Factions square off over approach to homeless

by Thomas K. Pendergast

What to do about the homeless population in the Richmond?

This was the question that a couple of dozen Richmond District residents discussed recently, in preparation for a meeting coming up on April 4 with the district’s supervisor, Sandra Lee Fewer.

The meeting was called for by Richmond resident Ward Naughton, using the Nextdoor.com Internet social media platform. It was held at the Richmond Branch Public Library.

It was noted at the meeting that when homeless camps get too big, the police tend to come in and break them up, which scatters homeless people into other areas.

“Just moving people on, is it really solving the problem? It just becomes somebody else’s problem, eventually,” Naughton said. “So, the question I have is: how do we engage the City to come up with real types of solutions?”

As the discussion progressed, it quickly became apparent that the room was divided into two camps: one which wants to cut off services to the homeless and one which wants to increase city services for them.

“We need to get tough with a lot of these people. We keep giving them services and a lot of these people don’t respect getting services. They are using us,” said Brad McMillan. “Probably a lot of them are people who came here and found out that it was very easy to get services, and it’s become a lifestyle for them. And it doesn’t seem like that point of view ever gets to City Hall. They keep coming up with more services to give people. That’s the exact wrong thing to do. You need to find out, first of all, who came from here? And, if they didn’t come from here why are we supporting them? Send them back to where the hell they are from.”

Peter Jacobs lives on 14th Avenue, across the street from the Park Presidio Boulevard green belt where homeless people tend to camp. He said people who have mental health or drug addiction issues should be taken off the streets by the City and put into programs where they can get treatment.

“They don’t have the ability to make the right decision, on drugs. They don’t have the ability to make the right decision when they’re mentally ill,” said Jacobs. “They actually want help, the mentally ill. Many of them when they get to a certain phase, they go through phases, and you catch them in the right phase they say ‘please help me. I need help and I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know how.’ And they need help. So, you’re doing a good thing for them. It’s tough love.”

Naughton responded that, in the meantime, locals need to step up and show that they are willing to be a part of the solution, without waiting for City Hall to take the lead.

“What I’d like to keep us focused on is the manageable neighborhood issues, that we can do something,” Naughton said. “There’s two sides to this: what we want and what we’re willing to do. If we believe that the City is going to solve this problem … we’re going to be here having the same conversation five, 10, 15 years from now. The way you get help is showing you want to be a part of the solution and that you’re doing something.”

Stephen Byrne summed up the gist of the problem in dealing with homelessness, when he pointed out that even with this small group of people there were two differing opinions.

“Homelessness is a problem all over the United States, in fact, around the world,” Byrne said. “This seems like a really sticky, two-sided argument and there’s got to be an answer.”

Lindsay Shaw said she does not think homeless people are criminals.

“I don’t necessarily think that arresting them and throwing them in jail for three days, and then they’re just back out again, is going to fix anything,” Shaw said. “They’re here . They’ve been here for decades. They’re not going anywhere.”

Someone else suggested that vendors be required to lock their trash cans so the homeless cannot get into them and scatter trash around.

Naughton introduced the idea of Community Benefits Districts, of which there are 13 already around the City, he said.

“What they do is get the residents and the merchants together … to agree to beassessed a certain amount of money … and then what you do is hire an outreach team and private security, ” Naughton said.

Nicky Chiuchiarelli suggested that there was an immediate need for better data on the local homeless population, to figure out why current services are not working.

One point of consensus is the need for more public bathrooms.

“If you don’t like them going to the bathroom then give them a public bathroom, like one of those stations on Marnet Street,” Shaw said.

“I come from a country where there’s public bathrooms everywhere,” Byrne responded. “One thing I don’t like about America is not enough public toilets.”

The next community meeting on homelessness in the Richmond will be held on April 4, at the Golden Gate Park Senior Center, located at 37th Avenue and Fulton Street, from 6-8 p.m.

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