Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yesterday's Flower Children

... are today's blooming idiots. The comments by former hippies turned gentrified home owners in Haight-Ashbury about an invasion of young, dirty, smelly street people are truly priceless.

"Barbara Libasci's home sits near a rock 'n' roll landmark: the house at 710 Ashbury St. where Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead once lived.

She has a front-row seat at a daily alternative music event she'd rather not attend. She often finds homeless kids sleeping on the lawn of the former Dead house. They climb the picket fence to peer inside the front windows and pick flowers from the garden.

"They camp right in the driveway," said the retired nurse, who lives in the former Haight-Ashbury headquarters of the Hells Angels. "I have to tell them to move so the owners don't back out over them. They're degrading the property."

Even some of those who try to help are getting fed up.

John Grima, a program director at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, founded in the 1960s, says his agency provides "nonjudgmental" services for homeless youths. "Still, there's this assumption of a free ride," he said.

Grima said a teen asked him for change on Haight Street. Grima offered him slices of pepperoni pizza. The young man refused, saying he was vegetarian.

"I said, 'OK, then don't eat it,' then I got mad," Grima said. "I said, 'Wait a minute, I don't owe you anything. I'm happy to help you, but I don't owe you a thing.'

"Recently, the stance against the homeless has hardened. Residents last year resurrected the Haight Ashbury Improvement Assn. to push the city to crack down on loitering. They have started a "court watch" program to monitor cases and push judges to sentence offenders to community service and order them into treatment.

Police have also cracked down. The department has sent teens home on its own dime and maintains two full-time outreach officers to coax youths into seeking help. But now officers ticket for "quality of life" offenses, including illegal camping and drinking in public.

At a recent public meeting, Homeless Youth Alliance director Mary Howe's plan for a center with beds and showers was greeted with anger.

"We're setting ourselves up as the last stop on the help train," fumed Carolyn McKenna, 54, a substitute teacher who moved to the area in 2003.

"Like, if we don't help these kids, they're going to be forever subjected to a life of misery and agony," she added.

McKenna said she was tired of being criticized for the "crime" of owning a home. "Haight-Ashbury is not synonymous with anarchy," she said. "It's not fair to homeowners with their entire net worth tied up here. I'd be disingenuous if I said I wasn't worried about property values."

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