Photo by Dave Smith

Some 60 residents on Monday evening said over and over that prostitution on Shotwell has never been worse, and they made it clear to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and Mission Captain Gaetano Caltagirone that their official efforts have been too slow and ineffective.

“This is the worst it’s been — the density of prostitutes,” said 77-year-old David Brownell, who has lived on Shotwell between 20th and 21st for some 40 years.

Added David Hall, a co-owner of Shotwell’s Bar, which sits on the corner of 20th and Shotwell, “I don’t know what you guys are doing — I don’t know what you’re doing, Hillary. If this was your (campaign) promise to us as a community, you need to get your act together.”

By the end of the night, Ronen and Caltagirone vowed to redouble their efforts to abate the sex work that has long operated on Shotwell Street between 19th and 22nd. They were even receptive to almost unanimous support from the crowd to shut down certain parts of Shotwell and Capp streets on Friday and Saturday.   

The officials explained that they have been working on slower, more humane fixes to the situation — such as sex worker outreach and criminal diversion. The residents, however, said the efforts had failed to abate a booming prostitution ring operating outside their doorsteps.

Some female residents said they were propositioned so frequently in the early morning that they had to change their commute schedules. “I can’t go out until 7 a.m.,” said Anjali McKie, who lives on 20th and Shotwell. “I will get followed every single time.”

Others told stories about ducking for cover with their children at the sound of gunshots on the street. “I’ve lost count and wondered whether it’s over, or if I should hustle my family into the bathtub,” said Ira Woodhead.

Ronen, looking horrified at the stories, acknowledged that she needed to “double down” on short-term efforts, such as speed bumps and a heightened police presence.

But she emphasized that in her year and a half as representative of the district, she has been laying the groundwork for programs that take aim at the root cause of the problem.

“It’s deep, systems-change work that doesn’t happen overnight,” she told the residents, who at times shouted over her.

The former aide to her predecessor, David Campos, — who received lashings from these same residents on the issue — said that she helped fund an outreach van that would offer resources to sex workers in the zone. It began its work four months ago, she said.

“That’s not enough time,” she said. “These aren’t simple things to solve if the first person you’re thinking of is the sex worker herself.”

Moreover, she said that simply heightening police presence on Shotwell or blocking off the streets will only drive the illicit business to surrounding streets. “And they (sex workers) will continue to be exploited,” she said.

As a shorter-term fix, however, Ronen said her office has been lobbying the police to increase traffic enforcement in the area, which would more target pimps and their customers.

Mission Captain Caltagirone, in his position for around six months, received perhaps his first real taste of the residents’ frustration with the prostitution issue that has faced previous captains. “I have never seen this many neighbor getting together around a particular issue,” he said.

The captain said that, as of a couple months ago, he has placed a prostitution-abatement team in the area that works through the night. Some are undercover officers who mainly focus on customers, but his officers have also channeled sex workers into a program that waives low-level prostitution charges and offers the workers social services.

Caltagirone said that, so far, his abatement team has been able to arrest four pimps, and his officers have also successfully sent two sex workers through the diversion program, called the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program.

“It’s a nice thing to see that something is going, but I know it’s not a quick fix,” he said.

In the end, however, he gingerly agreed with some residents’ suggestions to shut down hot-spot blocks — roughly on Shotwell and Capp between 19th and 22nd — on certain nights.

“What if we shut down the streets and do more DUI (checkpoints)?” he said to the crowd.

He was met with nearly universal applause.

Caltagirone warned that shutting down the streets would create logistical problems, such as having to constantly the check identification cards of residents. He did say, however, that he would work to increase DUI checkpoints right away. He also said that he would consider changing the foot beat officer routes to cover the area.

“I’m not going to make any blind promises that I’m going to clean this up in a month or two, but I think we need to move forward,” he said.

Residents agreed.

“It’s like squeezing a balloon,” said Brownell, the local resident, referring to the city’s efforts. “[They’re] not bursting it — they’re just moving the air around.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. I think people just need to relax . We have mostly new people here trying to force the homeless out , they don’t like hooker . Too bad . If your being here didn’t cause rents to go up so much , maybe they wouldn’t be hooking . You techies don’t own the city and you don’t get to decide who can live here and who cant .
    I see my share of people dressed In suits , nice clothing , going to and from work , urinating behind cars , in between cars , In doorways , peeing . Who gets the blame for that ?
    I see the techies using our streets and park for trash cans , waiting for someone else to come up and clean up behind their little entitled asses

    Whooooooie , hookers and poor homeless people . Pretty scary ….. better call out the Marines .

  2. It’s been there since my parents moved to the mission in 1970, same with polk Street.

    Every major city has it somewhere. You’ll never eradicate it.

    I think it’s better to keep it where it’s always been, rather than “clean up Shotwell street” and have it reappear in new territory, with new people violently competing for new turf.

  3. “These aren’t simple things to solve if the first person you’re thinking of is the sex worker herself.” The people who should be thought of are the residents who have been enduring this for decades. But law-abiding, tax-paying residents are always come last in SF.

  4. it is amazing to live in a city where the most mortal fear of those in authority is that they will have to sanction or arrest those who break the laws. they will use any double-speak, obfuscation, or diversionary tactic to keep from doing their job which is protecting the citizens. the needs of those who abide by the law are always considered last. law breakers don’t give a damn about “outreach”! it’s liberal duplicity to pretend that they do, or that it will solve the problem. four months or four years. the town officials ARE the problem.

  5. Did anyone ask the folks in charge if legalization is being considered? ALL of these problems will go away overnight if prostituion was legal. Safer for all involved. Oldest profession in history and it’s illegal.

    In a so called “free” country, we are NOT free to do what we want with our own bodies.

  6. The Mission isn’t the only neighborhood that Hillary Ronen fails. Try getting Ronen’s office to address quality of life violations and second-hand smoke on San Bruno Avenue in The Portola District. Capital U for USELESS. Vote Ronen out. She’s useless.

  7. Here is to hoping the prostitutes move to 24th street and onto her precious Calle 24. Mebe then she will losten to the folks that actually live i her district and take action.

  8. This problem can be shut down any time that the Police Department and the Board of Supervisors wishes to shut it down. It would take a single police officer walking and down these three blocks of Capp St. 24 hours per day until it stopped, i.e. 3 police officer shifts per day. The fact that this situation is not shut down is a deliberate choice.

  9. Sorry but this is a typical “progressive” outcome. Anyone who has raised children knows – no consequences, no change in behavior. This area has been problematic for decades. Obviously these progressive and social justice policies are not working.

  10. It’s about time Police do something. Please arrest everybody. Enough is enough as we the residents are getting more frustrated with Hillary’s slow progressive attitudes.