I spoke to the press tonight (a neighbor and I did), to an awesome crew of broadcast journalists from KTVU FOX2 led by Jana Katsuyama, about the situation on Willow Street, the notorious alley about which I’ve previously written (without naming it because, y’ know, security).
My weeping Willow.
Five years I’ve seen that street deteriorate into one of those alleys in which misery and filth abound and are allowed to fester, if you don’t do something about it. Do not get it twisted: I understand that there is need. I know older, underprivileged populations are being displaced in favor of a new demo that’s that oh-so-now and oh-so-with it. I’ve seen dem open-air drug deals, I’ve seen all that open-air druggin’, and what that does to our streets because we’re right next to the Tenderloin, OK. And it’s really everywhere, OK. We’re not blind. If you’ve spent any time in San Francisco, you’ve seen a thing or poop.
For months, since April, a cohort of health and outreach workers has been coming to Willow to make direct contact, for a few hours on Thursdays, with those in need out on the street. I’m still not sure how it all came together, but it did, and I’m grateful for that and for the somewhat-regular clean-ups and extra SFPD patrols that came with the deal. It’s not much, barely a bare minimum, but it’s been a worthy endeavor that has fed people and, fingers crossed, saved some lives. Now, come the new year, these activations may be discontinued.
Willow wasn’t always this way. I’m not sure when they shut down for an earthquake retrofit on which we are all waiting with breath that is beyond-bated, but, apparently, during the time that City College of San Francisco’s property next door to us was up and running, Willow wasn’t in this state. It was like that when we got here five years ago. This fall, she came undone, honey.
So many people arrived here. It was the most. It also was sad. And maddening. And frustrating. The weekly activation wouldn’t be enough.
Willow wouldn’t have gotten this out of control, if our good friends at the college (they’re on the naughty list this Christmas, though – again) hadn’t failed so completely to own their shit, as Lisa Rinna would say, and, at least, had tried to maintain and secure their side of the street and advocate for ours with a little more oomph. Their neglect allowed the crisis in the T to spread to its westerly edge on Van Ness Avenue. Combined with the constant arrival of displaced people in need (and in shock), of people young and old that cannot go home for some reason, of a lot of people who are in pressing need of intervention, of mental health, of community, on a street that simply isn’t equipped…. Obviously, not ideal, but also, a heckuva lot for tax- and rent-/mortgage-paying neighbors to handle or manage or have to endure on the daily with insufficient support. That this has gone on for this long – I get it: Typical Tenderloin…nothing’s gonna change…wah.
I say no more. #DoMore.
That has been the intention all along, to shine a light on Willow so more can be done here and everywhere that needs the TLC. Right now, you’d look at Willow and call me crazy.
Two weeks ago, it was resolved that Willow would be cleared and cleaned, and that metal barriers would be placed all along the street to deter new encampments from forming out there (before incredibility sank in, I counted about 25 tents one day in November, which was like, peak Willow realness). A Band-Aid on a broken arm is what I’ve been calling this resolution with the metal barriers, but neighborly consensus is we’ll take it.
This is but a short break. We’re not that gullible. There’s too much need out there for this to be final, for anyone to live happily ever after.
As I mentioned to Jana Katsuyama after the broadcast, I was feeling anxious about it, but I’m happy we got to illuminate the problematic in a concise fair manner that is, by no means, the be-all and end-all of this issue. This has never been about pointing a finger and certainly, definitely not about dismissing our brothers and sisters on the street and having them be gone.
There’s still so much work to do. Thank you for reading and for allowing me to share this story.