Shotwell Street has always been a hotbed of prostitution and homelessness, but now attempted kidnapping can be added to the list: On June 5 at around 9 p.m., 29-year-old Jeremias Gomez Hernandez allegedly double-parked his white pickup on the corner of 21st and Shotwell and drunkenly walked up to three children sitting on a neighbor’s stoop. He asked them to come with him.
“My nieces were outside playing when he [the suspect] approached them and said ‘Can I take you?’” said Sandra Rosillo, the aunt of the children and the person who called the police. “My niece then grabbed the kids and started running away.”
The children – a 12-year-old girl, a 5-year boy, and a 4-year-old girl – went to their uncle Solomon Rosillo, who was around the corner with a friend, and told him what happened.
Rosillo says that her brother Solomon then approached the man and asked him what he was doing, grabbing his keys to make sure he didn’t drive away. Meanwhile his sister called the police.
San Francisco police said they arrived on the scene at 9:41 p.m. and arrested Gomez Hernandez for “vicious acts towards a child.”
“There was one person who was booked,” said spokesperson Officer Grace Gatpandan. “He was booked for contacting a minor with the intent to commit a felony and being drunk in public.”
Though the police can only release limited information in cases involving minors, Officer Gatpandan said Gomez Hernandez was a San Francisco resident, and Rosillo thought he lived nearby on 24th Street.
(Alex Bastian, assistant district attorney at the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that Gomez Hernandez had been charged but said he posted bail on June 8 to the tune of $15,000 and that the case was currently under investigation. No court date has been set.)
But this is not an isolated incident: Neighbors have been complaining to Supervisor David Campos and the police department of an upswing in prostitution, homeless encampments, and the resulting filth to their sidewalks and stoops, but nothing is being done, they said.
“There’s urine everywhere, literally a sea of urine,” said Debolina Dutta, who lives on Shotwell near Jose Coronado Park. “I mean my son calls it ‘Pee-pee park.’ And there’s human feces, like a lot of feces, on Shotwell Street.”
Dutta says the prostitution situation has also become untenable.
“It’s gotten so ridiculous that the johns think that every female walking down the street is a prostitute,” Dutta said. “I was pregnant earlier this year and I have to wake up early because I’m a teacher, and some guy rolled up really slowly and said ‘Hey, do you want to come for a ride?”
Dutta was shocked.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and told him to go away,” she said. “It was my tone and total look of disgust, though I don’t know how he didn’t figure it out with the crazy amounts of bags I had and non-prostitution-like clothing.”
While these issues aren’t new, they’re more significant for the neighborhood now that there are families with children, Dutta says.
“The things that were merely annoying before are now a pretty huge nuisance,” she said. “Now that we have kids, it’s dangerous.”
Dutta cited the attempted kidnapping on June 5 as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Dutta and other residents have petitioned the city as the Central Mission Neighborhood Group. They have reached out to Campos, Mission Police Captain Daniel Perea, and “every department you can think of” but have gotten no meaningful response, they say.
“Everyone seems sympathetic,” said Dutta, “but there are no changes.”
And they’re not the only ones complaining. Connie Ramirez Weber, who is not a member of the Central Mission Neighborhood Group and moved to her spot near 26th and Shotwell some 80 years ago, says she’s never seen it this bad.
“We have so many day laborers, derelicts – it’s gotten so terrible,” she said. “They’re blocking the sidewalk, throwing garbage, urinating in the alley. I once caught a homeless lady doing her business, leaving a big pile right in front of my garage.”
Ramirez Weber, who was the subject of a Department of Public Works street sweeping campaign back in 2008, says she’s spoken to Campos, Perea, and the mayor’s “homeless czar” Bevan Dufty about the problem, but has gotten nothing back.
“Something has to be done to let us leave the building in peace,” she said. “I’ve worked hard all my life for this, but I’m 94 now. What can be done?”
She even looks to the tech nouveau riche with a degree of hope.
“Maybe this gentrification will help change the Mission. We want it clean – I don’t care what nationality you are, as long as it’s clean,” she said.
The solutions sought by the Central Mission Neighborhood Group are modest.
“At a minimum what we want is a restroom available to them ,” Dutta said. “We’re not going to cure them of their disease, but we want a port-a-potty on the corner – that’d be fine. We’ve even brainstormed at our meetings about paying for it.”
She added that the homeless are harmless. “I’ve talked to a lot of the guys and they’re nice enough,” she said.
But so far they have been told that because the sidewalks are in front of their homes, as residents they are responsible for cleaning the accumulated feces and urine. And the city has a well-known aversion to providing public restrooms for the homeless, citing the possibility of drug use and sex in such a private space.
The neighborhood association also understands that a heightened police presence won’t solve the issue. Dutta says that whenever squad cars do roll by, the derelicts simply put their bottles away and avoid eye contact, and that the prostitutes are adept at spotting and avoiding unmarked cars.
She doesn’t have an answer, but then again no one seems to.
“Campos’s response is really disappointing,” she said. “I voted for him and am really disappointed with it. The email I sent him didn’t get a response, and I emailed his two assistants – nothing.”
For their part, Campos’s office says they’re working on long-term solutions like permanent housing and regular cleaning by the Department of Public Works and pointed to the opening of Jazzie’s Place at 1050 South Van Ness, the first adult LGBT shelter in the country. They also said that when they heard of the attempted kidnapping, they were very alarmed.
“That was something that was very concerning and scary for us and Campos immediately called the captain and said ‘We want to stay updated on this,’” said Hillary Ronen, a Campos aide. “That was a whole other level of concern.”
Ronen stressed that if residents felt unsafe, they should call the police, and that homelessness and prostitution are larger social issues that require a permanent solution.
“It’s really about providing healthcare services and counseling to sex workers,” she said. “In terms of the homeless encampments, we have a housing crisis and inequality crisis in this city, and the fact that families are sleeping on the streets is completely awful and we are working day and night to build affordable housing.”