When the security guard at Mission Neighborhood Health Center approached the fire he had watched a homeless resident set a few feet in front of the building this morning, the man withdrew a pistol and aimed it at the guard’s face.
Although the guard stood only a few feet away, no one was harmed and the fire was contained without reaching the building.
“I was a bit nervous, a bit scared,” the guard said in Spanish. “There were a lot of things going on, like the fire,” which started near the clinic’s door and grew large.
“So when he pulled out the pistol, I was just like this,” he said, mimicking a solemn expression. That was enough. The individual backed off from the scene.
The San Francisco Police Department has identified and arrested the individual, a 33-year-old male, a police department representative wrote in an email to Mission Local. Charges are pending.
Storey and others said the same individual police arrested acted erratically on Monday, beating his parked car with a bat and stabbing it repeatedly with a large knife. He also lit a fire in the street later on Monday night, and then returned this morning to start another fire and threaten the guard.
There has been an encampment along Shotwell Street, just across from the health center, for a while, but generally the residents living there are peaceful, staff said. After the incidents of the last two days, however, staff are looking for a city response that will allow its staff and patients to feel safe.
“Looking at the big picture, we understand the situation of homelessness is difficult and the majority of homeless keep to themselves,” Storey said. “What we’re looking for is that, if there’s any individual that gets out of hand, we need a response.”
When the security guard arrived around 7 a.m. to start work and saw the fire near the clinic’s door, he tried to intervene, but the man began to “get furious, and yell at me and insult me.”
“I was scared,” the guard said, then called the police.
A janitor saw the fire, too, and ran out to get a hose and put out the flames that began creeping up a nearby palm tree, said Karen Warner, the chief of human resources.
But the altercation and fire this morning should not have happened, especially since the same person wielded other weapons and started a fire yesterday, Warner and Storey said.
“It was a clear escalation. His tools kept getting worse,” Warner said.
Storey hopes that city officials can come up with a solution that balances the needs of homeless residents while keeping patients and staff safe. She pointed out that if the tree burned more intensely, it could have spread to the building.
Persons who start fires in the street need to be removed, and, if possible, immediately placed into a mental health respite center, Storey said.
On Monday, Warner noted that a staff member sent her an email with a video of the individual beating his car.
At around 5:30 p.m., Warner heard screams from her office and then checked outside her window, and discovered the individual with a knife that had a blade six inches long.
“I heard screaming, and I don’t get up at the first scream,” Warner said. She then saw the man stabbing his own car on the roof and the side.
Warner called the police who promptly came just before 6 p.m. By the time officers arrived, the individual had stopped acting out. Police spoke with him, but then left.
Later Monday night, a nearby resident sent an email to Storey alerting her that the individual had started a fire in the middle of the street. Apparently the neighbor called 911, and the fire was put out.
“They talk [sic] to him and then left,” the email from the neighbor explained.
On Tuesday morning, following the gun altercation, many health center staff were shaken up. “Those who witnessed any part of it were pretty agitated,” Warner said of the employees.
The Mission Neighborhood Health Center runs a resource center on Capp Street that regularly works with the unhoused, so “the compassion for the unhoused and the people living here for months is still important for us,” said health center spokesperson Lupita Franco.
However, she added that the center has hosted evening vaccination appointments, and women, elderly patients and children are constantly around and should be protected. “We have plenty of children, and that cannot be jeopardized. It is a difficult position, but it is something that needs to be addressed,” Franco said.
They worried that the incident could have easily escalated.
“Look at Los Coyotes,” Storey said, referring to a suspected debris fire a few weeks ago that displaced roughly 22 residents. Another fire was put out near 16th and Mission streets last week. “It’s putting us all at risk,” Storey said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a city worker was clearing charred remains of the fire outside the center. The security guard was offered counseling services, but appears to be okay so far.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact the San Francisco Police Department SFPD 24-hour-tip line at 1-415-575-4444, or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the message with SFPD. You may remain anonymous.