Castro Cares, the pilot program aimed at addressing neighborhood quality-of-life issues and homeless outreach, is rolling out this week after several months of preparation. A collaboration between the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and the City of San Francisco, SF Police Department, Patrol Special Police, and the Department of Public Health, the program includes increased police presence and on-the-street engagement with the local homeless population.
As the program gets underway, some local activists have accused Andrea Aiello, Executive Director of CUMCBD and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener of being "hostile to the homeless", such as Kenneth Bunch, a former member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who spoke out at a community meeting in early February. Not so, Aiello and Wiener assured Hoodline.
"Right now we have four hours a week of homeless outreach workers dedicated to the Castro/Upper Market, because of Castro Cares," Aiello said. "In three weeks we'll have 20 hours a week of homeless outreach services. Before Castro Cares, there was none."
The hostility, according to Wiener, is not against the homeless, but against anti-social behavior, some of which has been directed at the homeless. In recent months many neighborhood residents have complained of increased crime around the neighborhood, and of fights breaking out in Jane Warner Plaza, as well as vandalism—some residents say they've been threatened in and around the Plaza, which is now being redesigned (again).
"We want more homeless outreach workers, more homeless people to access homeless services," Wiener said. "It's not humane to let people die in the streets."
Aiello described what Castro Cares would be offering. "Castro Cares provides both additional dedicated compassionate care to those in need and additional dedicated law enforcement to the Castro/Upper Market," she said. "We are slowly launching the program as contracts get signed and funds continue to be raised."
Aiello said that this week Castro Cares will be paying for an additional 15 hours of Patrol Special officers, which would increase to 30 hours a week in May.
According to Aiello, funding is coming in the form of "$115,000 from City grants, championed by Supervisor Wiener," she said. "Funding has also come very generously from residents and merchants."
"The goal is to have dedicated outreach and law enforcement support for the Castro," said Wiener. "The police department is understaffed and the City does not have enough homeless outreach workers. Castro Cares will hire off duty police officers and homeless outreach workers who will be able to focus on the needs of the Castro."
"The ultimate goal for Castro Cares is to improve the quality of life in the Castro for those who are at risk and living on the street and also for those housed residents of the Castro," Aiello said. "And for those who work and play in the Castro/Upper Market."
If you'd like to help, making a donation to Castro Cares is the best way to pitch in, and donations are tax deductible. "The fully funded Castro Cares budget is $330,000 annually," said Aiello. "We're about halfway there at this point, so please make a donation now!"