SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Small business owners in San Francisco’s Castro District are demanding action from city leaders to address the growing issues of mental health, substance abuse and vandalism in the area.

Merchants said these problems are crippling businesses and many may not be able to keep their doors open for much longer. This is not a new issue and merchants said it is growing progressively worse since the pandemic.

The Castro Merchants Associations sent a formal letter to the city earlier this month. If their demands are not met by clear actions to tackle these problems, businesses said they shouldn’t have to hold up their end of the bargain.

San Francisco Castro merchants are threatening to potentially withhold money from the city if their demands to provide help to the neighborhood aren’t met. “Business owners stop paying taxes and stop paying the fees for licenses because the city is not providing the services that are supposed to be guaranteed based on what we’re paying to the city,” said Dave Karraker, Co-President, Castro Merchants Association.

Karraker said businesses in their neighborhood are fed up after dealing with years of vandalism, harassment, and drug use outside their storefronts. “We’re at a point now where it’s next to impossible to run a business in the Castro when you’re dealing with these daily issues that you know a small business owner shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their front window is going to get smashed today,” said Karraker.

He said many people on the streets in the Castro frequently experience psychotic episodes, cause damage to their storefronts by breaking windows, and harass employees and customers. He and other businesses have pleaded for help from the city over recent years but said nothing has changed. 

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole. They come out. They might clear up an encampment and that encampment then returns two days later at another corner,” said Karraker. In its letter to leaders this month, the Castro Merchants Association urged the city to designate 35 shelter and treatment beds for the neighborhood’s homeless population.

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The association also called on the city to provide monthly metrics on how many people in the Castro are offered services compared to how many placements are made, and to create a comprehensive plan to address those who repeatedly decline help. “The only way the Castro is going to fully recover to the vibrancy that everyone remembers from the Castro is to address these issues with the mentally ill and drug addicted. Get these people help and get them help now,” said Karraker.

The Castro Merchants Association said the neighborhood has 21% vacant storefronts right now. They said that number will likely grow if the city doesn’t address and tackle homelessness and drug addiction in the area.