In a virtual community meeting with a group of Shotwell residents living on Mission blocks beset by homeless encampments, District Supervisor Hillary Ronen made it clear that she felt their pain and promised that tiny houses and new Ambassadors were on their way.
The city, she said, has agreed to open a 60-cabin site at 1979 Mission St. near 16th Street, that will be large enough to accommodate all the homeless people currently in the Mission district.
Homeless residents will face consequences if they refuse the offer to move in, she said.
“If we’re making that genuine offer of a long-term placement, and that person says no, then that person has to go somewhere else,” said Ronen. “Because it’s not fair to be sleeping in the neighborhood, blocking a sidewalk, creating a lot of trash. That’s hard, especially for a residential neighborhood like the Mission.”
Ronen acknowledged that if the tiny homes materialize, the challenge will be to maintain the results. For her, this situation requires partnerships with the police and the Department of Public Works. Without this, she said, “Usually we can hold it for a while and then we start all over again.”
Later in the day, John Loshuertos, a 16-year Shotwell resident and one of the organizers of the meeting, stressed that nearly all of the issues revolve around homelessness. “You solve that issue, 80 percent of our quality-of-life issues get fixed,” said Loshuertos in an interview with Mission Local.
The residents did not react at the meeting, but moved onto the next topic. Loshuertos said afterwards that “I think it’s a great idea!”
Although only seven residents attended the mid-day meeting, some 60 are on a mailing list. The Shotwell Association focuses on improving police visibility and overall quality of life for residents on Shotwell Street between 14th and 16th Street, and 15th Street and between Folsom Street and South Van Ness Avenue.
Until homeless residents are moved into tiny homes – and perhaps even afterwards – Maureen McCullough had other questions. Would the city “fund an ambassador to clean the surrounding streets to discourage encampments?”
The goal is to have up to 10 ambassadors on Mission streets by February, according to Santiago Lerma, Ronen’s aide.
“We will put most of the ambassadors in your area. You will absolutely have ambassadors,” said Ronen, who promised her office would reach out to the residents in January to discuss the streets and time together.
Most troubling to residents are the fires, sometimes sparked, by homeless residents cooking. Fires have occurred frequently over the past two years. “It came to a head when these encampment fires were really starting to threaten buildings,” said Loshuertos.
“Why should a homeless person be allowed to have a grill in front of a building and cook with no repercussions if they catch the building on fire?” asked Dimitris Drolapas, seemingly speaking the mind of every resident in the area.
Ronen mentioned the obstacles she encountered in dealing with the fire and police departments on the issue, but also spoke candidly of her own limits and on the divisions within the San Francisco government.
“Again, it’s just that there are a lot of dysfunctions. I’m using every bit of my somewhat limited power,” she said. “I’m one of 11 supervisors on the board, my power is to legislate, approve the budget, or reject it and move a little bit of money around and hold public hearings and use the press in the community. And we use all of our powers to the utmost.”
“I’m not pointing fingers to avoid responsibility at all because I hate that. I’m just saying, the person who’s in charge of all of the city departments and then work is the executive branch of government. This is one of the worst executive branches and the most dysfunctional that I’ve ever worked in.”
Ronen paused and said that she was not putting all the blame at Mayor London Breed’s doorstep. But. “I will say that I’ve never seen the level of dysfunction in city departments who have thousands of employees to do the actual work. Me and Santi (Lerma) have three other colleagues, in our office there are five people. And we are dealing with every problem under the sun.”
That included the 24th Street BART station, which “basically became the biggest market in the city for stolen goods.”
While the fix hasn’t been perfect, she acknowledged, it is a lot better. But it happened from her office and not downtown, she explained. “We wrote legislation, passed it, then Santi (Lerma) micromanaged the execution of the city department for actually enforcing it. I yelled and screamed daily for the need for more resources. That’s what we spend our days doing,” she said.
The few residents in attendance listened quietly and patiently to her approximately six minute speech, with one question in the middle.
“It’s really helpful to hear details of what you’re doing,” said McCullough.
And Loshuertos too was impressed.
“It was good. She was pretty candid about some of the challenges she’s facing. I’m glad it seemed like she was honest about it,” he said after the meeting. “I think she addressed most of the concerns.”
The meeting ended with a promise from Ronen to return at the end of January or early February with the police and fire departments as well as the mayor’s office. “Hopefully, collectively (we can) come to some agreements, that we can try to address these issues all together,” she said.