When a homeless man rained blows down on the skull of a former San Francisco city commissioner with a metal rod last week, it shocked a city already reeling from the fatal stabbing of a tech executive days earlier.
Entangled in the April 5 attack on Don Carmignani, a local cannabis entrepreneur and former member of the Fire Commission, were many of the issues worrying San Franciscans: violent crime, homelessness and drug abuse.
But the incident also revealed tensions that emerge when the city’s serious homelessness problem stretches into areas previously less affected by it.
The attack took place in the Marina District, an upscale neighborhood in the city’s north where it’s more common to see parents taking their kids to the park and tech employees walking their dogs than to see encampments.
According to the city’s 2022 estimate, there are only 158 homeless people in the Marina District—out of a total of 7,754 across the city.
But many Marina residents say that, since the pandemic, the number of unhoused people in the neighborhood has risen and has made their homes feel less safe.
They insist they aren’t just being NIMBYs; rather, the problem is with several people who behave erratically, shouting into the night and at times being aggressive.
Eric Kingsbury, a member of the Marina Community Association Board, says the police generally haven’t been able to do much about it. For him—and several other people who spoke to The Standard—the attack on Carmignani wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“This was unfortunately only a matter of time,” Kingsbury said.
Aggression on the Streets?
Not all the details of the attack on Carmignani are clear, but the general outline is.
On the evening of April 5, Carmignani asked a group of homeless people who were camping out and doing drugs near his mother’s house on Magnolia Street to move. He was then assaulted with a steel rod, Supervisor Catherine Stefani, whose District 2 covers the Marina, said in a city meeting Thursday.
Surveillance footage from the area shows a man with long hair and a red knit cap striking Carmignani and chasing him down Lombard Street, around the corner from his mother’s house.
Carmignani suffered a fractured skull, a broken jaw and cuts on the head and face as a result of the attack, his father, Ray, later told the media. He was hospitalized and required surgery.
Police arrested 24-year-old Garret Doty in connection with the attack. Kleigh Hathaway, Doty’s attorney, alleges that Carmignani sprayed her client with pepper spray and that Doty was defending himself.
The Standard was unable to reach Carmignani or his parents for comment.
To many neighbors, the homeless people who camped near Carmignani’s mother's house were a familiar sight.
Patricia Vaughey, who leads the Marina-Cow Hollow Neighbors & Merchants Association, said the main issue is with a homeless person named Nathaniel Roye and his girlfriend. They have set up camp in the doorways of homes and businesses, sometimes scream at each other through the night and have broken into backyards and properties, several residents told The Standard. One neighbor shared a video of Roye defecating in his yard.
According to Vaughey, Roye became such a nuisance to the Walgreens on Divisadero and Lombard streets that it got a stay-away order against him.
The situation “has gotten to a stage where I was afraid there could be vigilantism,” Vaughey said.
Albert, a neighborhood homeowner who asked to be identified by his first name for safety reasons, told The Standard that Roye once threw a bottle at him in front of Walgreens.
“I was on the phone; it was totally unprovoked,” he said. “I was probably a good 30 yards from him. He was having one of those erratic days, yelling at people going in and out of Walgreens. Maybe he thought I was calling police or somebody.”
Multiple residents said that part of the problem is that nobody—not the police, not homeless service providers—can do much about the situation.
Vaughey told The Standard that neighbors make five to six calls to police and the city’s 311 system every day about the homeless people. But unless they are blocking the entire sidewalk or an entranceway, little can be done.
Joe Alioto Veronese, a former candidate for district attorney who lives in the neighborhood and is close friends with Carmignani, said the homeless couple terrorizes the neighborhood.
“There was one time where the young lady was in front of Walgreens and was out of her mind. She was running in and out of traffic on Lombard Street,” he said. “[The police] wouldn’t do anything.”
Residents have urged police to use “5150”—an involuntary detention for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization when a person is believed to be a danger to others, or to themself, or gravely disabled—but say only rarely have officers taken such a step.
A search of the San Francisco criminal case index showed that, since 2019, Roye has been charged with willfully disobeying a court order and vandalism on two occasions each.
The SFPD did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
The Standard found Roye and his girlfriend seated amid a pile of their possessions on Lombard Street near the intersection with Octavia Street. He denied having any role in the attack on Carmignani, but said he witnessed it.
“I couldn’t help him,” he said.
He also denied acting with aggression against neighborhood residents. “If they want to get aggressive, they can be aggressive,” he said.
NIMBYism or a Real Issue?
If homelessness now feels like an intractable problem in the Marina District, that might actually be because it's worse elsewhere, according to Christin Evans, a member of the new Homelessness Oversight Commission, which will oversee the activities of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
She says the city prioritizes encampments with large numbers of people—which are often located in other parts of the city.
“When you’re talking about a tent here and there, it really becomes a low priority,” Evans said. “I empathize with neighbors who feel frustrated and are calling and not getting a response.”
But she rejects the idea that unhoused people are frequently violent and aggressive.
“In reality, what we know from the data, is that they’re committing violent crime at the same rate as housed individuals,” she said, “They also are more likely to experience and be a victim of violence themselves.”
But that explanation will likely be a small consolation to residents who say that more homelessness and erratic behavior—and the attack on Carmignani—have made them feel unsafe.
Albert told The Standard that, in 2020, he wrote two letters to the local police captain asking the SFPD to take action. Of particular concern to Albert was an elderly neighbor who spent time waiting in his apartment because she was afraid of returning home and being seen by a tent resident near her front door.
Carissa Summe said her 3-year-old daughter’s preschool is near the site of the attack on Carmignani and that the owner of the school called the police about the homeless people camped out nearby.
“That clearly doesn’t make me feel safe sending my child there,” she said.
Barrett Barnes, another resident who used to live in the city’s rough-and-tumble Tenderloin neighborhood, said that homeless people in the neighborhood usually haven’t worried him—until the attack on Carmignani.
But the situation can cause issues.
Earlier this week his fiancee was walking their toy Goldendoodle, Sophie, and had to ask him to escort her back into their building; Roye’s girlfriend was pacing around the area and cursing.
“You always hear screams through the window on this back alley,” Barnes added.
Jennifer Majtan, who grew up in New York City and now lives in the neighborhood, plans to move back east later this year.
While safety isn’t the primary reason, it has affected her assessment of the benefit of living here.
“I'm a tough girl, but I don't want to spend the amount of money that I'm spending to live in San Francisco to feel unsafe at night walking around, especially because I have a dog,” she said, gesturing to her dog, Buddy. “I have to walk this guy at night.”
Matthew Kupfer can be reached at [email protected]