On Wednesday afternoon, several Mission Station police officers rolled into the Mission Hotel on South Van Ness Avenue. There were no calls regarding a complaint or disturbance. Quite the opposite: the cops were packing coffee and donuts.
Hotel residents and officers gathered in the quaint lobby area to make small talk and break the proverbial ice. This casual interaction between these two groups is not the norm here. Central City SRO Collaborative tenant organizers Mitch Orsaba, Jason Crossland and Mervyn Green would like it to be.
A similar meet and greet was held last fall, but there hasn’t been once since. The purpose of this gathering goes beyond quality time with the cops. “We’ve had seven people die [in the hotel] this year; we’re averaging a person a month,” Green said.
Green organized the first meet and greet. He made a habit of attending every monthly community meeting at Mission Station. He was one of the only Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel residents attending but wanted to change that. Green began speaking with officers and worked with the Central City SRO Collaborative to host the initial meet and greet. He hopes that fostering a relationship with the local police will help improve the lives of his neighbors. Perhaps even save them.
Friendly chatter continued to fill the room. Several officers clustered around the entryway and talked amongst themselves. Others talked to residents in groups of two, while Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone spoke with residents one on one.
Caltagirone wants the station to be accessible for residents and make sure their needs are heard and addressed. “They might have things they want to voice,” Caltagirone said. “[We] bring the station to them.”
Officer David Hernandez was standing by the front window, observing the crowd. The young policeman appreciated the opportunity to have normal conversations with people he is used to seeing around the neighborhood. “It makes the relationship a lot easier if we know their names and they know ours,” Hernandez said.
While coffee was sipped and donuts were eaten, Louise Irish was smoking outside by a trash can. When asked why she hadn’t spoken to any of the officers, she laughed. “I’m not in the mood,” Irish said.
The Mission native has been living here for nine years and says police response time has not gotten better. “Someone can be beaten by their boyfriend. By the time police get here the boyfriend is out the door and gone,” Irish said. She leaned on the trash can, took another puff of her cigarette and recounted a specific slow response time she found particularly frustrating.
A noise complaint was made about a man who was playing loud music out of a speaker. Police were called around 3 p.m. and did not show up until 8 p.m. When they showed up, Irish says they locked the front door and questioned everyone standing outside. While this was happening, Irish recalls, she saw the man with the speaker taking in the spectacle from the other side of the street.
Tenant Organizer Jason Crossland, 51, has lived in the Mission for half of his adult life and he feels conditions outside of Mission Hotel have changed for the better.
“A lot of [Mission Station officers] have been here as long as I have and they’ve seen it change,” Crossland said. “One officer told me he used to have to come here three to four times a day.”
Green believes that a strong relationship with the police can help change perceptions of the hotel and its residents as well. “I’m a black man who’s lived in America all my life,” Green said, referring to the divide between law enforcement and minorities. “Neither really knows the other side, so the easiest way to deal with this is to meet each other.”