The Young and the Homeless LGBTQ

 

 Youth Continue to Populate City StreetsOne third of San Francisco’s homeless population identifies as LGBTQ, according to a survey taken last year by the city. About 13 percent of the more than 6,000 people on the streets are youth.

 

 

 

A subculture exists within San Francisco’s homeless population that faces even greater adversity than their displaced peers. With an estimated population of 6,686 adults living without permanent housing in the city, a third of them identify as LGBTQ, and in total, there are 853 unsheltered youth sleeping on sidewalks, bus stops, and in public parks.

 

The 853 homeless transitional age youth (TAY) were tallied during last year’s Point-In-Time homeless survey. Conducted on January 29, 2015—the same day as the general homeless count—the youth count was created to improve the quality of data surrounding this homeless demographic. The supplemental count took place in areas where homeless youth are known to congregate, such as Golden Gate Park and the Tenderloin. Homeless youth peers conducted their counts on the same evening as the general count to reduce counting the same people more than once.

 

“Transitional age youth are between 18 and 24 years old,” says Valkyrie Jacobson-Smith of the LGBT Center. “They are considered youth once the TAY are done with school.”

 

School-aged youth, which are between the ages 13 and 18, must be emancipated to qualify for any type of government funding. There is a funding stream available to the LGBT Center for those aged 16 to 24. However, if they are below 18 years old, requirements are in place for the youth member to be in school, otherwise the funding threshold is different.

 

The Point-In-Time youth count found a decrease of 61 homeless youth individuals from their 2013 survey, a seven percent decline.

 

Of those with temporary housing opportunities, 206 of the homeless youth were counted in shelters, 96 were involved in residential-type programs, and 68 were in emergency shelters. The LGBT Center acts as a physical and spiritual home for all members of the LGBT community, including homeless, immigrants, and low-income individuals.

 

“We are a contact center for youth looking to navigate services,” says Jacobson-Smith, youth activities coordinator for the LGBT Center. “Main services for SF LGBTQ youth can be difficult to navigate and we offer them a safe space with access to a variety of resources.”

 

Employment, immediate and long-term housing and shelters like Single Room Occupancies (SROs) are some of the resources available through the LGBT Center. From the Point-In-Time Survey, 32 of the homeless youth were counted in transitional housing, with six in resource centers and four in stabilization housing.

 

“We have a drop-in space for LGBTQ youth,” Jacobson-Smith adds. “We offer food, clothing, hygiene material, and mental health services. We work with harm reduction centers, as well.”

 

A survey of more than 400 members of the LGBT community, conducted by the LGBT Center in 2014, found that 45 percent had experienced physical violence and 33 percent had experienced sexual violence because of perceived or actual sexual orientation. Roughly 70 percent recounted harassment over their perceived or actual sexual orientation.

 

“We find that 20 percent of the youth are self-identified as transgender,” Jacobson-Smith says.

 

Jazzie’s Place in the Mission is a shelter named after Jazzie Collins, a former affordable-housing and LGBTQ activist who died in 2013. The facility has 24 beds specifically for gender non-conforming and non-gender identifying individuals over the age of 18. Many LGBT homeless prefer this as opposed to the traditional shelters. At Jazzie’s Place, there is a 90-day reserved bed that can extend for an additional 30 days with approval upon request.

 

“Beyond the Bay Area LGBTQ homeless, we find that 50 percent of our population are non-residents,” Jacobson-Smith adds. “They come here for the image that they have seen on the media and find a very daunting landscape.”

 

Daunting, indeed. District 6, which includes the Tenderloin, SoMa and Civic Center/Mid-Market has roughly 57 percent of the homeless total with 355 youth, the highest count in any one district. In District 8, including Castro and Eureka Valley, 342 homeless people were counted with 169 youth. Districts 5 and 9, which includes the Mission and Haight-Ashbury counted 216 homeless, while 123 were counted in Golden Gate Park.

 

Information gathered from both the general homeless count and the dedicated youth count listed 58 percent of the homeless population as unsheltered. Families with children represented roughly nine percent of the total population, while roughly 91 percent of the total were single individuals without families. Six percent of those counted were under the age of 18 and 20 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24.

 

 

Photo: Kyle Ludowitz

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

 

Facing Homelessness in the Castro and Beyond

 

To the right, a young man sits in front of Wagreens at 18th and Castro streets. On the right, Jamine panhandles at the Castro Station. Mayor Ed Lee has pledged approximately $1 billion over four years to end homelessness in the city.

 

 

There has been a lot of news in the last couple of weeks about the homeless programs. Four mayors before Mayor Ed Lee had planned to solve the homeless problems. Mayor Lee now claims to have the will and focus needed to implement a plan of this magnitude. He calls the homeless solution his number one priority.

 

Lee has committed $241 million each year to help homeless people find permanent housing and has vowed to build seven temporary shelters called Navigation Centers. At these centers where large groups of homeless people can stay, they will have counselors to help with mental illnesses and overcoming drug addiction problems.

 

“Tent life is not safe for the people living in the encampments, not healthy, and not the humane way to treat people,” explained Jeff Kositsky, the new director of the new San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “We won’t be criminalizing people for leaving their tents and living on the streets. It will be aiming to make life safer and more healthy.”

 

The mayor’s plan calls for housing 6,000 homeless and includes psychological counseling and on-going services. During the first year, counselors will help the 343 of the most severely mentally ill homeless. Also, 1,200 homeless will move into the seven Navigation Centers that offer temporary housing. These centers will be based on the prototype at 16th and Mission streets. Five more centers will be built and two are now open. Groups can come into a center for temporary safe housing.

 

Lee is aware that homelessness and mental illness are entwined and it’s impossible to solve one without the other. The cost of mental health care comes with a huge price, but counseling and medications can make the life of homeless people much better. Compassionate care will come from more than a hundred mental health and substance abuse counselors. Currently eight city departments and 76 nonprofits now work with homeless.

 

In the Castro, the number of homeless rose between 2013 and 2015. As a result, the LGBTQ community rallied to build the first LGBTQ shelter, Jazzie’s Place, providing 24 shelter beds. Also Castro Cares opened as the first nonprofit agency dedicated to improving the quality of life for homeless LGBT people in the Castro.

 

“I’m skeptical and would like for it to work,” said Castro Community Benefit District Executive Director Andrea Aiello. “I have to see results—there has to be a place for people to go. We need to energize the mental health system.”

 

There are 16 hours of outreach services plus four hours of case management from the Department of Public Health for outreach services. Before Castro Cares, there was none. Also, the Patrol Special officers now have coverage every day of the week for about 50 hours a week.

 

“We want more homeless outreach workers and more homeless people to access homeless services,” District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said. “It’s not humane to let people die in the streets.”

 

I interviewed several people living on the street. At Super Duper, I met Dan, a tall thin Caucasian man of about 50 dressed in a cream-colored vest standing in the middle of the door peering in. He looked hungry so I asked if he’d like a burger. We sat outside at a small table and talked.

 

He smiled enjoying the cheeseburger. I smiled too wondering if he knew how red his face was from the sun or booze.

 

“What brought you to San Francisco, Dan?” I asked.

 

“Girlfriend, $3,000, credit cards, perfume, welfare, shelter bed, Roxie, law school.” This was his answer.

 

A little later I met Jasmine at the Castro Muni stop panhandling. She had bright blue eye liner on and was sitting behind a walker in a winter coat although it was warm. When she smiled it revealed that she only had one tooth on her top gum.

 

“It was due to violence,” the tall 55-year-old woman said and left it at that.

 

Like many transgender women and men, she had experienced a lot of family problems, discrimination and abuse but she was on her way to becoming self-sufficient.

 

“I live in a co-ed board-and-care home, and my SSI covers my rent,” she said. “Medicare covers my meds.” She said she earns $2 an hour answering phones at the General Hospital.

 

Then I moved on to a young, 20-year-old man from Kansas City. At the end of the block, sitting in front of Walgreens, he told me he’d heard a lot of good things about this city. “I love San Francisco!” he said. “The meth is good here and cheap, $20 a hit and it lasts a day.”

 

When I asked why there was a long unused condom next to him, he said, “See, I can tie my top with it!”

 

In spite of the plight of the Castro with so many homeless, the Castro neighborhood is not on the table for a navigation center or permanent supported housing, Supervisor Wiener told the Castro Courier.

 

“Places like the Tenderloin have a greater need,” he said.

 

The San Francisco Chronicle supports Mayor Lee’s vision to end homeless and his plans to accomplish it. The front page editorial on July 3 concluded with the following: “There could be no greater legacy to this era of unprecedented prosperity than to accompany the resources and ingenuity it is bringing to the city with the will to solve the untenable predicament of the human condition before our eyes every day.”

 

Concerned and want to help? Send your donations to Castro Cares online at www.castrocares.org/donations

 

 

 

Photos: Sally Swope

SF Pride Parade Sails Smoothly

 

Despite threats event remains peaceful

 

In the face of mass violence against the LGBT community in Orlando along with the arrest of an armed man headed to the Pride parade in Los Angeles, this year’s SF Pride parade managed to retain the peaceful and community-oriented vibe it has long been famous for.

 

Special attention this year was paid to security in the form of screening and bag checks for celebration attendees. Overall it was a peaceful, friendly and widely enjoyable event.

 

Kicking off at 10:30 on a bright Sunday morning on June 25, the 46th annual SF Pride parade wound along Market Street, from Beale to 8th streets, ending in traditional San Francisco style at Civic Center.

 

Weekend festivities included an incredible 20 community-produced stages and venues, capped by an enormous main stage and screens behind City Hall.

 

The theme was “San Francisco Pride for Racial and Economic Justice.”

 

Community Grand Marshals, selected by the SF Pride Board of Directors, included Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya and Janetta Johnson, and Larry Yang (selected by public vote).

 

The 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award went to Grand Marshal Mike Shriver. The Organizational Grand Marshall was Black Lives Matter. 2016 Celebrity Grand Marshals and special guests included the cast of Transcendent, Chef Melissa King, Michael K. Williams and Randy Harrison.

 

The Lesson of the Pink Triangle

 

San Franciscan Patrick Carney is co-founder, president and organizer of the annual Pink Triangle Commemoration Ceremony, this year in its 21st annual iteration. The goal of the gigantic display on Twin Peaks is to remember what can happen when hatred and bigotry become law.

 

During the Holocaust and the Third Reich, the Nazis devised an array of colored triangles to label minority scapegoats as undesirables, branding homosexuals as criminals who must wear the pink triangle. Lest we think discrimination against LGBTs is something which happened in the distant past, recent events and political rhetoric unfortunately affirm that we are at that point again, when hatred and bigotry are in danger of becoming become law. It is important to remember that the test of any democracy is how well it treats its minorities.

 

Hanging over this year’s Triangle ceremony was the tragedy of Orlando and the fate of gun control legislation in Sacramento. Various supervisors and elected officials spoke for short periods before the crowd of over 100 people who had gathered on Twin Peaks.

 

Among the speakers were former supervisor and current member of the state assembly David Chiu, who spoke of the need for protection for LGBT citizens from discrimination, noting that 35 percent of state legislators voted against an anti-discrimination resolution this year.

 

Another speaker pointed to the over 200 anti-LGBT laws that have been introduced in U.S. legislatures this year, measures that are especially harsh on black and brown people. The best way to combat such bigotry, he said, is to talk with people, people you know. Given the themes of the upcoming presidential election, it is imperative that we all get engaged, he stated. Talk to people, “it’s no joke.”

 

State Senator Mark Leno opened by bringing the audience to an awareness of the recent tragedy in Orlando. Incredibly, the damage caused by one deranged person with an assault weapon could happen in the blink of an eye.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

Thousands of people gathered on Castro Street on June 12 to mourn the victims of the tragic shooting at the gay night club Pulse in Orlando where more than 100 people were shot and 49 were killed. Photo: Jessica Webb

 

Locals Pay Respect to Orlando Victims

 

 

Hours after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, 5,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Harvey Milk Plaza to honor the victims and their families.

 

Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos were joined by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the SF Gay Men’s Chorus, who led the crowd in chants and song.

 

The vigil, blanketing Castro between Market and 18th Street, began with the voices of the drag king duo Momma’s Boys singing a song titled “Freedom.”

 

“No more weeping over me, our hearts are strong,” group member Mailman sang in memoriam. Equality and rainbow flags punctuated the crowd as they swayed, some hugging, others weeping.

 

“I felt like I had just been stabbed in the gut when I heard the news,” Wiener told Castro Courier. “I just could not believe that again members of our community are being targeted and murdered. And to have it be the largest mass shooting in the history of the country, to have that happen in an LGBT nightclub, it is just so disheartening.”

 

Supervisor David Campos says he is angry.

 

“We are here to mourn,” Campos told those gathered as fog rolled over the hills of Twin Peaks at sunset. “People of color have been marginalized within the community and we will not allow this massacre to attack the Muslim community.”

 

The gunman in Orlando was 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a first-generation American born to Afghan parents. He had previously been on the FBI watch list in 2013 and 2014 for his potential allegiance to overseas terrorists groups. His father, Seddique Mateen, said his son’s rage was possibly a result of homophobia rather than religion, considering his son was not very religious.

 

A Pulse nightclub regular told the L.A. Times that he and Mateen had exchanged messages for nearly a year on the gay dating app Jack’d. Former classmates of Mateen have also come forward anonymously saying he might have led a closeted homosexual lifestyle.

 

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12th, Mateen entered the gay nightclub Pulse armed with a semiautomatic pistol and an assault rifle, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. When the police SWAT team arrived, a three hour standoff ensued with Mateen locked a bathroom holding four hostages. At 5 a.m., the SWAT team broke through the wall, freeing the hostages and killing Mateen.

 

“We have so much work to do to end anti-LGBT violence,” Supervisor Wiener said at the vigil. “We must drain the swamp in terms of guns in this country. We must stop allowing people to demonize our community, which only creates a safe space for people to commit violence.”

 

Before the vigil, Sister Merry Peter spoke to Castro Courier on the corner of Castro and 18th Street, where “Pray for Orlando” posters hung and flowers spilled into the sidewalk.

 

“We are coming out tonight to offer love and support to our community,” Sister Peter said, pausing to fight back tears, “in a time of loss and to claim this as sacred ground. We are here to remind each other that joy is more powerful than hate and love is more powerful than fear. These things will come back in the pre-season like dawn follows the twilight.”

 

Sister Roma was at a loss for words before the vigil, which began at 8 p.m.

 

“I’m just devastated along with the rest of the country, watching in horror and shock,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I’m honored to be part of this today.”

 

After a sing-along lead by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the crowd took to Market Street, walking with candles lit and hearts broken all the way to the steps of City Hall.

 

A statement from President Obama called the shooting a sobering reminder that an attack on any American is an attack on all of us. He ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims.

 

“No act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans,” he said.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

Flagpole Controversy Hits Area Following Shooting

The large iconic flag in the Castro was lowered on June 12 after the Orlando massacre and then raised again to full-staff the next day, stirring some controversey among locals. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

 

For a short time on June 12, the rainbow flag flying in Harvey Milk Plaza was lowered to half-staff. It was a rare occurrence.

 

The Castro Merchants, which funds and maintains the flag, has a policy that it always fly at the top of the pole. But after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the group’s president, Daniel Bergerac, had the large 20-by-30-foot flag taken down and ran up a smaller pride flag to half-staff in its place. By June 13, the large flag was back in place at the top of the pole.

 

The massacre of gay men in Orlando drew attention to the Castro Merchants’ policy. For some, seeing the Castro’s rainbow flag at the top of the pole in the days following such a tragedy was jarring.

 

Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, said she received calls from people asking how the flag could be lowered. She told them that her organization isn’t responsible for the flag, and that they should contact the Castro Merchants.

 

Neighborhood activist Michael Petrelis also highlighted the issue on his blog.

 

Long-time Castro resident Isak Lindenauer, who helped spearhead the neighborhood’s Rainbow Honor Walk plaques highlighting notable queer historical figures, feels strongly that the flag should be lowered at appropriate times. He said he has asked the Castro Merchants to lower the flag in the past at the deaths of Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Brinker and they refused.

 

Lindenauer suggests more public input surrounding the flag, recalling times where the Castro community held public meetings. He said residents of the Castro should have “an opportunity to be a part of deciding under what rules the flag should be used.”

 

The rainbow flag, now an international symbol of LGBT pride, was originally designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 and debuted at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade that year. The flag was first flown at its current location at Castro and Market in 1997, marking the 20th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s election to the Board of Supervisors. Baker had convinced the city to put up the flag, but he soon left town. A few years later, the flag was in tatters.

 

Patrick Batt was president of the Castro Merchants when it was known as MUMC. He said people came to him in 1999 or 2000 asking if the group could assume responsibility for the flag. Batt was responsible for MUMC signing a memorandum of understanding with the city, which at the time was represented by city administrator Ed Lee.

 

During his tenure, Batt said, the flag was switched to the black and blue flag for Leather Week, partly because the event brought in so much business to the city. Soon other groups wanted their flags to fly on the flagpole as well. Eventually, a complaint was filed with the city and the merchants group voted to fly the rainbow flag exclusively. Batt believes the half-staff vote came later.

 

Batt said he texted Bergerac after the Orlando tragedy saying, “If there ever was a day that the flag should go to half-staff, that was it.” In general, Batt said, he feels the flag should be lowered to half-staff only on extraordinary occasions.

 

Patrons at Twin Peaks, the iconic bar that sits opposite the pride flag, offered differing opinions. Brian, a Castro resident originally from the UK, said the flag should be lowered, but wondered “who decides” and when. Charles, sitting on a nearby bar stool opined that it should remain at the top because that shows, “We won’t be intimidated.” Ted said it “could be symbolic either way,” as a symbol of mourning at half-staff or of defiance at the top. He then suggested it should stay up, because, “Do we really want a flaccid flag flying around here? Not really.”

 

Bergerac declined to speak to the Courier, but the paper did glean reasons why his organization may not want to lower the flag. One issue is deciding when to lower it. Another is logistics—the flag is so big that lowering it may hit wires or impair drivers’ visibility.

 

After Orlando, a smaller flag was briefly flown at half-staff. The smaller flag at half-staff “almost felt more of a statement,” Aiello said, “that we really are crying about this.”

 

Every flag is a symbol and the pride flag in the Castro is a potent one. Its bright colors encapsulate a sometimes-dark history of shame and hiding, of violence and harassment and of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that ravaged a community. It also symbolizes a civil rights movement that in recent decades has won numerous victories through persistent activism.

 

It is this history that drives the passionate feelings of Lindenauer and others. He doesn’t want the Castro community to lose sight of the fact that “there’s still a fight going on,” that in some places, there is still “hatred and loathing” of gay people. He would like an “open dialogue” on the flag, and sees it being lowered occasionally for people who have “given their life in service of our community.”

 

Lindenauer said that the Merchants don’t own the flag, even though they pay for its upkeep. “The flag belongs to the people,” he said.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

Downtown Street Team Aims To Restore Dignity

 

 

 

The San Francisco Downtown Street Teams exists to help the struggling homeless populations of San Francisco restore dignity and find constructive uses of their time.

 

Under the guidance of project director Brandon Davis, this organization has already helped 13 individuals gain permanent employment, removed 2,000 needles and 50,000 gallons of debris per month, and currently provides work experience for 30 individuals. All this since their San Francisco launch in March of this year.

 

We sat down with Mr. Davis to learn more about the Street Team, their approach to homelessness, and also inquire on his own personal expertise into the difficult situation in which the citizens of San Francisco — both on the streets and off — currently find themselves.

 

Castro Courier: Could you tell us a little bit more about the Downtown Street Team?

 

Brandon Davis: The Downtown Street Team (DST) was started 10 years ago in Palo Alto by Eileen Richardson, one of the first CEOs of Napster. It is a work experience team where unhoused men and women can volunteer their time to clean the community, engage in peer to peer outreach, and receive counseling and basic needs like cell phones, grocery vouchers, storage, eyeglasses, etcetera.

 

Courier: What benefits does the program have for its participants?

 

Brandon: The program works to offer experience of employment, which covers accountability and leadership. The program functions as a transitional step for folks who have not had work experience in many years. Some people just want something meaningful to do during the day. They don’t want to sit lonely and detached in their SROs for an entire day.

 

Courier: What kind of stories are you finding in your participants in San Francisco?

 

Brandon: There’s someone who joined the team two months ago. He’s a senior citizen, fixed income, disabled. He lived in the Bay Area his whole life. He has a family, now grown. He was a welder, and will often point out all the different buildings in the city that he worked on. He lost his eyesight due to a lack of protection on the job. Then the economic crisis came and he lost his job. He used his money to put his kids through school and eventually came into homelessness. He was staying in a shelter and managed to pull himself out of it. Now he’s working on creating an app so that others can self-counsel while they’re either in a shelter or on the street. He said, “I just want to show up every day.”

 

Courier: What prepared you for organizing this kind of operation in the Bay Area?

 

Brandon: I came to the Bay from Chicago to join an AmeriCorps program in the homeless division in San Jose. Instead of working in the office, I did homeless outreach. By 2008, this had become a passion and I ended up running a program in San Jose, becoming an outreach expert and coordinating a homeless help line.

 

Courier: What, do you think, make the problem of homelessness in San Francisco so particular?

 

Brandon: The main thing is the lack of affordability and affordable housing. We need to prioritize housing in this city. The wealth gap is out of control. If you’re on a fixed income of $800-1200 per month [as many of the local homeless population are], it is likely you will never work again in your life. These people are often born and raised here, planted here, but they’re getting priced out of the market.

 

Courier: What specific insight do you have about the homeless populations in San Francisco?

 

Brandon: There’s a lot of different elements that contribute to what people consider to be “homeless nuisances”. The panhandling and people on the street could be doing unsightly things. Having a meaningful daily activity means so much. These people in SROs often have nothing to do in the middle of the day. They’re probably going to revert to the street activities that they know. They are being preyed up by the drug dealing that is done in places like the Tenderloin. This drug dealing is not done by the homeless community.

 

Courier: Describe how you think providing activities improves the condition of homelessness in San Francisco.

 

Brandon: These people just want to be acknowledged as human beings. We [at DST] want folks to feel good about themselves. Many of them have become distrustful of institutions because they have been failed so many times by them. They just need to build trust.

 

Courier: How can we, as individual citizens, help this population on a daily basis?

 

Brandon: Acknowledge them and treat them as humans.

 

 

 

 

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

 Youth Continue to Populate City StreetsOne third of San Francisco’s homeless population identifies as LGBTQ, according to a survey taken last year by the city. About 13 percent of the more than 6,000 people on the streets are youth.

Thousands of people gathered on Castro Street on June 12 to mourn the victims of the tragic shooting at the gay night club Pulse in Orlando where more than 100 people were shot and 49 were killed. Photo: Jessica Webb

 

Locals Pay Respect to Orlando Victims

 

 

Hours after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, 5,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Harvey Milk Plaza to honor the victims and their families.

 

Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos were joined by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the SF Gay Men’s Chorus, who led the crowd in chants and song.

 

The vigil, blanketing Castro between Market and 18th Street, began with the voices of the drag king duo Momma’s Boys singing a song titled “Freedom.”

 

“No more weeping over me, our hearts are strong,” group member Mailman sang in memoriam. Equality and rainbow flags punctuated the crowd as they swayed, some hugging, others weeping.

 

“I felt like I had just been stabbed in the gut when I heard the news,” Wiener told Castro Courier. “I just could not believe that again members of our community are being targeted and murdered. And to have it be the largest mass shooting in the history of the country, to have that happen in an LGBT nightclub, it is just so disheartening.”

 

Supervisor David Campos says he is angry.

 

“We are here to mourn,” Campos told those gathered as fog rolled over the hills of Twin Peaks at sunset. “People of color have been marginalized within the community and we will not allow this massacre to attack the Muslim community.”

 

The gunman in Orlando was 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a first-generation American born to Afghan parents. He had previously been on the FBI watch list in 2013 and 2014 for his potential allegiance to overseas terrorists groups. His father, Seddique Mateen, said his son’s rage was possibly a result of homophobia rather than religion, considering his son was not very religious.

 

A Pulse nightclub regular told the L.A. Times that he and Mateen had exchanged messages for nearly a year on the gay dating app Jack’d. Former classmates of Mateen have also come forward anonymously saying he might have led a closeted homosexual lifestyle.

 

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12th, Mateen entered the gay nightclub Pulse armed with a semiautomatic pistol and an assault rifle, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. When the police SWAT team arrived, a three hour standoff ensued with Mateen locked a bathroom holding four hostages. At 5 a.m., the SWAT team broke through the wall, freeing the hostages and killing Mateen.

 

“We have so much work to do to end anti-LGBT violence,” Supervisor Wiener said at the vigil. “We must drain the swamp in terms of guns in this country. We must stop allowing people to demonize our community, which only creates a safe space for people to commit violence.”

 

Before the vigil, Sister Merry Peter spoke to Castro Courier on the corner of Castro and 18th Street, where “Pray for Orlando” posters hung and flowers spilled into the sidewalk.

 

“We are coming out tonight to offer love and support to our community,” Sister Peter said, pausing to fight back tears, “in a time of loss and to claim this as sacred ground. We are here to remind each other that joy is more powerful than hate and love is more powerful than fear. These things will come back in the pre-season like dawn follows the twilight.”

 

Sister Roma was at a loss for words before the vigil, which began at 8 p.m.

 

“I’m just devastated along with the rest of the country, watching in horror and shock,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I’m honored to be part of this today.”

 

After a sing-along lead by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the crowd took to Market Street, walking with candles lit and hearts broken all the way to the steps of City Hall.

 

A statement from President Obama called the shooting a sobering reminder that an attack on any American is an attack on all of us. He ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims.

 

“No act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans,” he said.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

Flagpole Controversy Hits Area Following Shooting

The large iconic flag in the Castro was lowered on June 12 after the Orlando massacre and then raised again to full-staff the next day, stirring some controversey among locals. Photo: Sam-Omar Hall

 

For a short time on June 12, the rainbow flag flying in Harvey Milk Plaza was lowered to half-staff. It was a rare occurrence.

 

The Castro Merchants, which funds and maintains the flag, has a policy that it always fly at the top of the pole. But after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the group’s president, Daniel Bergerac, had the large 20-by-30-foot flag taken down and ran up a smaller pride flag to half-staff in its place. By June 13, the large flag was back in place at the top of the pole.

 

The massacre of gay men in Orlando drew attention to the Castro Merchants’ policy. For some, seeing the Castro’s rainbow flag at the top of the pole in the days following such a tragedy was jarring.

 

Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, said she received calls from people asking how the flag could be lowered. She told them that her organization isn’t responsible for the flag, and that they should contact the Castro Merchants.

 

Neighborhood activist Michael Petrelis also highlighted the issue on his blog.

 

Long-time Castro resident Isak Lindenauer, who helped spearhead the neighborhood’s Rainbow Honor Walk plaques highlighting notable queer historical figures, feels strongly that the flag should be lowered at appropriate times. He said he has asked the Castro Merchants to lower the flag in the past at the deaths of Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Brinker and they refused.

 

Lindenauer suggests more public input surrounding the flag, recalling times where the Castro community held public meetings. He said residents of the Castro should have “an opportunity to be a part of deciding under what rules the flag should be used.”

 

The rainbow flag, now an international symbol of LGBT pride, was originally designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 and debuted at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade that year. The flag was first flown at its current location at Castro and Market in 1997, marking the 20th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s election to the Board of Supervisors. Baker had convinced the city to put up the flag, but he soon left town. A few years later, the flag was in tatters.

 

Patrick Batt was president of the Castro Merchants when it was known as MUMC. He said people came to him in 1999 or 2000 asking if the group could assume responsibility for the flag. Batt was responsible for MUMC signing a memorandum of understanding with the city, which at the time was represented by city administrator Ed Lee.

 

During his tenure, Batt said, the flag was switched to the black and blue flag for Leather Week, partly because the event brought in so much business to the city. Soon other groups wanted their flags to fly on the flagpole as well. Eventually, a complaint was filed with the city and the merchants group voted to fly the rainbow flag exclusively. Batt believes the half-staff vote came later.

 

Batt said he texted Bergerac after the Orlando tragedy saying, “If there ever was a day that the flag should go to half-staff, that was it.” In general, Batt said, he feels the flag should be lowered to half-staff only on extraordinary occasions.

 

Patrons at Twin Peaks, the iconic bar that sits opposite the pride flag, offered differing opinions. Brian, a Castro resident originally from the UK, said the flag should be lowered, but wondered “who decides” and when. Charles, sitting on a nearby bar stool opined that it should remain at the top because that shows, “We won’t be intimidated.” Ted said it “could be symbolic either way,” as a symbol of mourning at half-staff or of defiance at the top. He then suggested it should stay up, because, “Do we really want a flaccid flag flying around here? Not really.”

 

Bergerac declined to speak to the Courier, but the paper did glean reasons why his organization may not want to lower the flag. One issue is deciding when to lower it. Another is logistics—the flag is so big that lowering it may hit wires or impair drivers’ visibility.

 

After Orlando, a smaller flag was briefly flown at half-staff. The smaller flag at half-staff “almost felt more of a statement,” Aiello said, “that we really are crying about this.”

 

Every flag is a symbol and the pride flag in the Castro is a potent one. Its bright colors encapsulate a sometimes-dark history of shame and hiding, of violence and harassment and of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that ravaged a community. It also symbolizes a civil rights movement that in recent decades has won numerous victories through persistent activism.

 

It is this history that drives the passionate feelings of Lindenauer and others. He doesn’t want the Castro community to lose sight of the fact that “there’s still a fight going on,” that in some places, there is still “hatred and loathing” of gay people. He would like an “open dialogue” on the flag, and sees it being lowered occasionally for people who have “given their life in service of our community.”

 

Lindenauer said that the Merchants don’t own the flag, even though they pay for its upkeep. “The flag belongs to the people,” he said.

 

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Downtown Street Team Aims To Restore Dignity

 

 

 

The San Francisco Downtown Street Teams exists to help the struggling homeless populations of San Francisco restore dignity and find constructive uses of their time.

 

Under the guidance of project director Brandon Davis, this organization has already helped 13 individuals gain permanent employment, removed 2,000 needles and 50,000 gallons of debris per month, and currently provides work experience for 30 individuals. All this since their San Francisco launch in March of this year.

 

We sat down with Mr. Davis to learn more about the Street Team, their approach to homelessness, and also inquire on his own personal expertise into the difficult situation in which the citizens of San Francisco — both on the streets and off — currently find themselves.

 

Castro Courier: Could you tell us a little bit more about the Downtown Street Team?

 

Brandon Davis: The Downtown Street Team (DST) was started 10 years ago in Palo Alto by Eileen Richardson, one of the first CEOs of Napster. It is a work experience team where unhoused men and women can volunteer their time to clean the community, engage in peer to peer outreach, and receive counseling and basic needs like cell phones, grocery vouchers, storage, eyeglasses, etcetera.

 

Courier: What benefits does the program have for its participants?

 

Brandon: The program works to offer experience of employment, which covers accountability and leadership. The program functions as a transitional step for folks who have not had work experience in many years. Some people just want something meaningful to do during the day. They don’t want to sit lonely and detached in their SROs for an entire day.

 

Courier: What kind of stories are you finding in your participants in San Francisco?

 

Brandon: There’s someone who joined the team two months ago. He’s a senior citizen, fixed income, disabled. He lived in the Bay Area his whole life. He has a family, now grown. He was a welder, and will often point out all the different buildings in the city that he worked on. He lost his eyesight due to a lack of protection on the job. Then the economic crisis came and he lost his job. He used his money to put his kids through school and eventually came into homelessness. He was staying in a shelter and managed to pull himself out of it. Now he’s working on creating an app so that others can self-counsel while they’re either in a shelter or on the street. He said, “I just want to show up every day.”

 

Courier: What prepared you for organizing this kind of operation in the Bay Area?

 

Brandon: I came to the Bay from Chicago to join an AmeriCorps program in the homeless division in San Jose. Instead of working in the office, I did homeless outreach. By 2008, this had become a passion and I ended up running a program in San Jose, becoming an outreach expert and coordinating a homeless help line.

 

Courier: What, do you think, make the problem of homelessness in San Francisco so particular?

 

Brandon: The main thing is the lack of affordability and affordable housing. We need to prioritize housing in this city. The wealth gap is out of control. If you’re on a fixed income of $800-1200 per month [as many of the local homeless population are], it is likely you will never work again in your life. These people are often born and raised here, planted here, but they’re getting priced out of the market.

 

Courier: What specific insight do you have about the homeless populations in San Francisco?

 

Brandon: There’s a lot of different elements that contribute to what people consider to be “homeless nuisances”. The panhandling and people on the street could be doing unsightly things. Having a meaningful daily activity means so much. These people in SROs often have nothing to do in the middle of the day. They’re probably going to revert to the street activities that they know. They are being preyed up by the drug dealing that is done in places like the Tenderloin. This drug dealing is not done by the homeless community.

 

Courier: Describe how you think providing activities improves the condition of homelessness in San Francisco.

 

Brandon: These people just want to be acknowledged as human beings. We [at DST] want folks to feel good about themselves. Many of them have become distrustful of institutions because they have been failed so many times by them. They just need to build trust.

 

Courier: How can we, as individual citizens, help this population on a daily basis?

 

Brandon: Acknowledge them and treat them as humans.

 

 

 

 

The Young and the Homeless LGBTQ

 

 Youth Continue to Populate City Streets

 

One third of San Francisco’s homeless population identifies as LGBTQ, according to a survey taken last year by the city. About 13 percent of the more than 6,000 people on the streets are youth.

 

A subculture exists within San Francisco’s homeless population that faces even greater adversity than their displaced peers. With an estimated population of 6,686 adults living without permanent housing in the city, a third of them identify as LGBTQ, and in total, there are 853 unsheltered youth sleeping on sidewalks, bus stops, and in public parks.

 

The 853 homeless transitional age youth (TAY) were tallied during last year’s Point-In-Time homeless survey. Conducted on January 29, 2015—the same day as the general homeless count—the youth count was created to improve the quality of data surrounding this homeless demographic. The supplemental count took place in areas where homeless youth are known to congregate, such as Golden Gate Park and the Tenderloin. Homeless youth peers conducted their counts on the same evening as the general count to reduce counting the same people more than once.

 

“Transitional age youth are between 18 and 24 years old,” says Valkyrie Jacobson-Smith of the LGBT Center. “They are considered youth once the TAY are done with school.”

 

School-aged youth, which are between the ages 13 and 18, must be emancipated to qualify for any type of government funding. There is a funding stream available to the LGBT Center for those aged 16 to 24. However, if they are below 18 years old, requirements are in place for the youth member to be in school, otherwise the funding threshold is different.

 

The Point-In-Time youth count found a decrease of 61 homeless youth individuals from their 2013 survey, a seven percent decline.

 

Of those with temporary housing opportunities, 206 of the homeless youth were counted in shelters, 96 were involved in residential-type programs, and 68 were in emergency shelters. The LGBT Center acts as a physical and spiritual home for all members of the LGBT community, including homeless, immigrants, and low-income individuals.

 

“We are a contact center for youth looking to navigate services,” says Jacobson-Smith, youth activities coordinator for the LGBT Center. “Main services for SF LGBTQ youth can be difficult to navigate and we offer them a safe space with access to a variety of resources.”

 

Employment, immediate and long-term housing and shelters like Single Room Occupancies (SROs) are some of the resources available through the LGBT Center. From the Point-In-Time Survey, 32 of the homeless youth were counted in transitional housing, with six in resource centers and four in stabilization housing.

 

“We have a drop-in space for LGBTQ youth,” Jacobson-Smith adds. “We offer food, clothing, hygiene material, and mental health services. We work with harm reduction centers, as well.”

 

A survey of more than 400 members of the LGBT community, conducted by the LGBT Center in 2014, found that 45 percent had experienced physical violence and 33 percent had experienced sexual violence because of perceived or actual sexual orientation. Roughly 70 percent recounted harassment over their perceived or actual sexual orientation.

 

“We find that 20 percent of the youth are self-identified as transgender,” Jacobson-Smith says.

 

Jazzie’s Place in the Mission is a shelter named after Jazzie Collins, a former affordable-housing and LGBTQ activist who died in 2013. The facility has 24 beds specifically for gender non-conforming and non-gender identifying individuals over the age of 18. Many LGBT homeless prefer this as opposed to the traditional shelters. At Jazzie’s Place, there is a 90-day reserved bed that can extend for an additional 30 days with approval upon request.

 

“Beyond the Bay Area LGBTQ homeless, we find that 50 percent of our population are non-residents,” Jacobson-Smith adds. “They come here for the image that they have seen on the media and find a very daunting landscape.”

 

Daunting, indeed. District 6, which includes the Tenderloin, SoMa and Civic Center/Mid-Market has roughly 57 percent of the homeless total with 355 youth, the highest count in any one district. In District 8, including Castro and Eureka Valley, 342 homeless people were counted with 169 youth. Districts 5 and 9, which includes the Mission and Haight-Ashbury counted 216 homeless, while 123 were counted in Golden Gate Park.

 

Information gathered from both the general homeless count and the dedicated youth count listed 58 percent of the homeless population as unsheltered. Families with children represented roughly nine percent of the total population, while roughly 91 percent of the total were single individuals without families. Six percent of those counted were under the age of 18 and 20 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24.

 

 

Photo: Kyle Ludowitz

 

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© Castro Courier 2014