SAN FRANCISCO -- Homelessness, drug abuse, mental health services were among the top concerns for people who live in the Western Addition at a community meeting Monday evening.
Yulanda Williamswas was among several speakers, who aired their concerns before Reverand Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, and several city agency representatives. She is a retired SFPD officer who used to work in the Northern Police Station, which covers the Fillmore.
Williams, a San Francisco native, said she feels helpless at times. Over several decades, she has witnessed the Fillmore go from a thriving district for small businesses and music, to a place she now tries to avoid visiting.
"The most egregious things that I have witnessed is the blatant drug sales out in the area, the drug usage, actually seeing people with hypodermic needles in their arms," she said. "Also, seeing the filth and all of the trash that's in the parking lot."
Williams is talking specifically about the Safeway on Webster Street. KPIX 5 reporter Betty Yu drove by on Monday, and saw several people camping in their cars, and tents around the grocery store.
"Your first fear is that is someone going to break in your car while you're shopping," Williams said. "And then when you go into the store, trying to hold on to your personal effects hoping that someone's not going to steal them from you. Once inside of the store, I witness frequently people shoplifting."
Williams spent 32 years with the department before she retired this summer. On Monday, several residents shared similar experiences and their fears of being victimized. They also gave examples of the degradation of the neighborhood..
SFPD confirmed that it is seeing an increase in homelessness and drug usage in the Western Addition. Assistant chief David Lazar pledged to come up with a plan, partnering with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and the Department of Emergency Management.
"Really the police have a role in terms of enforcement, but more importantly it's what can we do to get the unhoused residents into shelters especially now during the Christmas holiday and it's very cold outside," Lazar said. "The reality is the San Francisco Police Department is short about 540 officers. This is unprecedented. This really is a staffing crisis that we have here in San Francisco."
James Spingola, the executive director of the Ella Hill Hutch Center was also in the audience on Monday. The non-profit said he was viciously beaten by two homeless men back in June, and conditions in the community haven't improved.
Williams said the neighborhood today is wildly different than the one she grew up visiting as a little girl.
"This used to be called Uptown, so we would come to Uptown instead of going to downtown for shopping, and I have seen this just do a major 360 degree turn," said Williams. "I have seen businesses open up, and then they only last for maybe a year if they're lucky. So it's really disheartening."
She added that she actually remembers when businesses were booming and when that Safeway just opened. It was a wonderful addition to the community, and now the area is being overlooked and marginalized when it comes to city services.
Lazar said he would solidify a plan with community leaders this week, and follow up shortly thereafter.
for more features.