go to a shelter?’ The response is no,” he said.
Mario Montoya, DPW supervisor of the cleaning area for the Mission District, and Pamela Johnson, also from DPW, mentioned that a technique used to clean the streets of the homeless encampments is to power-spray the areas where the tents are set up.
“Drought!” said a couple of dissenters. DPW officials quickly responded to say there was no other way to move the encampments that will perpetually keep coming back.
DPW officials also give out notices to property owners to clean in front of their property. If they fail to do so, they are given a ticket.
The homeless encampments that create the most nuisance to residents are located on the 2300 block of Harrison and the 400 block of Shotwell Street—both near PG&E buildings.
The utility’s facilities manager agreed that using high-pressure water to clean is an effective tactic in moving the encampments—but only for awhile.
Residents complained that they get notices to clean, but then there is too much trash to fit into the existing trashcans. They requested more. DPW officials replied that more trashcans often creates the issue of trash-dumping. “Give us the trash cans first,” replied a few residents.
Chris Richardson, the director of program operations of Downtown Streets Team, an organization dedicated to providing job training and housing resources to homeless people, said they have reached out to work with the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center to figure out how they might work in the neighborhood.
The organization provides homeless volunteers with a $100 stipend in the form of a gift card to be used at grocery stores.
A dissenting voice in the crowd mentioned that compensated volunteers often are paid well below minimum wage and that such help doesn’t quite serve them right.
Richardson replied that the organization is dedicated to building employment bridges. Picking up a broom and cleaning streets is a first step.
At Jose Coronado Park, a bathroom is underway. DPW plans to make a door in the side of the boys bathroom to create a unisex bathroom. Although funding and permits were cleared last week, the team is waiting for the Art Commission to give the last go-ahead because there is a mural on the wall in question.
One resident said her son refers to the park as “pee-pee park” and that in the one-block radius of the park, “I have counted seven [obviously] human fecal matter.” Residents asked if a porta-potty would be an effective temporary solution.
The answer was no.
The park is visited often by a group engaged in chronic public drinking—a group that appears to have grown in size, residents complained. “They show up like it’s work at 7a.m. and I kid you not they drive their car, they get wasted all day, they pass out and they drive their car back home. It sounds like a joke but it’s actually true,” said a concerned resident. Perea said he is familiar with the issue.
Unfortunately, he added, there is little police can do unless there is a visible indication of gambling or drinking—a can or a bottle. When the drinkers see police, they easily hide the cans, he said.
A resident requested that the entrance to the children’s play area not be locked after hours because it forces children to exit the park through the main entrance, which is usually blocked by intoxicated people.
Another resident said that in broad daylight outside the Polish Club, on 22nd and Shotwell streets, there was a “wholesale operation” drug dealing.
Perea agreed that drive-by patrolling doesn’t work and mentioned that the SFPD needs to get a description of a car and a plate number. “One thing that would be helpful, is that if you see people that are getting in and out of cars –and it sounds like you are speaking of particular individuals that are doing this on a day to day basis– if you can get us a description of their car, license plate,” said Perea.
Perea alerted neighbors to keep an eye out so that the community and the police work together in reporting this issue. “If it turns out to be what we think, we can start off the info you give me,” he said.
On an upbeat note, a subcommittee is working on Halloween festivities on Shotwell Street. Residents agreed that although healthy options must be available for kids, “everyone loves candy.”
Residents living on Shotwell Street between 19th and 22nd streets will participate in giving out candy for an hour. More details will be coming.
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed the quote “The geography [of the neighborhood] is perfect to show yourself and then hide yourself,” to Captain Perea. The article has been corrected to attribute the quote to Greg Dicum. We regret the mistake.
* The quotes have been corrected to reflect their accuracy as per the recording provided of the meeting. During the meeting, I was taking notes quickly and should have paraphrased what was said in the story. I regret the error.