Friday, amid growing complaints about loitering homeless from local merchants and a small, very vocal, cadre of neighbors, the benches located at the Harvey Milk Plaza were removed. The benches, some of the last in the City not designed to be unwelcoming, were often used by transients to hang out on in the Castro to avoid violating the City's much debated, 'No Sit/No Lie' law, designed to keep homeless from congregating or panhandling within neighborhoods known for their heavy tourist population like the Upper Haight, Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach and the Castro.
The removal decision was made Monday by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD), the community group that paid $40,000 to install the benches in 2010 and has been discussing their adverse impact on the plaza for months. The group paid $1800 more to remove the benches, said spokesperson Andrea Aiello, executive director of the benefit district.
This move to remove the benches was applauded by some and decried by others. Scott Weiner, Supervisor from District 8 which includes the Castro, said that, "after the 'nudity' issue the homeless 'situation' was the most often complained about issue from his constituents. What hasn't been addressed is how many of the homeless were LGBTQ youth who often massed in the Castro as it felt the most 'safe' of all spaces open to them.
Johnny, no last name given, 18, is one of those directly effected by the bench removal. "We can't sit. We can't lie. We can't go home 'cause we're Gay and the shelters don't feel safe either. At least here it felt like we weren't hated. Guess that ain't true."
Supervisor Weiner has said that there is now tentative plans to remodel the whole of Harvey Milk Plaza and make it more 'user' friendly and do more to honor it's namesake, the slain, San Francisco supervisor and internationally regarded LGBT activist. One wonders what Harvey would've made of all of this and how many of the 'offending' transients are LGBTQ youth in need being turned out of their politically ancestral homeland.
As of now no one will be sitting in Harvey Milk Plaza-transient or transit commuters-anytime soon.
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