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Needles in a Haystack : San Francisco and the Path to Safer Drug Use

By: Arash Malekzadeh

Michael Siever sat comfortably on his purple couch, sunlight pouring into his Victorian apartment and highlighting his grey mustache and silver hooped earrings. His bracelets jingled as he reached for a safe-injection kit amongst the clutter of his bohemian-style living room. “The things you’ll find in the house of a harm reductionist,” Siever said as he unzipped the black case, removing the sterile supplies one would use to shoot up heroin or meth safely. After more than 40 years of work as a harm reductionist, a licensed psychologist and a drug user with a PhD, Siever now kicks back with a cup of tea in hand, taking full advantage of his retirement.

According to city health officials, there was an estimated 22,500 people who inject drugs in San Francisco in 2012. Such high rates of drug use across the Bay Area prompted harm reduction programs like the San Francisco Drug Users Union (SFDUU) to blossom within the city, providing drug users with services –from syringe access to overdose training – that encourage safe drug use rather than demanding immediate sobriety.

“One of the original and often still-used taglines of harm reduction is any positive step, any little step no matter how teeny in the direction of being more healthy and happy, is a good thing,” Siever, CEO of the San Francisco Drug Users Union, said. “You don’t have to have the bar set so high that you are either abstinent or you’re a failure, which was kind of the traditional ruling. The traditional approach is so shame-based and kind of tears people down in a way that I find appalling.”

Siever, also the founder of the Stonewall Project–a counseling program providing harm reduction treatment to gay and trans men that use drugs–and former director of behavioral health services for the San Francisco Aids Foundation, has been involved with harm reduction since its inception in the U.S. He recalled a time decades ago when harm reduction first emerged in San Francisco out of the HIV epidemic.

According to Siever, the board of supervisors would declare a state of public health emergency every two weeks to create a legal window for needle exchanges to take place, so people who inject drugs could get sterile syringes to not spread HIV.

“The many years of the HIV epidemic–when people were dropping like flies and you’d spend all your weekends going to memorial services until you were so numb you couldn’t do that anymore– enabled us to push bureaucracies, governments and agencies to do needle exchanges,” Siever said.

In 2000, the San Francisco Health Commission unanimously passed a resolution requiring programs that serve drug users to adopt the harm reduction philosophy. This policy enabled organizations across the city to implement needle exchanges and deter unsafe drug use.

Without a supply of sterile injecting equipment, people who inject drugs are left to share supplies among their peers, multiplying the risk of hepatitis C or HIV and other health issues like abscesses and severe bacterial infections. Harm reduction organizations provide drug users with sterile injection supplies and a place to dispose their used needles. Four days a week, the San Francisco Drug Users Union distributes safe injections kits. These kits, packed into brown paper bags like elementary school lunches, comprise the necessary materials to shoot up safely: a ten pack of sterile needles, cookers, cotton swabs, waters, alcohol swipes, a tourniquet, cookers and vitamin C sachets.

“The misconception around harm reduction seems to occur when people don’t realize it’s part of an overall health continuum for drug users – or when people feel it enables or encourages drug use,” SFDUU Project Coordinator Holly Bradford said. “We save lives, we have healing relationships with our participants, we help people be safe, we offer referrals, and we clean the neighborhood of publicly discarded syringes.”

Where syringe access encourages safe drug use, services like overdose training are far more preventative in function. The Drug Users Union offers overdose education and prescriptions of naloxone, an antidote for narcotic overdose, to syringe access participants. Overdose training teaches participants the causes of overdose, how to recognize an overdose, how to prevent an overdose, and what to do and not to do if an overdose takes place.

“The other trend I see are drug users living longer,” Bradford said. “They are not getting HIV, AIDS, or HCV like they were back in the day, they are saving each other from overdose everyday across the country, they are less likely to get infections and abscesses. Harm reduction is a scientifically proven, cost efficient public health policy.”

Since 1987, Bradford has been devoted to the drug using community. With a resume extending three pages long, Bradford’s dedication to harm reduction is unarguably clear. On the SFDUU website, Holly is pictured cruising on a skateboard in her baggy denim jeans, weathered Vans, and a long sleeve shirt rolled to her elbows; in her commitment to harm reduction, Bradford’s modesty shadows her qualifications.

“The activism I have engaged in and the underground work I am committed to has changed policies from coast to coast,” she said. “I am a lifelong, career harm reductionist. It is my calling and I am proud to be a part of such a beautiful, loving, respectful, and humane movement. If harm reduction was around back in the early 80’s I wouldn’t have been infected with HCV and my brother David wouldn’t have died from HIV/AIDS.”

To relieve the city streets of unsanitary and dangerous public drug use, organizations like SFDUU advocate for the introduction of supervised injection facilities, a safe indoor environment for drug users to shoot up under the supervision of certified health officials. Yet the city of San Francisco, with a reputation for progressive harm reduction policies, is at odds with becoming the first U.S. city to open a supervised injection facility.

“We have a vigorous disagreement on allowing people to inject heroin and meth to literally destroy their body and their minds in a city-funded shelter,” Mayor Ed Lee told the Board of Supervisors on March 8.

With support from Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos, harm reductionists are pushing the city to move forward as the driving force behind harm reduction in the U.S.

“The city of San Francisco needs to step up their game and allow a sanctioned supervised injection facility to operate as soon as possible – the open-air street drug scene in this city is crying out for this intervention, as are its citizens,” Bradford said. “Anyone who puts up barriers to supervised injection facilities is actively engaged in the death of drug users, actively a part of mothers losing their kids to overdose and other terminal health related issues that cause the deaths of people who use drugs.”

Supervised Injection Facilities are still in question as San Francisco decides whether it will continue pushing harm reduction policies at the forefront of this movement, and drug users are changing the discourse around how drugs are used within the perimeters of their city.

“If everyone talked openly and honestly about drugs, the world would change,” Siever said. “And that is something everyone can do.”

Women Bodybuilders: a Larger Weight to Carry

By: Keren Lopez

Loud clanks of clear colored heels, bright flashes of cameras going off, and a beaming spotlight reflecting off the tanned, muscled women boast the determination and willpower female bodybuilders need to have in order to celebrate and exhibit a body for which they have labored countless hours.

For a young bodybuilding bikini competitor, the path towards achieving a qualified body for a competition begins in the early hours of the morning, sometimes even before the sun reaches the proximity of the earth and all its sleeping inhabitants. Marilyn Bretherick, competitor for the National Physique Committee (NPC) and fitness trainer at Orange Theory Fitness, begins her day at four in the morning for an intense two hours of cardio, rewarding her self-discipline  to wake up at such an early time of the day and marking her dedication to a sport that has offered her new friendships, strength, and the persistence to keep competing.

For the past thirty years, women have participated in a sport that was once thought to be strictly men-only. The 1980s saw the first female bodybuilding competitions, including the American Championship and Ms. Olympia, where women were first able to compete and display their hard earned bodies. In recent years, the sport has seen a spike in female participation.  Preparing for a competition is a tedious task, taking up to 12 weeks of near-constant work.  They attend gym sessions, cut down twenty to thirty pounds before the competition, do [or something better] early morning cardio trainings, eat well, and prepare meals for several days at a time and splurging money during the expensive competitions.

Though bodybuilding was strictly designed for men, women have faced the odds and overtaken a sport to show that they, too, have the dedication, strength, and determination to compete in a sport that toughens their mental health and tempts their motivation.

Female bodybuilder and personal trainer at Orange Theory Fitness in Campbell, CA, Marilyn Bretherick, gets ready to do squats with a weight, a part of her daily workout when she is taking breaks in between training for competitions. (Xpress/Kofman)
Female bodybuilder and personal trainer at Orange Theory Fitness in Campbell, CA, Marilyn Bretherick, gets ready to do squats with a weight, a part of her daily workout when she is taking breaks in between training for competitions. (Xpress/Kofman)

“Women socio economic status will show that women are intimidated by joining a sport if it tends to lose their feminism just because it’s a harder look,” Marilyn said. “But opening it up to everyone makes the sport more versatile. And I think that limiting it to just men prior to the 80s was just based on history. It was a male dominated sport. Not very many women wanted to compete in it and it wasn’t really a social class that could dedicate it to having multiple athletes other than men, until women openly expressed that they wanted more division in the NPC, IFBB. It was just based on need.”

Participating in bodybuilding as a competitive sport comes with a hefty price tag ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars on coaches, suits, tans, posing lessons, healthy food, and show registrations.

“I spent $3000, but it’s one of those things where you step on stage and you say, ‘I put in all this hard work’,” Marilyn said. “Any competitive sport you play in you’re going to pay money into it. I think your time, more than anything, says more than your money. Anything you’re passionate about you’re going to put your money into it. When you get into a relationship how much money do you put into a relationship? My relationship just happens to be with my sport. Anybody can afford anything if they care about it.”

Unlike other sports, bodybuilding is able to challenge a competitor’s physical strength along with their mental health. Many times, women in the field face body dysmorphic symptoms, finding blemishes and faults in their otherwise perfect bodies. According to Bretherick, competitors in any division face self-doubt and are constantly monitoring critiquing themselves on whether they are progressing and developing their body as scheduled.

“You’re always going to hear something from somebody. Bikini competitors will say ‘oh they’re too skinny,’ figure competitors will say  ‘wow they’re just so big up top,’ fitness competitors will say ‘wow they’re really muscular,’ bodybuilder women will say ‘ugh she looks like a man.’” Marilyn said. “Everyone is always going to look at you differently and it’s about you accepting yourself over anybody else.”

Mental strength is also threatened during the cutting and dieting period of bodybuilding. Competitors have to constantly spend money on healthier food options that prevents them from breaking their clean eating diets and attempt to eat smaller meals at higher rates. According to muscleandfitness.com, bodybuilders should eat six smaller meals instead of three or four larger meals a day.
“It’s all mental. You take somebody’s food they become psycho. When you put yourself through a diet you’re really testing your bodies ability to process food. You become mentally exhausted. I think I broke down and cried over 20 times,” Marilyn said. “You have to be mentally tough, because if you’re not you’re going to break down.”

Personal trainer and competing bodybuilder, Marilyn Bretherick, watches her form while doing overhead tricep extensions during a quick workout routine at Orange Theory Fitness in Campbell, Ca. (Xpress/Kofman)
Personal trainer and competing bodybuilder, Marilyn Bretherick, watches her form while doing overhead tricep extensions during a quick workout routine at Orange Theory Fitness in Campbell, Ca. (Xpress/Kofman)

Along with the expenses of clean eating and buying food products that fit into the bodybuilding lifestyle, many competitors buy and benefit from supplements such as protein shakes. According to nutritionstudies.org, the most popular supplement among bodybuilders is the use of protein powders that aid the body’s production of muscles, and the manufacture hormones, enzymes, cellular messengers, nucleic acids, and immune-system components. Though supplements like protein shakes are taken, there is an underexposed usage of supplements such as steroids. How much do protein powders cost?

“I can’t speak for all women in the industry [use of steroids] but there are supplements that are beneficial for a woman looking to build muscle such as protein, creatine, and BCAAs,” Brandy Vargas, a professional trainer, owner, and co-founder of Power Dolls Fitness said. “These all help keep the muscles fed, help with recovery and prevent muscle breakdown.”

Though the usage of steroids is rare amongst those in all of the divisions except bodybuilding, the NPC and IFBB leagues of bodybuilding don’t participate in the testing of their contestants.
“ You’re never going to find a NPC athlete or IFBB athlete that openly says hey I took Advair or Tren or Winstrol. You’re never going to find an athlete like that,” said Marilyn.

Though all bodybuilders go through several means to get their bodies competition ready, the  physical goals of each individual bodybuilding competitor changes by division. But regardless of division placement, training for a bodybuilding competition does not compare to regular physical activity.

“Bodybuilding is different from regular exercise because it requires more dedication, discipline and knowledge.  The goal of a bodybuilder is not just building huge muscles but also symmetry, proportion, and balance.  Bodybuilders follow diets that are focused on muscle building and keeping lean,” Brandy said.

Though bodybuilders spend countless of hours chiseling their bodies at the gym, developing both their physical and mental strength, it is not until the day they step on the pageant-like stage, illuminated by the bright fluorescent lights and the glowing bikinis that they feel accomplished they had the strength and resilience to survive 12 weeks of dedication and training.

“It’s a really mentally tough sport. If you work hard every single day, the trophy is really coming out with the best possible “you,” more than what a judge is looking for,” Marilyn said.

More Than A Party Drug

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

Andy Gold was on the trip of his life.

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

In fact it was one of the only trips of his life. He was not at a rave, not at a boisterous dance club. Instead, he was propped upon a soft grey leather couch placed beside a large window overlooking the hills of Marin County, a couch which he affectionately refers to as the “tripping couch.”

“I had never done MDMA before,” said 62-year-old Oakland attorney Andy Gold. “I’d lay there for a long time and didn’t have any effect from the drug. After a while I thought I must be on placebo – and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Gold is among the first of 6 research subjects to complete a several months-long clinical drug trial, which will determine the impact of MDMA on anxiety, depression, loss, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder caused by life threatening illnesses.

“Normal life just wasn’t the same anymore,” Gold said.

In 2004 Gold was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. He quickly entered surgery and began a  long string of chemotherapy treatments in 2005, while he had simultaneously landed the biggest case of his career. During the case Gold was bound to privacy, careful not to reveal anything about his health within his work life.

“I was living this very intense double life,” he said.

The effect of this dual identity combined with the fear of losing his life lead to a delayed emotional and psychological impact, which didn’t allow him to process the shock left by his cancer. After struggling with the long term trauma following his long battle with colon cancer, and in 2015 he decided to seek help and soon joined a clinical trial in hopes to regain his life.

The unique study led by Dr. Philip Wolfson and family therapist Julane Andries follows up on multiple PTSD studies previously created and conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The pharmaceutical research and educational nonprofit organization is now celebrating their 30th anniversary with a banquet in Oakland this April to raise funds to be used in research. According to MAPS director of communications, Brad Burge, they are currently fundraising to get 1 kilogram of pure pharmaceutical grade 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA). This is a milestone for MAPS that would allow them to conduct research that will move towards the possibility of a Phase 3 study. This study would precede approval for MDMA to become a drug to a prescription drug to be used and administered for medical purposes.

 

MDMA
Infographics by Stephanie LaRue

The preliminary studies using the drug have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome post traumatic stress disorder from war and sexual violence, as well as aid communication in patients with autism.

“The use of it [MDMA] increased ability for people to handle negative trauma and feelings inside themselves and to come to a more loving position with themselves and with others,” Dr. Philip Wolfson, lead investigator of the trial, said. “It facilitated dialogue and communication, so it was a very successful model.”

Wolfson is no stranger to the use of these treatments and has a long history of administering psychedelics during his sessions before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) deemed MDMA illegal in 1985. Before then it was used by therapists in the United States & Europe as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

“It’s more of an evolutionary treatment rather than a revolutionary treatment,” Burge said. “It’s using a drug that has been kind of forgotten about for decades, combining it with modern approaches to psychotherapy and making a hybrid treatment approach.”

Once MDMA was classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is defined as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Subsequently, the substance, commonly known by its street name “Ecstasy,” never disappeared but instead resurged as a popular party drug that is frequently cut with other illegal substances and widely used by millions in the United States.

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some Molly or some Ecstasy,” Burge, said. “More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting. Here we have this epidemic of uncontrolled drugs and drug use that happened as a result of them being illegal.”

While MDMA and its other forms continue to grow in use and popularity, those at MAPS are hoping to encourage “scientific and rational discussion about psychedelics, whether for recreational use or for therapeutic use,” claimed Burge.

The study takes place in Marin County and is run by Dr. Philip Wolfson and his partner Julane Andries. The trial officially began in April 2015 and is expected to continue through the end of 2016. They have recently finished treatment sessions with the first round of 6 patients and have 5 new patients currently enrolled. The study is a double-blind trial in which both patient and doctor are unaware until after the second session whether the patient was given the placebo or the substance. There are weekly sessions that run for about 1-2 hours without the use of the drug, and longer sessions every 5-8 weeks involving either the drug or a placebo. These sessions can last up to eight hours and include overnight stays.

“We allow these clinical studies to proceed if they are safe and have a reasonable chance of answering questions about the efficacy of the drug for the intended use,” stated U.S. Food and Drug Administration press officer Deborah Kotz.

Though the study has not been shown to lead to any serious health issues or mental harm so far, some would argue that the somewhat radical use of MDMA would be unsafe for patients facing serious medical ailments and could cause wear and tear on the body and carry a long term effect on the brain.

“Having a very long-term view, including large numbers of people, I have not seen any long-term damage and I don’t think there is any from repeated use,” Wolfson said.

One way the use of MDMA in therapy differs from other medications frequently used in psychology is how often it is taken and the dependency that can occur. These medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. Antidepressants and tranquilizers are SSRI’s which typically require daily use and don’t carry out a long-term effect without the medication. They are a form of treatment often used for episodic depression but can also be used by patients for decades. Instead, Wolfson’s trial aims to utilize methods taken from sessions and help patients with their everyday life without dependency of the drug or other medications. According to Brad Burge, research done in previous PTSD trials has shown that the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has effects lasting up to 4 or more years.

“These people all have a certain measured level of anxiety, but similar to the other studies they all have depression and most often have symptoms of PTSD,” Andries explained. “So the protocol that we use very much follows the PTSD studies.”

Although Gold’s anxiety from his cancer may return, he is doing better knowing that he is well equipped to cope with his fears. He is aware that MDMA is not a cure for his illness, but assists his recovery.

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“I’m in a better place,” Gold said with a long pause and hopeful tone. “And I hope I stay there.”

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some molly or some ecstasy. More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting.”- Brad Burge

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

 

A Change Is Gonna Come

By: Arash Malekzadeh

Riot gear hung from the tense hands of three rows of San Francisco Police Department officers, positioned austerely on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to fortify the entrance against the crowd assembling out front. The protesters facing them raised their hands high in the air – some with their fists fiercely clenched, others holding signs emblazoned with the face of Mario Woods, the 26-year-old Bayview resident who was gunned down by five SFPD officers in December of last year.

The tense atmosphere was interrupted by feedback from the loudspeaker fastened to a wheelchair laden with nothing but audio equipment. A young protester grabbed the microphone and began singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song recounting the racism Cooke endured during the Civil Rights Era. She glared into the eyes of a black officer, unintimidated by the army of riot police standing in her way. Singling him out amidst his white counterparts, she forced him to question which side he truly stood on. “You in the middle!” she exclaimed just before she broke into the song’s chorus, “It’s been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon’ come!”

Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.
Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.

In these early months of 2016, San Francisco has experienced a resurgence of activism that initially gave this city its progressive reputation. With the shutdown of the Bay Bridge on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and with the recent protests over the fatal SFPD shooting of Woods, it is clear that wounds are still fresh for San Francisco’s black community.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, San Francisco’s black population decreased by nearly 54 percent since 1970, falling to 5.2 percent in 2014. Along with the population, black homeownership is concurrently in decline. While the killing of Woods catapulted this wake of civil unrest, the outrage in the black community stems from decades of policies – from urban renewal and gang injunction lists to gentrification and violent policing  – that, according to Reverend Arnold Townsend, have targeted black people in San Francisco and perpetuated their exodus.

“Racism is in the political DNA of San Francisco,” Rev. Townsend, a local NAACP board member, said. “They [San Franciscans] never talk about or admit it, which means you can never eradicate it. You can’t fix it unless you first acknowledge that it exists.”

Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.
Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.

Though the black community has called San Francisco home since its inception, the city saw its largest in-migration of black people during World War II. Black families were relocating to metropolitan areas from the South to work in shipyards, taking advantage of the profitable wartime industry. The black community flourished until 1970; thereafter, the population decreased as San Francisco policy disproportionately affected black people.

“I think the most difficult thing for people to grasp when they look at the black community in San Francisco today is that we have not always been a poor community to the degree we are now,” Rev. Townsend said. “The economic downturn for blacks is the most devastating thing there is.”

The economic downturn Rev. Townsend speaks of began in the 1960s with urban renewal, the federally funded demolition of primarily poor, non-white neighborhoods in the interest of revitalizing those areas. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claimed eminent domain on the Western Addition, eventually leveling 60 square blocks, displacing thousands of residents, and refusing to redress the community they forced out.

Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes

The redevelopment project destroyed the prospering black community that had established itself in the Western Addition only two decades prior, following the internment of the preceding Japanese American residents.

“There is a plan that has been in place, that began … when the redevelopment agency came up with urban renewal … which turned out to be Negro removal,” Archbishop Franzo King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition said. “It’s beyond a trend but a plan that the enemy of the people has put in motion. This is where the redevelopment agency began its mayhem and its attack on the black community in San Francisco.”

Decades ago, the Western Addition was known as “The Harlem of the West” and acted as the beating pulse of San Francisco, fostering a vibrant community and stimulating black culture. Hundreds of black-owned businesses – restaurants, salons, book stores, hotels, and jazz clubs – lined the neighborhood blocks. But as black people were pushed out of the city, their culture and institutions left with them.

Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“The places that give you a sense of community are gone, the places that give you a sense of being and belonging are gone,” Rev. Townsend said in a disapproving tone. “We do not own our own homes. We do not own our own neighborhoods. Having no sense of ownership and control … leads to a general sense of unhealthiness and instability.”

City policy ushered in displacement and uprooted people from their homes, which extracted power from the people and ultimately disenfranchised the black community as a whole. As the black population diminished, those that remained struggled to identify with their transforming neighborhoods. The black population was stripped of its autonomy; consequently, turbulence befell the community and gave way for crime to transpire.

“When I was in high school, my neighborhood … had one of the highest murder rates in the Bay Area,” said Etecia Brown, community organizer for The Last 3% of Black SF. “And so what you saw was a gang injunction list being implemented. If you’re put on the gang injunction list then you’re automatically barred from having public housing. What you saw then was a rampant rise of gentrification and displacement.”

To address the high crime rates in communities of color, San Francisco implemented gang injunction lists and divided the city by alleged gang territories. The repercussions of being on the gang injunction list extend beyond the presumed gang member; whether it be their grandmother, their sibling or their spouse, anyone directly associated with a person on the list forfeits their right to affordable housing.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, these lists inaccurately mark young people of color as gang members with no evidence or indictments to justify their claim. Those on the list are legally restricted from returning to their neighborhoods, and if they commit a crime, they face an additional seven years on top of their sentence for their presumed gang affiliation.

Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“Really, when you look at our community and see how much we’ve been impacted by arrests and mass incarceration, more specifically gang injunction lists that target black and brown people living in public housing, that really feeds into freeing up housing and land and property for these gentrifiers and these redevelopment agencies,” Brown said.
As black people overcrowd jail cells and policies forcibly remove them from their communities, the black population in San Francisco diminishes and space becomes available for the wealthy – for those who desire the urban areas currently occupied by the poor.

“African Americans have been dealing with involuntary relocation and displacement well before today,” said Thea Matthews of Black.Seed, the black queer liberation collective responsible for the Bay Bridge shutdown. “It is reaching a climax because of the residual, blatant disregard for black life.”
While the black population in San Francisco is nearly five percent, black people account for more than half of the county jail’s population, according to a city report issued in 2013. At times, as in the case of Woods, they do not even make it to the jail cell before they are killed.

“There was a point in which the executions of Black and Brown lives became again completely intolerable for a new generational wave of Black Americans,” Matthews said. “From Trayvon to Oscar, Alex to Mario, and countless others, these martyrs for the movement remind us of a failed U.S. criminal justice system; and the time to respond, act, and dismantle is now!”
City policy has historically debilitated the foundation of the black community; the killing of Woods was just the last straw. San Francisco’s black community is mobilizing to reclaim the power taken from its people and is refusing to let racism dwindle its population anymore than it already has.

“The sacred blood that was spilled out on the streets of San Francisco at the hands of these killer police … provided an opportunity for the community to lift their voice and for the community to unite,” Archbishop King said.

The Writer’s Block with Stephanie LaRue

By: Stephanie LaRue

My writing “career” started when I was 14 years old. I kept a notebook of what I called poetry, but was really prose about boys and why they didn’t like me. It was a composition notebook that I got for science class, but never used. The cover was wrapped in silver duct tape and covered with scribbles of my favorite Dashboard Confessional lyrics. One time I left it on the coffee table and my mom read it. She asked me about the “senior with the truck,” and I couldn’t make eye contact with her for days.

After that incident, I put my heart/soul/brain into an online journal, you know, because the Internet is a secure place for personal stories and feelings. I recorded every little detail on Livejournal. The first several years of entries were nothing more than what I did (or didn’t do) at school, what happened at band practice, and why I fought with my brother. But later, there were emotional milestones. I expressed the intense fear of moving out of my parents’ house, the devastation of a friend passing away, and the elation of falling in love.

Writing helped me identify my fears. It helped me organize my options when I felt like the world was closing around me. It helped me grieve over losing friends, relationships, and TV shows (because those can be measured on the same scale). Currently, writing helps me remember that I have things to say in an environment where there are already so many voices, and it’s much more comfortable to be silent. I’m challenged with every tap on the keyboard or stroke of the pen to be unique, and rise above the noise.

As much as writing saves me, it can be torturous for others. When I tell people I’m a journalist, I usually get a response like, “I wish I could write!” (I hope to whatever divinity is listening that these people don’t find my Livejournal). What those people don’t realize is that they can write. I was just as much of a writer at 14 years old with my Dashboard Confessional notebook as I am now with college classes under my belt.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about what makes a good writer, but that’s why this column exists. Writing comes in a myriad of forms, and there is no concrete set of rules for every style. Every approach is different. I’ll discuss what works for me, but also what works for other kinds of writers. Think of this as a collaborative project.

Most importantly, I want to make writing accessible. As I mentioned earlier, anyone can be a writer! It’s about knowing which rules to follow, and which to break. Everyone has some kind of imagination from reading, seeing, and living. That imagination should be explored, and writing is one of the many ways to do so.

Welcome to the Writer’s Block with Stephanie LaRue: Certified professional word-vomiter since 2003.

Urban Hands in Urban Lands : A Community Reclaims Public Land Through Farming

By: Priscilla Salahuddin

When Edgar Molina was in High School, he threw his food from the cafeteria onto the grass around him. He was tired of eating the same food over and over again. Molina sarcastically told his friends that the grass was going to die because of the unhealthy food they ate. To his surprise, the grass did gradually begin to die.

“You can’t really call that food,” Molina, co-founder of urban farming organization, Urban Campesino/as, said. “I realized that when you’re still developing at such a young age, food is an important thing. So we set out to change that and provide healthy food.”

Molina and other members of People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), an environmental justice organization focused on improving the lives of people of color in San Francisco, traveled to New Mexico to network and share ideas with Los Jardines Institute. Los Jardines, an organization that builds and sustains healthy communities, was producing healthy food to feed their neighborhoods and surrounding schools. Molina was greatly inspired by this organization and wanted to bring those same traits to San Francisco; by starting Urban Campesino/as.

The Secret Garden or En Jardin Secreto is a small garden taken care of by members of the San Francisco community. (Eric Chan / Xpress)
The Secret Garden or En Jardin Secreto is a small garden taken care of by members of the San Francisco community. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

“Me and my friends realized that we’re living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world,” Molina said. “So why can’t we have that [nutritious food]?”

Molina pitched the idea of Urban Campesino/as to PODER as an initiative that would reconnect people to the earth and to their food. As a result, PODER agreed to be the umbrella organization and provide space and financial support.

“They came with a whole manifesto telling me they wanted to start this organization and we said ok,” Teresa Almaguer, youth coordinator at PODER, said.

After knocking on 300 doors and asking residents what they wanted to see done with the unused land in their communities, Urban Campesinos decided to grow real food, which they define as natural and unprocessed. Many of the surveyed answers revealed how surrounding neighborhoods wanted to use the land as a space for the community to come together and hold cultural events.

“We want it completely inclusive so no fences,” Savanah Maya, a member of Urban Campesinos, said. “Elders, children, and everything in between are welcome.”

Maya also believes that it is important to be knowledgeable about the food that people are ingesting.

“The food you consume literally makes up your flesh, so understanding what you consume mentally and physically is important,” Maya said.

Growing up she was constantly told that diabetes and obesity ran in her family, so she decided to understand how natural, healthy food can prevent those types of diseases. Maya believes that someone’s wealth should not determine their health.

Carlos Peterson-Gomez unlocks the gate to the Secret Garden on Harrison St. and 23rd St. on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Eric Chan / Xpress)
Carlos Peterson-Gomez unlocks the gate to the Secret Garden on Harrison St. and 23rd St. on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

After speaking to several garden owners for advice, Urban Campesino/as made the effort to  acquire land through the city where they were granted one acre in the Excelsior District with plans on expanding to five acres in the near future. In the meantime, they call “The Secret Garden,” a garden in the Mission, their home where they harvest fruits, vegetables and host cultural events. According to Almaguer, the organization has yet to grow anything on the land of the Excelsior District, but will be in the drafting process by the end of this year. Although there is nothing planted yet, the organization has begun to hold workshops at the site, which incorporate farming and the indigenous culture that is represented amongst their members and community.

According to Molina, there are California native plant roots in the land that go down as far as 200 feet; rather than replace or remove the roots, they leave them in the ground to cultivate a connection with their ancestors. At the beginning of each event, they open up with a ceremonial blessing.

“Most of the Urban Campesino/as are indigenous to Mexico and El Salvador, so through ceremonia we are remembering our native ways,” Carlos Peterson-Gomez, Co-founder of Urban Campesino/as, said. “All it is, is asking for the source of life, the creator, to help guide us.”

On February 20, Urban Campesino/as hosted a basket weaving workshop for the community at Lake Merced. Edward Willie, a Pomo and Wailaki tribe member, taught the attendees how to traditionally weave baskets. He explained how Native Americans predominantly used the plant tule, native to the Bay Area, for basket weaving, creating shelter and making shoes. According to Peterson-Gomez, the organization chose this workshop to teach people how to stay in touch with both their culture and nature.

Additionally, Urban Campesino/as holds a youth summer program aimed at teaching children the importance of subsistence farming.

“Kids had a hard time wrapping their minds around [the fact] that fries come from potatoes,” Molina said. ”We brought a chicken to show them … what we eat, and they were like,‘that’s what’s wrapped in the plastic and styrofoam at Trader Joe’s?’”

Urban Campesino/as recognizes that communities of color lack access to sustainable foods. With that in mind, they provide this space for the community to share and produce healthy foods.

Perspectives of an International Student in San Francisco

By: Janisara Katanyutaveetip

Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Janisara Katanyutaveetip. I get asked about my name all the time because it’s long and hard to pronounce. I will make things easier for you: just call me “Janis”. I’m an international student from Bangkok, Thailand. I lived there almost my whole life until I decided to come to San Francisco as an international student. I chose to major in journalism because I didn’t want to deal with Math and Science, and I loved to read.

The truth is, I did not think much about what it was going to be like to study in San Francisco. I just thought that it was going to be a lot of fun and everything was going to be fine. After a year as an international student at SF State, I thought to myself: Why am I here?

To be honest with you, studying journalism is like being in a different world for me. I’m not a talkative person and all I wanted was to be home and read books all day long, but all I have been doing here so far is going out and talking to strangers.

The most frustrating thing for me is the language. Although I can speak, read, and write in English. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I want to express my feelings, tell people what I’m thinking. I mean, I know exactly what I want to say, I just cannot find the right words to say it in English. So, instead of saying it out loud, I just keep quiet and listen to others most of the time.
Since attending SF State, I have been trying really hard to speak up in order to fit in with other people. I later realized that it is not just about the language barrier, looking back to my childhood, I have always been a quiet and hardworking student. In Thai school, we are taught to be quiet when the teacher is speaking, “don’t ask, and just do things,” as the teacher says.

Things are so different here. Free speech is everywhere. You can say whatever you want, wherever you want to, which is not entirely good and not entirely bad. I remember walking through downtown and seeing a random man just yelling out profanities. Everyone seemed okay with it, but I had so much fear knowing that in Thailand that person could have easily been thrown in jail. But, free speech is one of the most valuable assets here in America. The good part of free speech is that you can truthfully critique whatever or whoever you want to, which is very uncommon in Thailand. We have so much to say, but we would rather not get into any trouble.

Although the experience has been difficult, being far from home has taught me so much that I would have never learned back home. First, I have learned to be more open to new people and experiences. Looking back through my childhood, I was raised in a very protected environment, which made me see the world differently.. Just to give you some examples, I used to stick with my nanny all the time. She even sat in class with me throughout my kindergarten years because I would start crying if she was out of my sight. Although I’m from Bangkok, a very busy capital city of Thailand, my mom wouldn’t let me ride on public transportation.

When I landed in San Francisco, it was a whole new world.

I would have never gone up to a stranger to strike a conversation, it just seemed so weird to me. Journalism gave me no option and I had to go out and do it. I still feel weird when I do it, but I constantly remind myself that the work needs to get done.

Now you might be thinking; “if things are easier back home, then why are you here?”

Trust me, I constantly ask myself this question. In fact, I still don’t have the answer for it. If you ask my parents I bet they would say something like, “It’s a great opportunity to study abroad because you get to practice English communication skills, which is a major advantage in Thailand” and if you ask my grandmother, she would say I was lucky because not everyone gets the opportunity to study abroad like I do.

I keep those phrases in mind, but the thought of giving up and going back home still comes up way too many times. The only thing that keeps me going is this phase that repeatedly runs in my head, “I can’t let anyone down. Don’t worry Mommy, I won’t let you down.”

I know that every international student has different experiences being here in America. Some may have clear purposes of why they are here and what they want to pursue in life. I guess I’m just one of those people still trying to figure things out along the way.

Now that I’m nine months away from graduation, I would like to say that I’m grateful to have a chance to experience what it’s like to get out of my comfort zone, do things that I have never done, and be able to come so far from where I was. With all the difficulties, I have learned so many valuable lessons that I would have never learned back home.

What I would like you, the reader, to get out of reading my experience is to realize that there is so much stuff out there that you may not know about. There are people on the other side of the world, experiencing things that you have never known or heard of. Studying in America changed my perspectives of how I see the world in so many ways. I hope this inspires you to go out and see what you might be missing. You might be able to grow to see the world through a different perspective like I do.

Displaced Sounds : One Group of Musicians Navigate One Major Housing Crisis.

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

Three men sprawl out of a cramped car and walk across cracks of faded grey asphalt in the direction of a brightly lit diner. Sporting collared shirts, dark pants, and coarse beards, their unspoken uniforms affirmed that they were a band.

As they drove through Castro Valley, bandmates Jason Bolich and Zach Rice of the band, Septacy, jokingly argue over their favorite album from high school. Their argument was briefly interrupted by a text revealing that two members of their group, Ricky Marasigan and Justin Vanegas, could not make it because of their tedious commute from Alameda. Patiently sitting in the back seat, lead singer Nick Redmond interjects only to fuel the growing flame between the two. He is tired and growing groggy from a 50 hour work week, and from the commute across the San Mateo bridge that he endured earlier that day.

“I have my choice of two bridges to get into Oakland for rehearsal,” Redmond said. “Both take me about two hours to get across, and I do that probably a minimum of twice a week. It’s not great.”

It is because of this constant stress of commuting, that it a rare and strenuous occurrence for all five members of Septacy to gather for an extended period of time. Septacy’s members have been playing together on-and-off for almost seven years, and despite these challenges they manage to centralize twice a week. The band congregates in a jammed studio in Oakland, which it shares among ten other musicians in an effort to minimize costs.

The band “Septacy” performs at a show at Monarch in San Francisco, Friday, Feb.19. (Photo/Qing Huang)
The band “Septacy” performs at a show at Monarch in San Francisco, Friday, Feb.19. (Photo/Qing Huang)

San Francisco has always been a city synonymous with music and culture; from the Jazz Age of the Fillmore to the Rock Era of Haight-Ashbury, music has always been at the heart of San Francisco’s vibrant spirit. Today, many fear that this city has transitioned into a junction between the growing tech boom and upscale development. This disparity has led to a widespread migration across more affordable parts of the Bay Area and has become a well-known reality among local artists in the evolving music scene. Commuting, housing and accessibility of venues are some of the major hurdles that musicians all over San Francisco and the Bay Area are experiencing.

There was a time in San Francisco when music was lived and breathed daily. But long gone are the days of indulgence for bands like Jefferson Airplane, whose members lived within a single dwelling where creativity flourished in unimaginable ways. When its members were in high school, Septacy was able to meet up regularly, considering its members lived five minutes from each other. After being pulled across the Bay Area, this is a luxury they no longer have.

“When you’re trying to make it as an artist the deck is really stacked against you,” Redmond said. “For us, our distance and housing is one of the many factors. Often [rehearsing] comes down to the other guys because they live closer together. I just won’t join in sometimes because it’s such a pain,” Redmond, who now lives in Daly City, said.

Lead vocalist of Septacy Nick Redmond, 24, switches mics and sets up an array pedals for his guitar before a show at Monarch in San Francisco on Friday February 19. (Photo- Kristen Struckmeyer)
Lead vocalist of Septacy Nick Redmond, 24, switches mics and sets up an array pedals for his guitar before a show at Monarch in San Francisco on Friday February 19. (Photo- Kristen Struckmeyer)

A lack of affordable housing is stripping San Francisco of its artists and culture, and its entertainment industry is crumbling as venues struggle to preserve local music and keep their businesses alive.

“At the end of the day music is a business,” Redmond said. “So depending on where you are, money is going to affect what you are doing. So the first thing venues are going to ask is how many people can you draw.”

Musicians and small venue owners play an imperative role in creating a sense of liveliness within a city. Venues act as an incubator for up-and-coming musicians and are a lifeline to the entertainment ecosystem; however, they require both artists and a faithful audience to stay afloat. As small operation venues are being nudged out of their nestled corners and off the stained city streets of the Bay, musicians are further strained to find a source of income. This interdependence between artists and venues makes it a collective struggle to sustain a living in the city.

For many reasons, San Francisco cannot sustain life for musicians in the ways it once had. In 2009, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the Music and Culture Sustainability Policy to help improve and promote the music and entertainment industry. According to the policy, “Music and cultural events and performances are a distinct and important feature of San Francisco that make it both an exceptional and a desirable place to live.”

Noting large obstacles for the music industry, this policy incorporates streamlined permitting, event planning, advertising promotions, and the provisions of low-cost housing available to musicians, artists, and performers. These modifications were intended to encourage and help facilitate public events and local performances. Yet, in the time since the policy’s approval, the city has been witness to the relocation and often closure of some of the most prominent venues and clubs in its limits.

On January 30, 2016 Septacy took stage at XOXO Nightclub for the club’s final show. The Oakland nightclub would soon be torn down in order to build rental properties. Development discrimination that favors an affluent group of citizens is a growing sore among Bay Area natives, minority groups and artists as they are pushed to the fringes of the city.

“We found that live music, especially in the Bay Area, is really not that profitable,” Micah Byrnes, co-owner of bar and club, San Francisco’s Monarch, said. “San Francisco’s just really not a live music city compared to other cities.”

Nick Redmond, right, vocalist of the band “Septacy,” and his bandmates rehearse at their studio in San Leandro Wednesday, Feb.10. (Photo/Qing Huang)
Nick Redmond, right, vocalist of the band “Septacy,” and his bandmates rehearse at their studio in San Leandro Wednesday, Feb.10. (Photo/Qing Huang)

San Francisco newcomer Alex Miller, has been deeply invested in all aspects of the East Coast music scene for over a decade now. After moving from Boston to San Francisco four months ago, Miller used his contacts to quickly get a few gigs working as a sound engineer at popular spots like Monarch, The Independent, and Boom Boom Room.

“There isn’t really a thriving local music scene in the city” Miller explained. “There’s a lot of money here in San Francisco … it just doesn’t seem like anyone is taking any risk or putting it towards featuring some of the local scene.”

For a small local band like Septacy this bears bad news and is a major factor in their ability to play shows and get their music out there.

“The thing I’ve found for us is getting our music in the hands of the right people” Septacy drummer Jason Bolich said. “No matter how many shows we play, unless there are people there who are willing to give your band a shot and put in the extra effort, it isn’t going to make a difference.”

Despite the pull to give up on local and small-name artists, creating and performing seems almost inescapable for a band like Septacy, which is willing to go through the extra hoops to be a part of something it loves.

“There are so many bands out there and there’s a lot of adversity in being consistent with your product,” Septacy guitarist Zach Rice said. “That’s one thing I get very down on myself about if I feel I’m not performing well. But it’s still worth it.”

How the Bay Area Grows

By: Tessa Murphy

Growing Up Farms, located in a once-unused warehouse in the Crocker-Amazon neighborhood, uses a developing strategy called aquaponics to grow its food.  This system combines hydroponics and aquaculture to create a closed loop that benefits both of its occupants: plants and fish.

Fish waste pollutes their water, which is why fish tanks and household ponds have filters installed.  In an aquaponic system, bacteria that occurs naturally around plant roots converts the poisonous ammonia into nitrates and nitrites – the major components of store-bought fertilizer.  With plant roots growing directly in the water, the fish get clean water and the plants get fertilizer.  In addition, this system retains most of its water as it’s not being lost in soil, which is important in California’s drought.

High school volunteers are relocating sprounting plants to help build up the soil at the Bee Farm in San Francisco. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
High school volunteers are relocating sprounting plants to help build up the soil at the Bee Farm in San Francisco. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

“Part of our model is to stay as local as possible,” Mark Hintzke said.  The farm has partnered with several restaurants in the city to provide them with fresh produce.  Among these is Mission Edge Café, a restaurant that hasn’t found fresh huacatay – Peruvian black mint – in the area for the salsa it makes.  In March, the huacatay that Growing Up Farms is growing will mature, and Mission Edge Café will receive its first order.

Local Greens is a unique operation in Berkeley that eliminates the need for chemicals or sprays of any kind by keeping its plants sterile and isolated inside a warehouse served by artificial light. Founder Ron Mitchell worked in lighting and equipment before delving into organic farming.  When he moved to Berkeley to be closer to his daughter Faye Mitchell and her family, he started Local Greens and she soon joined the company on the administration side.  The venture struck a deal with Whole Foods, and now sells to 26 of its stores in the area.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water.  Without the use of soil, growers can control exactly what their plants consume by adding more or less fertilizer to the water, and they don’t need any special equipment or extra time for cultivating the earth.  Hydroponics also conserves both water and space: water isn’t lost in the ground, plants can be grown closer to each other as nutrients can be easily adjusted, and systems can more easily be stacked vertically and take up less room on the light.  However, a hydroponics system can be difficult to set up, and any disease in the plants will spread rapidly to the whole crop.

Volunteer Gary Lea ( left ) and Director of Building Operations Steve Hunter ( right ) tend to harvesting fresh basil for Project Open Hand's kitchen in San Francsico. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
Volunteer Gary Lea ( left ) and Director of Building Operations Steve Hunter ( right ) tend to harvesting fresh basil for Project Open Hand’s kitchen in San Francsico. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

Everything that comes through the doors of Local Greens is sterilized.  The team does thorough research into the origin of the seeds they buy to make sure they haven’t been sprayed or exposed to animal activity, and they test the seeds for human pathogens and other contaminants before planting.  The water used in the hydroponic system is filtered thoroughly, as is the air coming into the warehouse. The fertilizer used in the process, which comes as compost from Sacramento State University, is autoclaved before introduction to eliminate any organisms.  Even the workers have their feet sterilized before entering the building.

Alemany Farm is a four and a half acre organic community farm that aims to educate local residents on urban agriculture.  Through several volunteer sessions a week, the volunteer group Friends of Alemany Farm seeks to inspire children and adults to create their own gardens at home, help community members develop job skills, and promote area food security, the availability of and access to food.

Alemany Farm also welcomes school, service, and corporate groups to volunteer for an afternoon to learn about food growth, give back to the community, and help build teamwork.
Project Open Hand is a non-profit founded in 1985 that provides fresh, nutritious meals to seniors and critically ill locals.  In 2013, it established an indoor hydroponic greenhouse to produce lettuce, herbs, and micro-greens for its meals.  Steven Hunter, Director of Building Operations at Project Open Hand, spearheaded the idea of a hydroponic system when the building wasn’t able to support a roof garden.

The organization remodeled one of its building’s downstairs rooms with windows facing the street, and installed two four-foot long wheels built by hydroponic company Omega Garden.  Each of these wheels has an artificial light source and rotates slowly so its 80 plants grow evenly.

Local Greens Production Manager Araab Ballard (left) and Assistant Production hand Jarod Metzger prepare the freshly cut sprouts to be weighed and packaged. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
Local Greens Production Manager Araab Ballard (left) and Assistant Production hand Jarod Metzger prepare the freshly cut sprouts to be weighed and packaged. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

“It was just a casual notion,” he said of the idea’s inception.  “’Oh, we should raise a bit of food.’”  But as plans started developing – and the project raised $30,000 in its fundraising stage – Project Open Hand was able to add two more hydroponic wheels and now grows basil, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, and micro-greens.

What started as a small idea is now bringing passersby inside the doors of Project Open Hand to find out about the big round gardens in the window.  “They would walk in and they would just say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before,’” Hunter said.  “It’s a pretty nice way to introduce folks to what we do at Open Hand.”

Shielded from the bustle of Highway 101 by a row of trees, San Francisco Bee-Cause is an apiary – or bee farm – tucked into just under an acre of land in Visitacion Valley.  Nine colonies of native bees sit in a horseshoe shape on one side of the lot; fruit trees and other flowering plants occupy most of the other land.

San Francisco Bee-Cause accepts but doesn’t depend on donations, and funds itself otherwise through the sale of the honey it produces.

“The whole purpose of the bee farm is to feed the bees, and demonstrate that the bees can feed us,” Karen Peteros, the organization’s co-founder, said.

Founded in 2006, San Francisco Bee-Cause aims to demonstrate the value of bees by stimulating the city’s ecosystem.  It also offers a two-year apprenticeship program free of charge for dedicated participants.

“I really wanted something that was more charitable and educational in the long run,” Peteros said.

When Life Gives You Lemons…Race Them

By: Jasmine Williams

The Sonoma sun rays shone down on squinty-eyed spectators sprinkled across the bleachers surrounding Sonoma Raceway. The car racing track tucked near the mountains of the county just 45 miles outside San Francisco was host to 24 Hours of LeMons.

The objective of the national race was not to determine the fastest fruit of the land. The name is a play on 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest sports car race, held annually in Le Mans, France.

“Lemon” is a word used commonly in the car community to describe cars that are well — pieces of shit. For two days, the LeMons race welcomes drivers of all experience levels to an endurance race of over 15 hours — in cars that cost no more that $500.

Brian Shorey (left) routes the microphone cable for David Burgoon before Burgoon's stint in the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Brian Shorey (left) routes the microphone cable for David Burgoon before Burgoon’s stint in the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

Brian Shorey, now an eight-year participant of the race, stood in his white trailer in the car lot just outside the bleachers. The morning driver’s meeting had just ended. It had warned the racers to behave better than they had the previous day, when foul play resulted in a few bad crashes.

“We used up all our luck yesterday. Today, behave!” Jay Lamm, the race’s founder,  said at the meeting.

For most teams, lasting through the whole weekend was victory enough, but the more competitive racers were in it for the whopping cash prize of $601, awarded in a bag of nickels.
Shorey and his two team members, David Burgoon and Tom Sahines, did it for fun.

“For me, driving a car at that speed in a somewhat competitive environment without having to worry about speeding tickets — even if you don’t win it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Shorey said. “I’m quite proud of the fact that as a part-time novice mechanic and not a professional race car driver — that we won a race and have been able to last this long.”

The three men joined forces in late 2011, after meeting through the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club, a car club for lovers of the compact Italian car.

The car they raced in LeMons was a 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde, and this Sunday marked its 37th race. Its life in LeMons started back in 2008 when it was first raced at a LeMons race in Boston.

Evidence of a fuel leak that led to a black flag for the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde during the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Evidence of a fuel leak that led to a black flag for the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde during the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

In 2010, Shorey brought the car to the Golden State.

The Milano was a faded black, small and weathered. Three racing stripes — painted in green, white, and red like the Italian flag — ran from the car’s hood to its trunk. A dirty rubber chicken hung out of a broken rear light and a miniature toy deer was taped to the roof.  The hood of the car was stamped with various faces and slogans.

The car was essentially gutted of its interior, and had no glass and only one seat . It was, however, equipped with a roll cage, a fire extinguisher, and a cooler built by the team to offer cool water to hydrate the driver, hands free.

The end of the morning’s meeting marked the beginning of the race and was the cue for Shorey and his team to begin prepping to get the car on the track.
After checking the tires for air, hooking up the radio, and starting up the GoPro attached to the inside of the car, it was finally go-time.

Shorey’s trailer sat in a parking lot littered with at least 100 others like it, as well as RVs, cars, and trucks. He bought the trailer in 2000 to transport his cars to the various LeMons races he participated in throughout the country.   “Alfa Romeo” was written in brick-red cursive on the trailer’s side.

Throughout the lot, white tents provided shade for lounging women in foldable chairs, while kids played tag with dogs and circled the perimeter on their bikes.  The grounds smelled of burnt rubber and motor oil.

Clouds of smoke billowed from BBQ pits; the sizzling of hotdogs and burgers on grills added to the symphonic buzz of roaring engines. The day was cool, the sun’s heat offset by a light but steady breeze. Rolling green hills stretched for miles as a backdrop to the track.

With such basic requirements — showing up in a car worth less than $500 dollars with a team of at least four people, both driver and car equipped with proper safety equipment — the turnout for LeMons was always a spectacle.

“They [the race organizers] encourage themes, so you get a few wankers out there every race,” Shorey said, chuckling, his native Boston slang showing through.

And “wankers” there were.

A particular car, Number 169, circled the lot plastered with enlarged photos of naked women with ungroomed private parts. Another, with the word “ASSCAR” emblazoned in bold on the door panel, featured a life-size , plastic rendition of the bottom half of a woman’s body protruding from its trunk. One car, read  “TRUMP” on one side, “You’re Fired!” on the rear, and had an enlarged toupee on its roof.

Brian Shorey (left) and Tom Sahines (right) help David Burgoon strap in for his stint driving the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. In addition to seatbelts, the driver is connected to hydration and cooling hoses and a two-way radio. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Brian Shorey (left) and Tom Sahines (right) help David Burgoon strap in for his stint driving the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. In addition to seatbelts, the driver is connected to hydration and cooling hoses and a two-way radio. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

Meanwhile, the drivers on the track raced at their own pace, cautious of competitors, careful to avoid bumping into one another so that they wouldn’t be called to the penalty box.

A blue and yellow tow truck circled the raceway, prepared to pick up any totaled vehicles to clear the track. A few times, all cars were instructed to stop so that the track could be cleaned of oil spills.

By three thirty in the afternoon, Shorey was coming up on the final hour of the race. He had taken over from Burgoon two hours earlier.

By that time the lot had begun to empty. Loyal spectators remained in the stands to watch the final laps, while others scrambled to grab a bite from the only food truck still open.

The rumbling of the engines began to grow faint as more cars broke down or were kicked out the race altogether. A buzz from the radio told the rest of the team to prepare the trailer for Shorey’s arrival.

An exhausted Shorey drove the car into the trailer and climbed out.  The car emerged from the race virtually unscathed.  The team was satisfied.

“Well the race was awesome because we finished, the car’s on the trailer, and it’s still running,” Sahines said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The team suffered only two pit stops during the race.  One was to fill up the gas tank, and the other to fix a fuel leak that the judges spotted.

“We actually lost 12 positions from the first unplanned pit stop,” Shorey said.

Despite the penalties and not knowing the exact place they finished out of the 147 competitors, the team left Sonoma more than satisfied.

“LeMons is really rewarding people who can work on their own cars and drive their own cars,” Shorey said.

“This is the purest form of racing.”

Seizing Life

By: Pricilla Salahuddin

Shake it off. Blink. It’s not happening. I promise. You’re still here.

These things go through my mind when I feel like someone is intensely looking at me.

It’s that same kind of look that I confusingly woke up to over and over again when I was 15 years old. That look still haunts me. I used to be traumatized by ambulance sirens too. Every time I heard them I had to pinch myself and tell myself that it was not me in the back of that red racing truck.

This all started at the end of my freshmen year of high school, 2008. I was a healthy teenaged girl — until one afternoon I was convulsing on the floor in my grandma’s living room. Next thing I knew I was in an ambulance, screaming, “I don’t want to die.” I tell myself that the reason I was yelling such a horribly scary thing is because my cousin Sarah also had seizures and died when we were both eleven. But Sarah’s story is completely different than mine. She had a brain tumor.

Before my first few seizures I had no idea what epilepsy was. A person has to have three seizures to be diagnosed with epilepsy, which for me happened fast. It was not until after those three episodes that I was able to see a neurologist and go through the different tests, including several CT scans and EEGs. These checked for a brain tumor or anything else that could cause seizures. I was clear.  If nothing is found, doctors generally diagnose the patient as epileptic.

Nearly 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy. When I first went to the End Epilepsy Walk, I was mind-blown by how many kids were there. I saw kids in wheelchairs and heard stories about how many of them had to go through brain surgery. I was grateful I did not need to go through any intense procedures, but that time of my life was still one of the darkest times I can remember. I felt sorry for myself, and I felt guilty for feeling that way.

I felt sorry not only for myself, but also for those who had to see me go through this hard time. When I started to have seizures my little brother was about five years old. I know he got scared when he would see me convulse suddenly, my eyes rolling back in my head. To this day I feel guilty that he had to see me like that. I have to tell myself that it is not my fault; it was out of my control.

Then there are my parents. They had to see their first-born child go through something that they never could have anticipated. Not only did they see me go through the seizures, but they saw me at my worst. I think it’s safe to say that during that period of time I was depressed. As far as I know, that is the last thing a parent wants to see their child go through. We were all confused and scared.

I went through 15 grand mal seizures from the end of my freshmen year through my sophomore year of high school. I went from doctor to doctor, each one putting me on high dosages of different medications, but the seizures remained uncontrollable. There seemed to be hope when I was put on two different medications, Topamax and Keppra, but when lab results showed that my liver was being affected, something else had to be figured out. My doctor decided to lower my meds, but it happened too fast — the seizures came right back.

Not only did my physical appearance begin to change but my mentality changed as well. I lost a lot of weight because of the different medications I was on. I no longer looked like the built soccer player that I used to be. I began to isolate myself because I was embarrassed about what I was going through and I knew people were talking. I had several seizures on campus and it was new to everyone, including myself. My second seizure happened in class when I was about to take my math final, and from what I heard it was definitely a scene. My group of friends got smaller. Thinking back, I’m not sure if it was because they began to distance themselves, or because I did.

I have now been seizure-free for almost two years, and I’m pretty sure the last one I had was my fault. It was the day after my 21st birthday. I had been told several times by doctors that the medication that I am on now does not combine well with alcohol. I’m able to drink, but I have to know my limits because one drink is like four for me. Knowing this, I stupidly decided to not take my medication the day of my 21st birthday because I wanted to be able to drink all that I could. The next day, on December 28, I had what I hope will be my last seizure. I still drink, just with set boundaries.

I’m now 23 and I have not made that mistake again, nor do I ever want to. I hope that more people will grow aware of epilepsy and what to do in a case if they see someone having a seizure. Epilepsy is not a rare thing; it is far more common than you would ever think.

Today, I took 500 mg of Keppra. I will do it again this evening, and I will continue to do it for the rest of my life. If all I have to do is take two pills a day to keep me from returning to my worst nightmare, then that is exactly what I’m going to do.

This is just one story about a teenaged girl who had to go through some crazy adversity. There are many stories similar to this one and some that are much worse. I am thankful that I am here today. Although the nightmare still haunts me, it is something that I have learned to live with and not let hold me back. I hope that this can motivate someone to move to forward even in the darkest times.

A Monthly Challenge: The Bay Area homeless population struggles to find access to feminine care products

Written By: Sekinat Shiwoku

 

Mary recalls crying and writhing in pain as she sat to await treatment for toxic shock syndrome at Lifelong Medical Care, a clinic in Oakland that serves low income and homeless individuals. She had contracted it when she could not afford to buy feminine hygiene products and fashioned herself a handmade tampon of wadded Kleenex tissues. The makeshift tampon got lodged deep inside of her after many failed attempts to remove it. Mary, who asked that her last name not be used, recalled the incident in a harried manner; she was ashamed of the circumstances surrounding her contraction of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Menstruation can be an emotionally and physically taxing experience, but one that becomes even more difficult when homeless and without access to feminine care products and shower facilities. This situation can result in a myriad of significant health concerns. One of these health issues is TSS, which is a bacterial infection that can result in kidney failure, liver inflammation and can even become fatal.

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“There are a list of complicated issues that come without access to hygiene and sanitation,” said Leah Filler, Director of Global Community Engagement at Lava Mae, an organization that recycles Muni buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless in San Francisco. “On the shower side, if you can’t clean up after and you’ve had your period and soiled yourself … you’re far more at risk for infection, for infectious diseases, putting others at risk as well.”

Without proper attention and care, many homeless women throughout the Bay Area may find themselves in situations similar to Mary’s.

Thirty-three percent of the homeless population in San Francisco is female. These women face a slew of issues that come without access to feminine products and sanitation. Although there are various organizations and shelters in the Bay Area that homeless people can turn to for hot meals and accommodation, homeless women often have nowhere to turn when it comes to maintaining healthy feminine hygiene practices. Coming across a clean and safe shower or access to toilets strictly for women or menstrual products is rare.

“There are not enough shelters that cater to women,” said Michelle Myers, 57, who lives on the streets of Oakland. “We just go from place to place, and get as many [tampons and pads] as you can when you can, so when time comes you’ll have enough, and when you can’t find access to showers, you just do without. You go to McDonalds to access the bathroom. You go to Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or somewhere.”

This is the reality a lot of women on the streets have come to accept. According to Filler, women make up about a third of the homeless population in the Bay Area. There are many resources that serve both men and women facing homelessness, but their needs are quite different. It’s not just inconvenient — it’s dangerous for homeless women to menstruate on the street without proper hygiene practices.

According to Jeb Creech, the Outreach Coordinator at the Women’s Community Clinic in San Francisco, and Heather Rose, manager of the Homeless Shelter for Women in Oakland, there are only two shelters in the Bay Area that serve homeless women without doubling as a domestic violence shelter.

“I am not aware of any other organizations around here that pass out stuff like we do on a regular basis,” Rose said. “They might get a donation of [feminine products] once in awhile but there’s not a place where these women can consistently go and get the products and service they need.”

Currently, out of 40 operating shelters across the Bay Area, only seven are drop-in centers accessible to women who do not need to live at the facility. Of those seven drop-in centers, only two were not associated with domestic violence survivors.

According to Healthline, a medical information website, not having the proper products and hygiene practices during menstruation can lead to toxic shock syndrome, vulvovaginitis, risks of reproductive health and STI infections, and HIV.

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However, the effects sometimes go beyond the physical consequences.

Many shelter employees agreed that women also face psychological effects from inadequate access to resources. Creech stated that when women are not able to receive clean clothes or do laundry after soiling their clothes it brings down their confidence. Filler shared stories of women who deprived themselves of water or food so they wouldn’t have to go use the restroom and soil themselves.

According to Creech, services to homeless individuals in the Bay Area are male dominated. “There are ten homeless men for every woman,” Creech said.

Many homeless women tend to stay near shelters they know will provide them with resources they need, stay hidden, or stay with a domestic partner.

“The visibly homeless people on the streets tend to be men, and tend to therefore get public attention,” said John Lozier, Executive Director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, a membership organization of health care providers that work together towards the betterment of homeless people. “It may well be the case that services for men are better funded than services for women.”

Because the number of homeless men is higher and because they are frequent clients of shelters, resources tend to target males. Rachel Howard, Program Coordinator of the Homeless Shelter for Women, believes that even when agencies do focus on what particular needs women have, they don’t always factor in feminine care products.

“There’s certainly a history of menstruation being viewed as something that is dirty and not a fit subject for polite conversation,” Lozier said. “And it’s reflected in all sorts of religious traditions but also in social norms. This is probably impacting support of shelters, but probably not in a conscious way, but in a subconscious way.”

Menstruation on the streets is a multifaceted issue. Many of those like Howard who are aware of the issue believe that it is in the hands of the city to make accommodations to increase those services. “I don’t think they’ve made it a priority,” she said.

 

4 Organizations on a Menstrual Mission
The Homeless Shelter for Women is a drop-in center started by nuns in the early 90s that serves 55 to 60 women a day.  The shelter is a place where women can eat breakfast and lunch, drink coffee and tea, shower, do laundry, and sleep.

Conscious Period is a company in Los Angeles founded by Annie Lascoe and Margo Lang, joining the menstrual revolution by selling comfortable tampons. Its tampons are 100% organic cotton and have a BPA-free plastic applicator. With every box purchased, Conscious Period donates a box of organic cotton pads to a homeless woman.

Lava Mae is a group that turns Muni buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless in San Francisco. It launched its first vehicle in June 2014, and its second in September 2015. Altogether last year, it served 2,000 homeless people in San Francisco. It will also be doubling its schedule next month to serve more people in need.

Period Packages is a project created by Sidney Hood and two of her friends after learning about the crisis homeless women face on their periods. The ladies had an initial goal of raising a mere $500, but they exceeded their expectation and raised over $4,000. With the money, they were able to purchase over 21,000 tampons and thousands of pads. After a couple of weeks, the ladies completed 500 Period Packages, each containing 30 tampons and up to 8 pads.

 

Written By: Sekinat Shiwoku