Downtown and Our Homeless Neighbors; Letter to the Editor

South San Francisco, CA        August 7, 2015   

Today we received this message on our facebook page and we share it here with our response.

I have previously argued with people on this page who I felt were demonizing homeless people in SSF, but I feel I should share with you my sweetheart’s recent experience. She lives far away, and breezed into town last weekend to see me. She headed for Grand Avenue because it’s a place she knows and she’s a big fan of its Latin restaurants.

While she was waiting for me to show up, her rental car’s window was smashed and she didn’t dare even approach the car because there were homeless guys milling about it, one of whom she was sure had broken the window.

She said she wasn’t sure if the homeless guys were having a fight or if the one dude was just yelling at anybody and nobody because of his mental illness.

All of this left her with a significantly changed impression of South City. I defended the town, and told her it was still a relative rarity to have one’s car window broken, but she still had the feeling the city was on some kind of downward trend.

We did dine at that nice Thai place on Grand (I forget the name), and we returned the next day to eat at Ben Tre, so she hasn’t completely soured on Grand Avenue or South City, but it still bothers me that such a swell town made such a bad impression on her.

And my beliefs about how to handle homeless people are pretty much unchanged. If there are too many of them behaving badly on Grand Avenue, this can be fixed compassionately.

SMPD Chief of Police Susan Manheimer has talked about how cops are often a person’s first point of contact with the social services they need, and about how she wants her officers to always be aware of the resources they can connect people to.

I hope SSFPD is similarly armed with knowledge and resources, but I don’t think we can put this all on the cops. We need social workers, volunteers, clergy, somebody who can get out there and talk to SSF’s homeless population and help them get hooked up with our county’s robust human services.

And our county recently adopted Laura’s Law, which means that in the case of the homeless mentally ill, the courts now have more authority to order them into outpatient treatment.

Anyway, I just wanted to get all that off my chest. All of you who live in SSF deserve to have a Grand Avenue that is a safe place for everybody. Safe for visitors, safe for residents, and yes, safe for homeless people.

But keeping homeless people safe might mean persuading them to get the help they need. I just hope that help will be available and meaningful.

– Brendan P.  Bartholomew

Our response:

Hi Brendan,

Thank you for taking the time to let us know your recent experience and it is disappointing that this incident happened to your friend. Thank you for giving our downtown another chance and coming back to enjoy a few of our eateries.

The homeless population downtown has been a concern for many and your suggestions that a multiple agency approach might be most beneficial. Currently our police patrol the area by bike allowing them the opportunity to help our homeless neighbors get the services that might benefit them, however not every person in that segment of our population is open to the services available. Your idea of including social workers, volunteers, clergy, is interesting and hopefully someone reading this might know how this can happen.

After our San Mateo County Homeless Count was completed an interview was conducted with our SSFPD and we share with you the following:

“We come in contact with homeless citizens daily, either in response to a call or by patrol, especially our downtown bicycle patrol officer[s],” police Sgt. Ken Chetcuti said. “We refer them to St. Vincent De Paul or if there are alcohol or drug issues to San Mateo County agencies like First Chance, Palm Avenue Detox or San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services if they are suffering from some sort of apparent mental health condition, whether it be diagnosed or undiagnosed.”

Again, thank you for bringing your friend back downtown and we hope the return visit helped to soften the blow felt by having her car window smashed while visiting. Your post is most appreciated.


To read more about our homeless population please CLICK HERE


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