The Problem of Hate in the Haight

We won’t solve our homelessness crisis until we solve our compassion crisis.

Photo: Jessica Druck/Flickr

There are few things more aggravating than an unproductive meeting — except, perhaps, an unproductive, hate-filled meeting in the Haight. And yet that’s what dozens of residents of Upper Haight suffered through Saturday morning.

On Friday, Feb. 16, 28-year-old Milkon Isleyen was shot in the chest at Oak and Stanyan streets. His friend, who was also a victim of the shooting, was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Six days later, Michael Campbell, 32, David Clark, 31, and Adam Wilson, 36, all died from a fentanyl overdose in the doorway of an elite private high school on Page Street, five blocks away from the site of the shooting.

It was an unprecedented spate of violence and death in a neighborhood, that as Police Captain Una Bailey stressed over and over during Saturday morning’s urgently-called community meeting at Park Police Station, “is a safe district … We do not have a lot of violent crime.”

Nevertheless, neighbors were concerned, and perhaps in an attempt to show that the city was working to address the many issues that contributed to the deaths of the four men, Supervisor London Breed pulled out all the stops. Saturday’s meeting had SFPD, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Works, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the neighborhood District Attorney, Taking it to the Streets, and the Homeless Youth Alliance. It was overkill, as half of those listed never even got a chance to speak during the jam-packed, freezing cold, 90-minute event.

Those who were given the mic, however, were the residents of the Upper Haight. And what should have been a productive, solution-oriented discussion about how to assist those dealing with mental health crises and drug addiction on our neighborhood’s streets instead devolved into a cesspool of ignorance and hatred.

“People are terrified to leave their homes,” one woman, who lives on Masonic Avenue, told the crowd. “When I walk on Haight Street and there is a group of 14 kids — many are transient with pitbulls and I can’t get through the street, I feel frightened and intimidated.”

“Pitbulls are weapons!” shouted a man from the back.

Another neighborhood resident suggested that IV-drug users who have been offered addiction services and have turned them down be arrested and taken to jail.

Bailey said she believed the solution may be more beat cops. “If we could have an officer on every corner, that is what I’d love to do,” she said.

Anger aside, a general lack of focus also meant that many of the speakers who took the mic during public comment used the opportunity to voice their opinions on the McDonald’s site, which is being turned into affordable housing.

And throughout the full 90 minutes, no one — not a single person from any governmental agency, or Breed herself, mentioned the victims’ names. It was only Mary Howe, director of the Homeless Youth Alliance, who grabbed the mic as everyone in the room was standing to go.

“There are four people that lost their lives,” she said, crying as she spoke. “They had names, their lives had value. Their names were Michael, Adam, and David. They died on the streets, in this neighborhood … They are the reason we are here. We can do better as a community. Their lives had value, their deaths were unnecessary.”

The meeting was a complete failure. And it’s a shame, because the solutions to the actual problems — chronic homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse — are obvious. The long-awaited Navigation Center that would cater specifically to transitional aged youth should, clearly, be in the neighborhood with the majority of that population: The Haight. And a 24-hour safe injection site would have offered Campbell, Clark, and Wilson a place to go other than the doorway of the Urban School on Page Street, where they would have had access to addiction services, fentanyl-testing strips, and staff who knew how to reverse overdoses.

Unfortunately, Navigation Centers have yet to open anywhere in District 5, which doesn’t bode well for Safe Injection Sites, which are coming to the city later this summer.

Breed refused to take questions about placement of those two resources from either SF Weekly and the Examiner, completely ignoring the press as she walked toward her car. Later that day, she posted smiling photos on Facebook from a mayoral campaign in the Richmond District.

So, after Saturday’s meeting, what we’re left with is nothing. The Haight is no closer to solving the crises on its streets because so many of its most vocal residents are seriously lacking in compassion. It’s a neighborhood that has, for decades, been home to travelers — transient populations living outside of societal norms. And it’s a damn shame that today, those wearing Grateful Dead T-shirts and a NIMBY attitude are the ones calling the shots.

Do better, Haight.

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