The Mission District has many sounds and aromas unique to its community. The sweet smell of freshly baked conchitas from the panaderia, the aroma of an espresso machine brewing away, the sounds of banda music playing from restaurants or the unloading of fresh produce at the grocery markets.

Then there’s something else, the unmistakable smell of urine and the sounds that come from the human suffering found on the streets. 

The Mission is facing some very troubling times that include illegal street vending, a seemingly growing unhoused community and people struggling with mental illness. The intersection of 24th and Mission street, where the BART plaza is located, hosts all of these activities, including litter and human waste. But city officials and local community groups are stepping in with new legislation and plans to clean up and hopefully begin to fix this situation.

Awad Faddoul, offers his patrons a selection of various coffee drinks, teas and Middle Eastern food to be enjoyed while they sit at one of the antique tables inside. Photo: Jeremy Word

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen issued a press release on March 7 detailing the “Mission Plan” that seeks to address the current issues in the Mission. Ronen has also turned to local community groups such as Calle 24 for support in implementing this new legislation.

“Businesses and residents have been suffering with unpassable sidewalks, unpermitted street markets of predominantly stolen goods, and trash everywhere, creating an overall feeling of a forgotten and unhealthy community,” said Ronen in the press release.

One of the concerns that has been brought up by local brick and mortar shops and authorities is the issue of illegal street vending and the selling of stolen goods. New legislation will require that street vendors provide proof of ownership of new items and labeled items being sold as well as obtaining a city permit.

On 24th and Mission streets, there is a mix of used and labeled goods. Some vendors set up their tents and tables where they display their merchandise, others simply lay down their items on the ground. There’s clothes for sale, shoes, electronics, toys, food and many other random items. Everything but the kitchen sink.

“If you walk down to the BART station right now you’ll probably see somebody selling jeans with the tag still on them, a lot of things labeled Walgreens, new and unopened packages,” said Santiago Lerma, who is a Legislative Aide to Ronen.

Lerma does want to make clear that their intention is not to hinder people’s ability to make extra money during these difficult times. He says that they intended to help vendors who want to legitimately sell legally acquired goods and hopes to stop the sale of stolen merchandise. 

Martha Regidor is a merchant who set up her post on the corner of 24th and Mission. She is there every Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. selling vegetables, fruit, candy, dried bacalao, health supplements, and Salvadoran snacks. Regidor took to street vending after losing her job packaging food for airlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Work slowed down due to the pandemic. We lost our jobs and that’s why we were forced to be over here,” said Regidor as she looked around for potential customers.

Regidor is working alongside her husband and her daughter but says that she does not feel safe working under these conditions. One of her concerns has to do with the growing population of unhoused individuals and those suffering from severe mental illness or substance abuse. She says that every once in a while these individuals will take merchandise from their stand and scare her. 

Martha Regidor, a merchant located at 24th and Mission streets, peels mango verde for her customers. Photo: Jeremy Word

The problem is evident everywhere you look at this end of the corridor. Next to the people selling food, there are individuals who are living on the street and who use the sidewalk as a public restroom. This is not only affecting street vendors but also local store front businesses, like Cafe La Boheme, which is located on the corner of 24th and Mission Street.

“To see this kind of poverty around is devastating,” said Awad Faddoul, who is the owner of Cafe La Boheme. “On one side I can see that the human issue of this is very bad, and I feel for the people on the street but at the same time it’s not our responsibility as a business to go out and clean the streets.”

The storefront of the historical Cafe La Boheme on 24th Street in Mission. Photo: Jeremy Word

Faddoul would like for city officials to invest more care into the Mission District and give help to people like the woman next to his cafe who uses the sidewalk to relieve herself. He is hopeful after hearing Calle 24’s proposal called “Calle Limpia, Corazón Contento,” which seeks to help all those affected by this current situation. 

Calle 24 Latino Cultural District is a local community organization in the Mission that has been working with Ronen to implement the new legislation in the community. They want to approach these issues with empathy and create a space where conflicts can be resolved. On March 18, they issued a press release expressing their desire to help the Mission and its inhabitants to recover economically after the pandemic and informed that this implementation will begin on May 7. 

“It’s about helping our community, which was the most affected economically and health wise through the pandemic, to recover through humane and culturally relevant approaches,” said Susana Rojas, who is the Executive Director of Calle 24. 

An unhoused woman rests alongside her belongings, located next to Cafe La Boheme. Photo: Jeremy Word

Rojas says that it’s important that the solutions to these issues be sustainable. She wants to make sure that the most vulnerable members of the community receive the proper help and resources, especially for those suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and housing.

“If all of us are together we can maintain our community in the way that we are used to,” Rojas said. “Latinos love having their house clean, love living in clean spaces so that’s how we want to continue to live our lives in our community.”