SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A one-way, one-block alley in San Francisco has neighbors living in constant fear and afraid for their safety. Willow Street between Van Ness and Polk currently has the highest concentration of tents in San Francisco, according to the latest city data.
"It's pretty consistently nerve-wracking," said resident Amber Lutsko. "This just seems to be a safe space for chop shops, drug trafficking."
Residents say they're afraid to drive down Willow Street and most wouldn't dare walk through it day or night. They say the problem has exploded exponentially since COVID.
"The garbage first of all that's a huge health concern, rats...," added Lutsko.
It's all within feet of The Artani, located at 818 Van Ness Avenue, where units have sold for more than $1 million.
When asked what the most egregious part of the street was:
"Probably the threats of violence, the threats of violence to us, other residents in the building," said Lutsko.
"I've seen people physically fighting, and I myself was leaving once and a man approached my car and yelling obscenities and threatening me, which was really scary," said a resident named Shannon, who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons.
"There was a guy who passed out in front of our door with a needle hanging out of his arm all day long. And our children had to walk past that," added Lutsko.
Artani residents say they are confronted with unwanted activity as soon as they exit the garage. They are forced to make a right turn onto Willow Street.
They shared photos of a man they say regularly urinates and throws feces. The smell permeates the entire garage. Another photo shows a man trying to break into their garage, by using a bottle to keep it from closing. Others are captured damaging their property - even trespassing and stealing packages.
"I can't really reconcile just the fact that this criminal activity is allowed to happen, I myself have called the cops a number of times," said Shannon, who said SFPD has not shown up whenever she's called.
As recently as Oct. 5, the city came and did a complete sweep of the street - seen in a photo captured by a resident. But by the next day, the tents and the trash had returned.
"The police don't actually come when we call 911, because we're actively being threatened by somebody wielding a club or a knife, they don't come," said Lutsko.
San Francisco police directed the KPIX inquiry to the Healthy Streets Operations Center (HSOC), which coordinates the city's response to quality-of-life issues.
KPIX made multiple requests for a response to the Mayor's Office, and we were sent to the Department of Emergency Management (DEM). It sent the following statement:
San Francisco remains focused on providing services and resources to our unhoused residents while ensuring public streets are safe and healthy for all to use. The social workers, clinicians, medics, police officers, outreach workers, and street-cleaning crews that perform this difficult work have helped many people experiencing crisis on the streets.
From June 2020 to Oct. 2021, city teams encountered 5,621 people and successfully placed 2,535 into hotels, shelters and safe sleeping sites. Currently, more than 2,000 people sheltered in hotels during the pandemic are on the path to permeant supportive housing.
For those that remain unhoused, including the 2,318 that were not ready to accept services, teams will continue to provide services and encourage placements into an alternative shelter. During this same period, we also reduced large encampments by 90%.
On Willow Street, city teams conducted encampment resolutions on 24 different days this year. Their efforts placed 161 people into residential treatment, Navigation Centers, Safe Sleep Sites, hospitals, or shelters.
Teams also resolved hazards, obstructions, and debris on the street.
The resolution included the removal of 377 tents that were either empty, abandoned, or their owners accepted placement in alternate shelters. For 10 days, encampment resolutions were on hold for Willow Street due to COVID response testing and vaccination efforts for people experiencing homelessness in the area, which concluded on Thursday.
People should call city officials if they see someone in crisis or unsafe conditions on the street. Call 3-1-1, visit 311sf.org or use the SF 311 mobile app to report garbage, debris or human or animal waste. Call non-emergency at (415) 553-0123 to report encampments blocking the sidewalk or any non-emergency illegal activity.
Finally, people should call 9-1-1 for fires, medical emergencies and if someone is in crisis and is not an imminent danger to themselves or others. Dispatchers can send San Francisco's Street Crisis Response team if appropriate.
Still, the crisis has driven away customers, according to a local business owner.
"Absolutely we don't feel safe here, because we have really bad experience during COVID," said Barish Halifeoglu. "Whenever I work, I lock the doors because I want to keep customers safe."
Supervisor Matt Haney's office held a town hall with residents, and members of SFPD and HSOC, on Oct. 18. He recently promised deep cleanings twice a month on Willow Street. Haney said he was unavailable for an interview and did not respond to KPIX requests for a statement.
Residents want more police patrols. Artani residents said they have now formed a task force that meets every two weeks to discuss ways to fix this worsening situation.
They are also discussing working with the city to add fencing around the garage, cameras on Willow Street and making it a two-way street.
"This is such a wonderful place, and I don't want to be afraid to live here," said Shannon.
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