Safe Healthy Haight: How will the site be managed now that it’s open, and the plight of our local merchants

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Since last week, Safe Healthy Haight has been hard at work on many different workstreams related to the tent site at Haight & Stanyan. Most of the volunteers in this group have full-time jobs and familial commitments, in addition to the work associated with Safe Healthy Haight, so we haven’t been able to publish formal blog posts as often as we’d like; please follow our Twitter account or join our Facebook group for more frequent updates.

We’re sharing what we’ve accomplished thus far and what we hope to accomplish going forward, as well as an update on various matters such as our surge in merchant support, the opening of the site and the management plan.

Within days of establishing ourselves, hundreds of people joined our group and signed up for our mailing list, and the numbers are continuing to grow. We’ve spoken with countless residents and merchants, including neighbors who live near the tent encampments at Haight & Masonic and on Waller. In particular, we’ve seen significant outreach from families in the neighborhood, including parents of children at Haight Ashbury Community Nursery School, Kezar Pavillion (currently providing childcare for essential workers), Grattan Elementary, Acro Sports and others.

[Update: At the time of original publication, this post included a list of over 20 local merchants who supported our efforts, which were highlighted in our post when we said “We’ve now focused most of our efforts on the management plan for this site, concentrating on steering the City away from the frequently cited Community Action Made 4 People (CAMP) plan.”

Unfortunately, several of these merchants were subsequently unfairly targeted for their support, namely asking for reasonable policies on the site management plan. Accordingly, we’ve removed reference to these merchants as we don’t want to cause further disruptions to their businesses during an already stressful time with so many challenges. This development has unfortunately demonstrated how difficult it is to have a thoughtful, nuanced discussion about this issue, rather than just lumping people into “pro-homeless” or “anti-homeless.”]

Additionally, we’ve received support from leaders of organizations such as Friends of Alvord Lake, Friends of Oak Woodlands, Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, Cole Valley Improvement Association and Haight Ashbury Improvement Association.

“Preston doesn’t shy away from his involvement in giving away tents, saying it was the right thing to do.”

“‘No one is happy with the situation,’ Preston said. ‘Not the people in the tents or the neighbors.’”

“The first [tent site] opened on Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and Main Library, where there are no adjacent businesses or residences. The Haight [tent site] is a different story.”

Safe Healthy Haight received a great deal of media coverage last week, including Phil Matier’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Our initial blog post quickly spread on social media, even trending in San Francisco’s Reddit page with over 150,000 members. Developments such as these further amplified our message, highlighting how unsuitable Haight & Stanyan is for a sanctioned tent site, as well as the reckless actions of Supervisor Preston with respect to handing out tents and his lack of community engagement on this site. This media attention garnered many new members to our group and afforded us greater leverage to accomplish our goals. In parallel, there has been increased coverage of tent issues in other parts of the City, highlighting the discrepancy between neighborhoods.

“Supervisor Stefani said she was extremely concerned. ‘For weeks, I have been going out to this location every day to monitor what’s going on and communicate to our departments that allowing camping, drug use, and threats of violence to persist does not serve our public health goals. I will not let up until we reach a solution that ensures that neighbors, Safeway customers, and those living outside are safe.’

Then, over the Memorial Day weekend, residents noticed law enforcement and the Department of Public Works at the encampment, and by Tuesday it was gone. Deno credits his neighbors, especially the brave seniors, for coming together and speaking out, but they also had strong advocates in Captain Engler and Supervisor Stefani.”

On May 27, a group called Concerned Citizens of the Haight (CCOH) filed a lawsuit to stop the sanctioned tent encampment. To be clear, Safe Healthy Haight is not a party to this lawsuit and issued this statement in response to its filing. Amoeba Records openly said they were involved in CCOH, releasing this statement on May 27.

Most of the discussion surrounding the lawsuit has centered on the politics of Harmeet Dhillon, the controversial San Francisco attorney who represented CCOH and is a vocal supporter of President Trump, rather than the substance of the lawsuit itself. On May 29, Amoeba released a second statement: “Mistakes were made; a lawyer was recommended to us and in haste we took the recommendation without thorough vetting. Harmeet Dhillon’s politics are obviously not in line with Amoeba’s beliefs and vision, and we have therefore parted ways.”

Safe Healthy Haight remains unaffiliated with this lawsuit, but we recognize that the stories told in the complaint are real experiences (see below) and we encourage people to read the complaint for themselves.

One such [CCOH] member lives on Masonic Avenue and Haight Street, and has been a resident for 20 years. As a 2-year cancer survivor still on hormone suppressant therapy and suffering ongoing secondary conditions from high blood pressure, she is particularly vulnerable to COVID19 and has been sheltering at home since March 18, 2020. She has left her home only once for oncology lab work, and for a chest X-ray for an ongoing cough. Because she is considered high risk, the introduction into her neighborhood of a tent encampment raises and exacerbates serious health concerns. With the existing tents that scatter the intersection of Haight Street and Masonic Street, she has already observed feces and urine on the sidewalks, drug abuse, screaming at all hours of the night, aggressive threatening behavior toward the police and his fellow neighbors, and she reasonably anticipates a significant increase in this activity should 730 Stanyan Street open the encampment. She will be fearful of leaving her house if the Safe Sleeping Village is opened.

On May 29, the sanctioned tent site at Haight & Stanyan opened and tents began moving in. While Safe Healthy Haight remains steadfast that the selected location is inappropriate, it’s clear that no amount of neighborhood input will sway Supervisor Preston’s determination to keep the tents at this site. Interestingly, it was less than five years ago when he organized neighbors due to a lack of community process from then District 5 Supervisor London Breed.

We’ve now focused most of our efforts on the management plan for this site, concentrating on steering the City away from the frequently cited Community Action Made 4 People (CAMP) plan.

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  • “CAMP is also committed to creating an environment free from punitive or paternalistic rules including curfews, hiring security or involving law enforcement.”
  • “CAMP will establish a structure that falls somewhere between a ‘self-managed’ and ‘self-governed’ system — meaning, the third party organizers will retain logistical oversight of CAMP, but also rely on [inhabitants] to establish rules and largely be responsible for managing themselves in terms of behavior.”

We dug deeper into the CAMP plan, as most members of the public had never seen it before, and noted that it says it’s modeled after the “authorized encampment best practices” set forth in It Takes a Village: Practical Guide for Authorized Encampments from the Seattle University School of Law, citing sanctioned tent encampments such as the Nickelsville village in Seattle. However, CAMP perhaps missed that this article was written by a student in connection with a school project in the university’s Homeless Rights Advocacy Project and that it remains unpublished in any scholarly journal — hardly the definitive authority it claims to be. Further, the city of Seattle shut down the Nickelsville village in 2019 (one year after “It Takes a Village” was written) due in part to the utter failure of a “self-management and self-empowerment” system in a homeless village. See the full article Seattle to shut down homeless village amid rift with residents.

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One of the corners at Haight & Masonic

Based on the behavior exhibited at the current encampments, we strongly disagree with CAMP’s approach (click here to see several other videos we’ve received). In the past several days alone, there have been multiple 911 calls, drug overdoses and violent fights at the Haight & Masonic encampment. This is in addition to the baseline drug and alcohol use that has become near constant according to neighbors. A more comprehensive management plan is needed for the health and safety of the tent dwellers and the broader community.

For example, the first video below shows the campers attacking the toilet attendant at Haight & Masonic. Before this video was taken, neighbors reported that the campers’ dogs were attacking/chasing this worker, too. Violent behavior like this continued for approximately 15 minutes before the police arrived. This attack occurred in spite of the fact that earlier in the week toilet attendant helped pull an overdosing tent dweller out of the portable toilet so that Narcan could be administered to counteract the drug overdose. Neighbors reported that the same woman who suffered the overdose was under the influence of hard drugs once again later that day. Behavior like this is why we believe CAMP’s desire for the campers to “largely be responsible for managing themselves in terms of behavior” is unacceptable.

Video from May 30th
Compilation video from a single day (May 30th) at the Haight and Masonic Encampment

Thankfully, due in part to Safe Healthy Haight’s advocacy and our meetings with City officials, the site management plan for 730 Stanyan has veered away from the CAMP plan. We have been assured by City officials that site users will need to agree to abide by site rules and that the site managers will need to implement the City approved operation plan. We have also been assured that each site user will be provided an individualized exit plan so that the site can be wound down after its limited term (3–6 months) in an organized and compassionate manner. We expect to see the contract for the site and operation plan any day now so that we can confirm these details and provide input based on residents’ concerns that have been shared with us.

We find it unfortunate that Supervisor Preston was unwilling to address Concerned Citizens of the Haight’s (CCOH) concerns regarding the site so that they felt litigation was the only tool they had left. However, we will continue to support our local merchants and can appreciate the circumstances they find themselves in. The Haight Street corridor has faced many challenges in recent years, and we’ve spoken to a number of merchants who are incredibly worried about their businesses (and their livelihoods) due to the impacts of this tent site. Unfortunately, many merchants said that they are afraid of speaking out against the proposed site and suffering the backlash from activists and the online community — based on the response Amoeba Records has received from some people, we can understand this apprehension.

However, we feel it’s important to shine a light on the merchant’s situation and provide some context for positions some of them are taking. The Haight Ashbury Merchant Association (HAMA) represents the businesses located in the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Commercial District. Shortly after the tent site was announced, Amoeba Records reached out to its fellow HAMA merchants to express its frustration with the site’s location and seeking to connect with like-minded merchants.

On May 20th, in response, Haight Ashbury Merchants Association President Christin Evans, who is a vocal supporter of Supervisor Preston and claims to have handed out over 800 tents as of April 10, sent an email to the HAMA merchants stating, among other things, that:

  1. She apologizes for “not letting everyone know in advance that this campsite was being discussed”
  2. No organization was pushing for 730 Stanyan [the McDonald’s lot].”
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May 20th Email from HAMA President Christin Evans to the Haight Merchants

However, the CAMP plan, which was initially distributed by Ms. Evans and Homeless Youth Alliance back in April, says:

  • “We are concerned community leaders, housing advocates and service providers working collaboratively with the unhoused residents of the Haight to implement a safe encampment at 730 Stanyan, Kezar Pavilion or other suitable location.”
  • “The below organizations are in support of implementing CAMP in the Upper Haight as soon as possible and urge the City to authorize the use of an appropriate space: Haight Ashbury Merchants Association; Homeless Youth Alliance.”
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Text from the CAMP Plan

Ms. Evans, in her capacity as President of HAMA and steward of the Haight commercial corridor, advocated for this sanctioned tent camp at one of the corridor’s busiest intersections, and then misrepresented those actions to the merchants she represents. This certainly adds a new perspective to the situation faced by merchants and perhaps explains why they felt litigation was their only option. This frustration was compounded when the merchants discovered that Ms. Evans was also distributing the tents that ended up in the Haight. We’ve been told that City officials were under the impression that the Haight Street merchants wanted this site, but in reality most merchants had no knowledge of the situation until they saw the public announcement. Of the approximately 130 businesses on Haight Street, most are not meaningfully involved in HAMA — for example, there were approximately a dozen businesses that attended their May 21st meeting. Ms. Evans has subsequently said that “several” merchants are supportive of the tent site.

Even before the shelter-in-place orders, businesses on Haight Street have been struggling. Since late 2018, they’ve been in the midst of heavy construction from the Upper Haight transit improvement and pedestrian realm project. Moreover, ever-increasing quality of life complaints continue to keep many residents away from the corridor, with nearby alternatives such as Inner Sunset and Divisadero becoming increasingly attractive to Upper Haight residents. As a result, many Haight Street businesses have closed, although HAMA believes this is more attributable to increasing rents than diminished foot traffic. These circumstances have led to the creation of a corridor that has become extremely dependent on tourists for revenue. This topic is partially discussed in the San Francisco Chronicle’s article, “What’s not to love in Haight-Ashbury: empty storefronts”.

Moving forward, the merchants expect the Haight corridor to be harder hit by the dramatic decline in tourist traffic after COVID-19 than other corridors. Now more than ever, they will need residential customers to come to Haight Street and patronize their businesses, and they’re worried that this tent site will further engrain tent encampments and homeless-related issues in the neighborhood (not just 730 Stanyan), likely keeping customers away. The CCOH complaint includes the following statement:

[A merchant] received a letter from a customer a mere four days after the City’s announcement of the Safe Sleeping Village. In the letter, the customer lamented the fact that although he and his wife had been regular patrons of Haight Street vendors, “after this tent site, we’ll be avoiding the area altogether and shopping for groceries at Trader Joe’s on Masonic or Whole Foods on Market.” This customer added “[w]e’ve heard the same from all our neighbors.”

In the coming weeks, we intend to publish a deeper analysis of the condition of the Haight Street commercial corridor. This will include sales tax revenue from the Controller’s Office of Budget and Analysis, which shows declining retail revenue being spent on Haight Street over the past ten years as compared to significant increases in other nearby commercial corridors.

Safe Healthy Haight has meetings with several City officials next week and will continue to advocate for a more robust site management plan that takes into account residents’ concerns, establishes clear timelines for closure and sets defined benchmarks for success. We are expecting to see the contract any day now.

Until then, please email your concerns to Supervisor Preston (dean.preston@sfgov.org) and cc Safe Healthy Haight (safehealthyhaight@gmail.com). Don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, and join our Facebook group.

Finally, certain critics of Safe Healthy Haight have alleged that we made untrue statements in our initial blog post, with Supervisor Preston lamenting our alleged “fact free accusations.” We found this puzzling since we’ve made a point to include links to sources wherever possible so our readers can verify claims for themselves.

If you see any information presented as a fact that you believe is untrue, please reach out to safehealthyhaight@gmail.com so we can correct it immediately. Unlike certain other publications covering this topic, we strive to maintain factual integrity and ensure that the community is well-informed and making rational decisions based on verified information.

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