Dear Neighbors

Hand of the King of Cups, @themartinharo/Instagram

Dear Neighbors,

It’s sooo easy. Easy as one, two, one, two.

All you actually gotta do is get involved. Actually, properly involved. Marchin’ and donatin’ and commiseratin’ online are all fine things to do, but you gotta walk the talk. Otherwise that shit will stew. Take it from me.

The sad story I see unfolding before me in San Francisco boggles my mind because we have so many tools at our disposal not to have the problems that we have. You know what I’m puttin’ down, so pick it up. We got the homeless/unhoused/vagrant issue (call it what you want), and the criminal element within that group, and the addicted among them, too; and we have a democratic, liberal local government that is willing and able to help and provide but is somehow clobbered by…som’in’ (something more than its good intentions – and you know about those); and yet. And yet, yeah, nothing changes and nothing may never change any time soon.

Unless you get involved, too.

I got involved, and I’m already seeing a little bit of a difference on my streets. Here’s what you can do to make a difference.

Step 1: Get in formation.

If you and your neighbors have seen or experienced crimes (of opportunity, like repeated break-ins or package theft, to give but two examples), gather your security pics and footage. If you have noticed recurring shady characters repeatedly roaming your streets, take the time to record informational details that could be useful to our police.

Get organized and get to knockin’ on your neighbors’ doors and find out whether they have encountered similar situations. Strength in numbers is a real thing. It takes a village, after all.

Step 2: Call your local police department and find out when its captain holds their open-to-the-public monthly meeting.

They already should be hosting one, but, if they’re not, do not throw away your shot and suggest they put one in the books ASAP. Also, write ’em a letter.

The captain of SFPD Northern, Joseph Engler, noted during his March meet (he holds one every first second Tuesday evening of the month) – and I’m paraphrasing here – that a letter, a handwritten missive, stands apart from, say, the multiple myriad calls and emails that the department receives and, indeed, may go a long way in contextualizing matters because letters require effort and focus, and they kinda show you care the best (I mean, who doesn’t like getting a letter).

By attending Capt. Engler’s meeting I learned about the strategy in play to curb criminality in our corners (yes, trust, there is one). I communicated certain expectations and offered reasonable alternatives to the status quo; I let my concerns and worries be heard. An exchange of ideas took place. A meaningful, real relationship was forged.

Step 3: Contact your district’s supervisor and ask for an audience with you and a small but representative group of neighbors, at their offices at City Hall or at a convenient, preferably private neighbors hub.

Put together an agenda, strategize your presentation, and make sure you make it right so you can keep the meeting tight. Remain consistent, remain persistent. If you’re really lucky, you will encounter an engaged, motivated individual ready, at the very least, to listen. Shout-out to the new District 6 supervisor, Matt Haney, and his staff, with whom a neighbor and I met at another neighbor’s building late in March in order to explain our needs (i.e., the priorities that will make our corner of San Francisco that much more of a physically, mentally, and spiritually safe space for all involved) and see about getting those needs met.

These are but three easy steps that I know from experience will make you a better neighbor and resident and provide you a bit o’ solace.

As frustrating as it is to see slow-to-zero movement on matters of safety and security that concern us all in San Francisco (to say nothing of the horrendous and confronting human misery that haunts the City by the Bay), at least you will have done your part. Don’t you know, that is the true power of democracy, to allow citizens the opportunity to speak truth to power and to be involved in and a part of the conversation.

When you get involved, you shine a light on the darkness, and things begin to change. The powers that be can’t deny it any longer, when we hold up a mirror to them.

It’s not about guilt or about pontificating. It’s about trying just a little bit harder.

By doing that, who knows, you may get someone medical help they desperately need. You may come to learn, as I have, that the people I once dared claim supposedly were meant to be working on outreach efforts do, in fact, exist, because you will see them on your streets doing the work, helping people, protecting us, and you will believe.

By getting involved, by meeting with our supervisor and the captain of SFPD Northern, whom I met at his meeting (and who, then, also came to us!), and with Sandra Zuniga, the director of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Fix-It Team SF, I learned about HSOC, the Healthy Streets Operation Center, on which the San Francisco Police Department, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Public Works, and the 311 system work.

I also learned about something called SF SAFE (Safety Awareness for Everyone), another (free, from what I understand) resource spearheaded by Cmdr. David Lazar of the SFPD. Per Capt. Engler, SF SAFE can assist neighbors in assessing their residences vulnerabilities and help out with security cam-placement optimization.

STOP Crime SF has a Court Watch program that will keep residents informed of any upcoming hearing related to crimes committed in our neighborhoods. The next hearing, on open-air drug dealing in SoMA and the Tenderloin, is scheduled for Thursday, April 25, beginning at 10 a.m., at City Hall. A number of stakeholders, including Matt Haney, District 6’s new supervisor (it bears repeatin’), will be there. Will you?

As a result from all this participation – of this civic engagement (don’t let anyone hate on civics , people) – there has been some forward movement on the streets around us, where the drug dealing was/is concerned, and our corner of San Francisco has gotten just a little bit safer. I fully acknowledge, however, that we have ways to go so that our headache doesn’t become yours or that of another group of neighbors. I’ve advocated against that practice, for it solves nothing. (Also not helping matters? Refusing to do your part or, even, try.)

More importantly, people have been fed, people have been helped. If only for an afternoon. Or three.

As of this writing, Jeannie Little, the executive director of the Harm Reduction Therapy Center, plus health workers, a psychiatric nurse practitioner from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Street Medicine Team, and members of the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team have set up shop in the hot mess of an alley next to us three Thursdays in a row in order to tackle some of the homeless and drug-use problematics we have witnessed for far too long. They have provided a little food, a little treatment – and a lot of charity, compassion, and action (complete with grilled cheese sandwiches) – to the addicts and unhoused (and their pets, too) who have taken to this particular street.

And Public Works has committed to twice-a-week scheduled clean-ups, especially down the same street.

So, y’ see, it works. Or it can work.

The system can work the way it should, in the case of all issues we have appeared incapable of managing thus far. One must simply shine a light on the path, especially because much of these matters relate to people on the streets. In San Francisco. In 2019.

One, two, one, two. #SpareaLittleChange today. Do your part, and get involved.

The time is right now. The power is in your heart and in your hands.

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