Homelessness in the Castro district of San Francisco

The Castro is famous worldwide as an LGBT mecca. Nonetheless, social problems nag what one of my students called, the “gayborhood.” This story is also distinctive because among all the capstone project papers in our classroom, this one has the most human sources quoted.

By Dimitri D. Bailey

Despite effort and resolve, homelessness in San Francisco is getting worse, not better.

For the past couple of years, San Franciscans have complained about homeless encampments sprouting at alarming rates in certain parts of the city. A new count shows that homeless people are infiltrating into residential neighborhoods.

The prevalence of homelessness in the city is widely noted by visitors and residents and has been described as San Francisco’s intractable problem.

Castro Merchants Administrator Richard Magary said, “The homeless presence on our streets is a longstanding and growing problem.”

Rachel Gordon, director of communications for San Francisco Public Works, said, “Public works essentially cleans the streets throughout the entire city. We have recently seen more homeless in the Castro area.”

In San Francisco’s 2017 Homeless Count and Survey Comprehensive Report, the primary cause for homelessness is difficult to pinpoint, as it is often the result of multiple causes.

Homeless population stats reveal that the top five responses that are primary causes of homelessness are job loss, alcohol or drug use, eviction, family and friend disputes which can often lead to someone being asked to move on and last, but not least, divorce and other breakups.

Homelessness and crime are often correlative. Homeless individuals are more susceptible to being involved in criminal activity of some sort, particularly youth, veterans and individuals with mental health issues.

Within the past few years, residents of the Castro district have seen an increase in homeless visibility and subsequently, crime.

Castro resident Scott Forten said, “Visibility of the homeless has increased, but I don’t know if we can blame the increase in crime entirely on the homeless per se.”

Forten added, “With an increase in homeless presence, there has also been an increase in young travelers who seem to be prone to fights and hooliganism.”

The looming presence of homeless people parading along the district’s sidewalks has taken a massive toll on the neighborhood. Within the last couple of years, the district has undergone an identity crisis. Historically known as the gay capital of the United States and a major tourist attraction, the Castro has now become a haven for the homeless.

Lately, the community has been in an uproar over the excessive numbers of homeless migrating to the so-called gayborhood and–some might say–changing the aesthetic and tone of the district.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Rachel Reynard first moved to the Castro in the mid-‘90s. The 52-year-old said, “The neighborhood used to be quiet, but now there’s a different tone. It feels a lot angrier, and aggressive.

During the Castro Merchants’ monthly meeting, there was an overwhelming concern about the lack of police presence in the community. At the meeting, many were not shy about voicing their opinion on the homeless issue.

“The growth of the police department is not matching the growth and population of the city,” said Cliff’s Variety General Manager Terry Bennett. “There needs to be an active police presence.”

Most crimes that happen in the neighborhood are predominantly misdemeanor calls and are not usually on the San Francisco Police Department’s list of top priorities.

“Most of the crimes that happen within the neighborhood consist mostly of car break-ins, hit-and-runs and petty theft, which are lowest on the list of priorities for cops, because those particular calls are so frequent,” said police officer Ethan Chan.

Chan added, “As of August 2017, the city implemented a proposal that gives victims of property theft the option to contact general SF priority needs. The victims can report the crime to 311. It makes things more easy and efficient.”

In addition to the spike in crime and homeless in the Castro district, the overall cleanliness of the neighborhood has taken a major turn. Residents of the Castro are not entirely certain that the griminess of the district is due to an increase in homeless visibility. However, skeptics believe the expansion of the homeless population living within borders of the district have exacerbated the trash issue.

Massage therapist Ryan Joseph said, “I have lived in the Castro district for three years. The district has definitely taken a turn for the worse. I have walked over hypodermic needles and human feces.”

Joseph added, “It is out of control. If these fools don’t solve the district’s problems, then we need to fire them and find someone who can.”

To preserve the prestige and reputation of the vibrant-hued gayborhood, there has been a community collaborative effort between the Castro/Mission districts and the city to establish programs such as Castro Cares and Fix-It Team.

Castro Cares is a collaboration of neighborhood groups, residents, businesses, religious organizations and city departments coming together to improve the quality of life for San Francisco’s homeless population.

“There are lots of resources out there, (but) for some reason people are reluctant to use these services that are provided by the city and community,” said Magary.

A second program that was initiated by the city, specifically the mayor, is Fix-It Team SF. The program is San Francisco’s rebuttal to the drastic increase of the homeless population. The Fix-It Team is a multi-agency collaboration working in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Since May 2016, the mayor’s office Fix-It Team has been at work in neighborhoods throughout the city implementing the mayor’s ”safe and clean” neighborhood’s promise.

Fix-It Director Sandra Zuniga said, “The Fix-It team brings in various agencies to rectify city issues from broken street lights, littering and cleaning up homeless encampments. The Castro district is one of the target neighborhoods from all the recent activity.”

The Fix-it Team seems to improve the quality of life in San Francisco’s neighborhoods by collaborating with residents to identify and address critical cleanliness and safety issues that affect their lives. By coordinating directly with city departments, the Fix-It Team is committed to delivering city services better and faster.

 

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