Mission residents want homeless and mentally ill to be housed for safety's sake

Neighbors in San Francisco's Mission District say there are escalating problems stemming from homeless encampments, mostly involving fires and fights.

They called on city leaders to do more to help and house the homeless and mentally ill.

The staff at Mission Neighborhood Health Center say the safety of many families they serve are being threatened by fires at a nearby homeless encampment.

The most recent happened about 8 o'clock Tuesday morning at 16th and Shotwell Streets.

"The flames were growing.  They were jumping on this palm tree here. It was getting really smoky. Already families were starting to walk into our health center," said Marco Montenegro with the health center.  He said he witnessed a homeless man who appears to be mentally ill, throwing items into a garbage can that was tilted over and on fire.

"A security guard ran out and asked him to stop. And at that time, he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the security guard's face  and walked away," said Montenegro.

Firefighters put out the fire and police said they've arrested a 33-year-old man but declined to release further details, saying that it is an open and active investigation.

Eva Morales, who's homeless, said the man arrested is known as a troublemaker and that there was a fight between him and another homeless person before the fire.

She said the "troublemaker" had set the fire and that he's lived at the encampment for a while.

Neighbor Gilles Combet captured video of another fire from Monday night. Health center workers said it appears to be the same man who started Tuesday morning's fire.

"It's a hazard. People light fires. There's fights. There's violence quite often around here," said Combet.

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Neighbors said when it comes to the issue of the homeless and mentally ill, city leaders have focused on the Tenderloin, but not much attention has been paid to the Mission.

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"We've had three major fires happening right here on this block," Combet said there have been three fires in the past two months and that the situation has escalated.

He said he's lived here 17 years and that the encampment has been here for years.

Morales showed KTVU canned food neighbors have given her. She said they've been kind, but worries that the people in the encampment who cause trouble may push her out of this area.

"The gun thing and the fire, I still feel safe here," said Morales.  

"We can't just let this continue, to let people to be on the street and live on the street and think things are going to change. They will not," said Montenegro.  

The staff at the health center said they want compassionate care for the homeless and that fires threaten the safety of everyone.