Following a story about a sidewalk homeless encampment in SoMa that was cleared one night in September just before an adjacent event space was to host a virtual event for TechCrunch, the man being blamed for leading the sweep is speaking out to correct what he says are inaccuracies and outright lies about what went down.
Peter Glikshtern, a longtime nightclub owner and promoter in the city who qualifies as an SF native having lived here since the age of nine, was the subject of an incendiary report by SF Public Press last month (reblogged here on SFist) on a tent-encampment clearing in which some homeless individuals' belongings were allegedly tossed in the trash. The angle of the original story was that such sweeps — which are not officially being conducted by the city currently due to concerns about the pandemic and lack of adequate shelter space — are both inhumane and illegal when conducted by a private party, and that no one's belongings should have been taken or thrown away.
No one's belongings were thrown away, according to Glikshtern, and what was discarded was the remains of an abandoned, rat-infested encampment after a group of homeless people staying there had willingly relocated. This was something he tried to explain to 48 Hills in a subsequent interview, but as he writes in a new piece on Medium, that, too, resulted in a "not entirely accurate" depiction of the night in question.
"I’ve lived in San Francisco for 40 years," Glikshtern writes. "I love the City. I raised two kids here... [SF Public Press] painted me as a ruthless criminal, who cares nothing for the plight of the homeless. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Glikshtern says that he has volunteered for much of his adult life, and he made his kids do the same when they were growing up, for organizations like Project Open Hand. "I wanted for them to appreciate how lucky they were, and also to understand that people who are poor and sick, and live in deplorable conditions, are still people, just the same as everyone else."
He describes the sprawling encampment that grew up along 12th Street between Market and South Van Ness — alongside the former Honda dealership that is now an event space called SVN West — as several groups of tents that have primarily been occupied by methamphetamine addicts. He claims that he spent weeks both calling on the city and the Department of Public Works to come clear the sidewalk, and getting to know each person living there by name. When DPW failed to appear as promised on the Monday before the TechCrunch event, Glikshtern said he went about asking each person camped there to please move — either across the street or elsewhere — so that the sidewalk could be cleaned.
And the situation he describes there is likely familiar to those SF residents who have been living near one of these encampments in recent months.
"We all wore long-sleeve shirts and work gloves because the trash we were cleaning up was full of human excrement and urine, used needles, broken glass, dog feces, and very alive rats. Packs of them," he writes.
Video from that night shows mattresses and other things being thrown into the back of a truck to be hauled away. The Public Press piece made claims about individuals personal belongings, including one man, Jeffery McLemore, who claimed to have lost musical instruments, a personal journal, and $11,000 in unemployment benefit money — a detail that is certainly curious given that those funds could have been used to seek better shelter, and that it doesn't make sense that he would leave that money in a tent on the street after being told it would cleared.
Glikshtern claims, having met and learned the names of everyone camping on the sidewalk, that there was no Jeffery McLemore among them — unless he gave a false name either to him or to Public Press reporter Nuala Bishari. And he calls to question the above details and says Bishari's piece was "clickbait journalism at its absolute worst," calling her a "hysterical crusader" who ignored much of his side of the story after he told it to her. He insists that no one's precious belongings were thrown away, that some other homeless people in the area were allowed to come and take what they wanted from the encampment after its residents had moved elsewhere and left a lot of trash behind, and that no one put up much of a fuss about relocating, contrary to Bishari's description of a "frantic" night for camp residents.
There is also some clarity about an altercation that prompted a 911 call that night — Glishtern says he was assaulted by a man who was likely a meth dealer whose customer base was disrupted by the encampment clearing, not by a camp resident. We can only take Glikshtern's word for this, but the lack of explanation around the police presence that night was a bit jarring in the original report.
Glikshtern's views on "co-existing" with the homeless on the city's streets are likely to anger people on both sides of the ongoing argument on how to deal with the "homeless problem" that has been a daily part of San Francisco life for four decades. He suggests that while people may have a right to seek shelter in a tent on the streets at night, it is "anti-social behavior" to ignore all societal norms and not pick up one's tent and move along during the normal daylight hours.
He also expresses the not uncommon (though arguable) view that if we were, tomorrow, to find homes for all the estimated 8,000 people currently on our streets, 8,000 more would soon show up to take their place.
Further, he questions how the city can allow these camps to continue staying in one place for months, with the public health issues of human waste etc., and call this more humane than the alternative, which involves forcing people to pick up and move in order to clean up.
"The City’s position that homeless encampments should be left unmolested during the pandemic is beyond irresponsible," Glikshtern says. "These encampments are dangerously unsanitary and, teeming with drugs and people out of their minds on drugs, living on top of one another."
Homeless advocates would surely argue that saying all encampments are "teeming with drugs" is a generalization, and that asking everyone to pick up and move daily is unrealistic and inhumane.
Photo: Peter Glikshtern/Medium