A new group of “Mission Community Connector” ambassadors is being deployed starting today in the Mission District, in an effort to abate the neighborhood's rampant tent camping, street vending, and sidewalk drug use.
As we’ve slowly come out of the pandemic, it is much-discussed that downtown San Francisco has seen a severe downturn in foot traffic. But during this same period, the Mission District has seen the opposite problem. There are plenty of people on Mission District sidewalks, but many of them are up to illegal vending, drug use, and/or encamped in tents. These conditions have existed to some degree for decades, but have drastically increased particularly near the 24th Street BART plaza since around the beginning of 2022.
City officials have tried various solutions like a vendor permitting system, the unsuccessful gates around 24th Street BART, and the in-progress barricades on Capp Street. The Chronicle reports on yet another new effort, which begins today, where a new team of community ambassadors are being deployed on Mission Street to address the Mission’s barrage of street blight.
We’re adding new community ambassadors to the Mission as part of our efforts to improve public safety & street conditions. This is part of our solution to support residents and merchants, along with support from Police and addressing unpermitted vending. https://t.co/huSbG9Q4Xj— London Breed (@LondonBreed) May 15, 2023
“We have been focused on working with Mission residents and merchants for months to address public safety issues and unacceptable behavior,” Mayor London Breed said in a Monday press release. “Our ambassadors are part of this solution and they will strive to provide culturally sensitive service to support a coordinated City response that will allow police to focus on urgent calls for help. It is vital that we keep working to ensure the Mission neighborhood is a place where people want to live, visit, and do business.”
The district’s supervisor Hillary Ronen is on board, saying in the same release, “These ambassadors signal a turning point in our fight to make the Mission a place where families and businesses can thrive and where neighbors feel safe walking in the street or using public transportation.”
That same press release describes this as a “deployment of 16 additional community ambassadors to the Mission” who “will cover 13 blocks of Mission Street — between 14th and Cesar Chavez streets - on a rotating schedule seven days a week.” It’s being managed by a nonprofit called SF SAFE, which may sound like one of those new tech-money political action committees like GrowSF or TogetherSF, but this nonprofit has been around since 1976. They describe themselves as “the crime prevention component of the police department,” and they do have some involvement with that network of security cameras all over town.
These Mission Community Connector ambassadors are different from the SFPD Community Ambassador Program, which is mostly comprised of retired SFPD officers who wear special uniforms and don't carry weapons. As SFist reported last month, that program is expanding by 50% with deployments in the Outer Sunset, Hayes Valley, Castro, and more. But the Mission Community Connector ambassadors are going to work in tandem with these other efforts.
Overall SF homelessness has declined a bit in the last year or so, but the same data shows an uptick in homelessness and street tents in the vicinities around BART stations.
And the street vending has spread, now also covering the southeast corner (McDonald’s side) of the 24th and Mission Street intersection. This photo is from Monday morning, the first day that these Mission Community Connector ambassadors were deployed. SFist can report that th McDonald’s side of the intersection has gotten substantially worse with vending and loitering in the last couple of months. You can be as snobby as you want toward mega-chain McDonald’s and not care what happens around their storefront. But kids absolutely love McDonald’s, and one could fairly argue it is a burden on parents if the neighborhood McDonald’s is unsafe or inaccessible.
By the way, that same McDonald’s is now blasting classical music out front! There is a school of thought that classical music deters loiterers from congregating.
And these community ambassadors did not deter the presence of those shady COVID testing sites offering people $5 cash for getting a completely unauthorized test, not on Monday morning at least (when this photo was taken). Though again, this was only the first Monday of their deployment.
And on this Monday morning, the 24h Street BART plaza did generally look very good compared to a normal recent weekday. But we’ve seen this before, where outstanding initial success in clearing this area quickly goes by the wayside without consistent, everyday follow-up. The mayor’s press release says these ambassadors will work seven days a week, so we’ll keep an eye on how well this effort is working out.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist