Xpress Magazine

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April 2022





SASKIA HATVANY editor-in-chief ALBERT GREGORY managing / copy editor ALBERT SERNA JR. content / multimedia editor MORGAN ELLIS photo editor CASH MARTINEZ social media editor NICOLE GONZALES online editor





SELENA ZHAO art director



faculty advisor

Each issue thus far in the semester has been an issue of “firsts,” and this one is no exception. This is the first printed issue of Xpress Magazine in over two years since the pandemic sent us all home to conduct life from a distance. In this edition, you’ll find a healthy variety of stories, from the latest trend in beekeeping to an investigative report on San Francisco homeless deaths. One part lovely writing, two parts gorgeous visuals, and three parts dedicated reporting — the 2022 Xpress Magazine recipe is finally down to a science. Hopefully, it’s a treat!

















Cover photos by Garrett Isley.




Why commercial cannabis keeps getting stronger Cannabis plants inside the greenhouse of Half Moon Grow nursery in Half Moon Bay on April 6, 2022. Ed Wilkinson and Aneese Bishara founded the nursery in 2019 to produce highly potent marijuana. (Rashik Adhikari / Xpress Magazine)

BY CAROLINE RAFFETTO The rows of locked glass cases in Bay Area dispensaries display colorful jars and bags of premium cannabis for customers to choose from, like fine jewelry. Much like the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, the THC and CBD content of the cannabis is clearly stated on the packaging. These frosty, dark green, dense nugs sold in dispensaries are much stronger than the oreganolooking weed smoked just a few years ago. “Twenty years ago, you would just smoke 10 times as much to get the same amount of high,” said Edward Wilkinson, owner of Half Moon Grow, a Cannabis farm in Half Moon Bay. When customers visit a dispensary, many will search for products with the highest percentage of THC content. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component in marijuana that produces the “high” effect but is not the only thing contributing to a person’s experience of marijuana. The newfound fixation on high THC percentages in cannabis is causing the market to skyrocket while consumers search for the best high possible. In a national study done by the University of Mississippi National Center for Natural Products Research’s Potency Monitoring 4

Program, cannabis potency has risen from an average of 3.96% in 1995 to 14.35% in 2019. For consumers, to puff on the highest THC percentage weed guarantees an epic high, but for those working in the increasingly competitive, $61-billion cannabis industry, this fixation has had some negative consequences. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016, small family grows are being overtaken by larger, more competitive farms that produce a high percentage product and more money. According to cannabis growers such as Wilkinson, many dispensaries will not buy strains under 20% THC due to the demand from consumers for strains with high THC content. “If you’re under 20% or 25% THC levels, you’re not going to be able to sell your product, [which is] kind of nonsense because you can get just as high from 15% or 18%,” Wilkinson said. In the marijuana plant, as well as other plants, there are naturally occurring chemicals known as terpenes that are responsible for its aroma and flavor. These terpenes are bioactive and can affect the body much like aromatherapy and some people, like Alex Garcia, Head of Distribution for SF Cultivators,

If you're under 20% or 25% THC levels, you're not going to be able to sell your product, which is kind of nonsense because you can get just as high from 15% or 18%

Alex Garcia poses for a portrait in Pacifica near Shark Park Beach at Palmetto Street on April 6, 2022. Garcia has been head of distribution at SF Cultivators for nearly three years. (Rashik Adhikari / Xpress Magazine)

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believe they can enhance a person’s high. “At this point, the consumers are leading the industry in a sense, and they’re definitely leaning in the direction of higher and higher THC,” said Halle Pennington, a product executive at Humboldt Seed Company. By selective breeding, the process of only breeding plants that produce high THC numbers, growers and breeders can meet the consumer’s demands of high THC percentages. This technique, however, causes lowerpercentage strains to go extinct. The purple buds and orange hairs of Tropicana Cookies, a sativa-dominant hybrid strain grown by SF Cultivators, produced an energetic high and citrus taste. The strain even received a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Leafly, a website where consumers can connect with and buy trusted, legal cannabis from local stores. “The nose on it was like you’re hacking down citrus plants,” said Garcia, who enjoyed the strain many times. “The high of it made you feel like Superman. You’re out doing shit! I would smoke it and go run with my dog for miles.” Garcia explained that dispensaries stopped purchasing Tropicana Cookies, and if they did purchase it, they wanted it at a discount. Many customers were not interested in it because it was only 16% THC. “I’m sure people who care about those genetics will hold on to them and stuff, but you lose them from that commercial shelf,” Garcia said. For Pennington, who was born into the

cannabis industry, marijuana is more than just a business. Pennington grew up in Humboldt, a Northern California town responsible for approximately 6 million pounds of cannabis annually, according to the 2017 Department of Food and Agriculture’s Standard Regulatory Impact Analysis. Her parents grew marijuana on their property, and when she was younger, she was never told the difference between the marijuana plants and their garden vegetables. Watering and tending to the plants were just part of their daily routine. Although consumers enjoy these high THC strains, the numbers cannot physically get any higher. “There has to be plant matter and like all these other things,” Pennington said. “If you’re saying that it’s over 40% THC, I would imagine that, in the sun, that bud would turn into mush.”




They Speak

for the


Erasmo Flores mows the lawn in the quad on campus on April 4, 2022. The grounds crew had five individuals working to keep the quad in good shape,

6and Flores now covers the entire area on his own. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

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THE UNDERSTAFFED TEAM THAT KEEPS SF STATE’S CAMPUS GREEN BY OLIVER MICHELSEN When San Francisco State University’s grounds manager Robert Murphy and the rest of the grounds team arrive on campus at 6 a.m., it is eerily quiet. The sun won’t rise for another hour, and students and faculty won’t begin arriving at their morning classes for another two. By that time, though, the school’s grounds team will be done or well underway with the campus’ required daily maintenance. The campus’ collection of approximately 2,800 trees and just as many plants, all with varying water and temperature needs, require around-the-clock attention in order to survive. SF State’s grounds team is a group of 14 groundsworkers, gardeners, tree trimmers and

Juan Torres cuts off pieces of a dead branch during his route on campus on March 29, 2022. The smaller team can handle all of the normal day-to-day normal upkeep, but they don't have time to take on new landscaping projects. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

Erasmo Flores (left) and Alejandro Hernandez (right) pose for a picture as they continue to work on the quad on campus on March 29, 2022. Flores now covers the entire area on his own. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

water and irrigation specialists that gives the greenery that attention. Murphy, who has been the campus’ grounds manager since 2019, said understaffing issues stemming from the pandemic as well as stateproposed sustainability regulations have introduced new hurdles to maintaining campus greenery. “We’re down to 14 [people]; it used to be 20. We used to have a tree crew; we don’t have that. We’re having a really hard time finding people,” said Murphy. “Anything that’s a specialty or takes some education or time, or we can’t find anyone…even the groundsworker, that position’s been open. I have had a groundskeeper position open for three years.” In an August 2020 University Budget Committee meeting, SF State President Lynn Mahoney and other administrators discussed a “workforce reduction” and “hiring chill” as a means of addressing the budget deficit caused by the predicted enrollment decrease at the time. Both of these were felt by the grounds team. During the pandemic, SF State’s 40-acres of landscaping were maintained by just three people on some days, according to Murphy. At times, those who tended to the plant life were the only ones walking the paths of the mostly 7

XPRESS MAGAZINE of time, effort and focus. And when you pull people off the regular maintenance, that means the debris piles up.” Monday to Friday, Hernandez maintains the campus’ serene Garden of Remembrance and fills the school’s flowerbeds with an extensive array of color-coded purple and gold flowers. He said that he and others have had to take on jobs they usually wouldn’t have to with a full staff. In addition to maintaining the flower beds on campus and the schools’ Japanese Garden of Remembrance, Hernandez spends most mornings helping out lead groundworker Erasmo Flores with his work in the quad. Prior to the pandemic, the two explained, the grounds team had five people working to maintain the quad. Now Flores covers the area by himself. “Right now, it’s just him, and he’s struggling. I don’t know if they’re going to hire more or if that’s going to happen in the future,”

A groundsworker waters plants right beside the “Caring” Sculpture put together by American Sculptor Aristides Demetrios on April 4, 2022. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

A closeup of Pericallis lanata, commonly known as Florist's cineraria which are planted right outside the Health and Social Sciences Building on campus at SF State on April 4, 2022. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

deserted campus. Alejandro Hernandez is a gardener on the team and was one of the three that remained throughout the pandemic. He said that despite their initial fear, those who worked through the pandemic were able to maintain the campus’ plant life with the smaller team. Now, despite the fact that the team is 14 people strong, an exponential increase in foot traffic from the height of the pandemic makes it such that the larger team is just able to cover the school’s day-to-day routine maintenance. Murphy said the team is left with little time to work on bigger, more creative landscaping projects. Instead, he explained, the team is forced to constantly play catchup with the maintenance of the grounds in order to keep them up to code. “This lawn that I used to be proud of is full of weeds,” Murphy said. “Projects take a lot


Juan Torres, a member of SF State’s grounds team, poses for a picture as he is about to begin cutting down dead branches outside the gymnasium at SF State on March 29, 2022. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)

APRIL 2022

Hernandez explained, leaning on the back of an equipment-filled cart. “We need some more people because it’s a lot of work for us.” Despite the extra coverage, Flores mows the entirety of the quad by himself like clockwork, only stopping when he’s hit all the edges of the expansive lawn with the faded red Groundsmaster 345 he rides. In addition to the understaffing brought on by the pandemic, the grounds team is also adapting to changing regulations surrounding sustainability practices. In October 2021, the California Legislative Counsel passed a bill that aimed to decrease air pollution by phasing out small off-road engines, used primarily in garden and landscaping equipment, by placing “feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and evaporative emissions from new small off-road engines.” Juan Torres, the team’s only tree trimmer at the moment, trims the campus’ seemingly never-ending supply of shrubs and trees, some more than a hundred feet high, keeping walking paths clear for pedestrians. He explained that he used to be able to bring more of his personal equipment but has recently used some of the electric equipment that the grounds team tested. “The electric [tools], they’re not noisy,

and that’s good… there’s no smoke,” Torres explained as he collapsed his extendable treetrimming saw. “But [it]’s only like two hours or one hour and a half, the battery, when I use it.” He added that while the tools are okay for smaller jobs, bigger ones, such as blowing the eucalyptus leaves around the school’s outdoor track, take far longer than they used to. Despite the challenges that come with the work, grounds team members like Flores, Hernandez and Torres continue to maintain the campus’ diverse landscape for students, faculty and visitors alike. And while each person carries out a different job, they all display a similar pride in their work. Hernandez, who gardens at home as well, maintained a unique fondness for his work on campus, noting that all the work they do is to prepare the campus for students. “We’re just trying to do this, as much as we can, little by little.”



BY ANNE KRISTOFF Nestled between vibrant green trees and stone-paved paths, Philip Gerrie gently puffs pine needle smoke on his honey bees to calm them before pulling out each frame from his hives. Dressed in long sleeves and pants with a beekeeping veil over his head, Gerrie’s ungloved hands carefully inspect each frame one at a time, checking the health of the hive and the quantity of honey produced. For the last 20 years, this has been part of this San Francisco beekeeper’s routine. Gerrie mostly works independently in his backyard under the branding of Noe Valley Bees. His 10

Philip Gerrie inspects a honey-bearing frame from one of his hives in his backyard in Noe Valley on April 1, 2022. Gerrie checks each frame to ensure the health of his bees and their hives. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

The Buzz Around Urban Beekeeping


three beehives are nestled in the corner of his backyard in his quiet home located in the Noe Valley neighborhood. “Beekeeping is never dull,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it sacred, but it’s going into a part of nature, like going into a church.” Gerrie had always been fascinated with bees as a child but never had the opportunity to own his own hive since his family did not live in one place long enough. Once he turned 50 and was in a more permanent place, it dawned on him that it would be the perfect time in his life to start keeping bees. He went to his

Philip Gerrie poses in front of his three hives and beekeeping equipment in his backyard in Noe Valley on April 1, 2022. After 20 years of beekeeping in San Francisco, Gerrie now mentors new beekeepers in the Bay Area. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

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local SF Beekeepers club, and within a couple of months, he had bees of his own. He now mentors new beekeepers part-time, aiding in beehive extractions and site surveying. During the COVID-19 pandemic, beekeeping became a new interest to many in cities across the U.S, including the Bay Area. According to the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, the city’s leading organization for beekeeping, the organization had an increase of about 50-plus people attending their intro to beekeeping classes held via Zoom during 2020 and 2021. It saw the most increases among their Beekeeping 101 Equipment class and their Beekeeping 102 Beekeeping Basics class this year, with 68 participants per class. Gerrie has accumulated 1,000 pounds of honey from last season. He stores the leftover honey in five-gallon tubs in his attic, lined with empty hives, a desk for working and equipment to extract honey. He said that honey produced in cities is generally more desirable than honey produced in the countryside, because there is a greater diversity of flowers and generally fewer pesticides in the environment. Peter Wohlers’ entry into beekeeping nine years ago was accidental. He volunteered

to have hives placed in his San Francisco backyard, but was under the impression that someone else would be tending to them. It was only after their original owner handed him a pair of gloves and asked if they fit did it dawn on him that he now would be tending to the hive himself. “I kind of freaked out because it was not my intention at all,” he said. “You go over and look at the hive and watch the activity of this growing feral colony of organisms in your backyard, and all of a sudden, it’s relaxing to sit and watch. It became really mesmerizing.” However, beekeeping can come with unfortunate dilemmas. Varroa mite infestations, caused by parasitic mites that attack and feed on honey bees, are a common issue for beekeepers. Wohlers said he has lost several hives to the pest. According to the Bee Informed Partnership’s annual survey, a national research lab and collaborator with universities in agricultural science, beekeepers in California lost a total of 30.96% of their bee population for the 20202021 year, with an average of 2.285 varroa mite infestations per 100 bees. “Everybody will have colonies collapse on 11

XPRESS MAGAZINE them. Sometimes you just can’t prevent it,” said Wohlers, who is now a board member of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association. Beekeeping in an urban setting doesn’t always have to take place in a backyard. Lars Archer, a professional beekeeper for the Best Bees Company’s San Francisco branch, spends his time working with hives across the Bay Area in both commercial and residential settings. Archer said that while the industrial and agricultural beekeeping industry can be focused on making pollination quotas and cannot really nit-pick over the health of their thousands of hives, urban beekeeping can. “I think it’s really a product of the agriculture industry that demands so many bees but continues to use pesticides and insecticides which are detrimental to bee health,” Archer said. Best Bees install and maintain honey bee hives in urban communities. Their mission is to help combat the decline in pollinator health through research. Archer inspects each hive to determine how the queen bee is laying eggs, how many bees there are, if they’re bringing in enough food, any sign of diseases and more.

“I think my biggest struggle is not knowing sometimes [what] you did wrong. If you lose a hive and are not able to really figure out what was the exact cause, how can I prevent that from happening again?” Archer said. “That’s why I’m really fired up to keep it going, keep beekeeping and learn more.” Archer believes that getting more people to be hands-on could help by using both physical and virtual resources. “As we start to navigate these rough waters of climate change and of weather patterns changing and just broadly things becoming more unpredictable, environmentally and ecologically, I think it’s going to be important that we have a lot of people building knowledge and sharing knowledge together,” Archer said.


Lars Archer poses in front of his beehives on the roof level of a parking garage in Noe Valley on April 12, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

Lars Archer removes and examines a frame that is starting to be filled with honey from one of his hives on the roof level of a parking garage in SOMA on April 12, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)


APRIL 2022

Sk a te

a n r cisco: F n a S in

g o r W ld s ’ n n a i d raM r a e g o n

b No

Layla Smith does a rock ’n’ roll on a quarter pipe at Potrero skatepark in Potrero Hill on March 29, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)


BY GARRETT ISLEY Every time Layla Smith steps into a skate shop, she feels invisible. The men behind the counter often fail to recognize her as a fellow skateboarder, let alone as a customer. “If I’m with a man…no words to me at all,” said Layla Smith, a female skateboarder living in San Francisco. Smith started skateboarding at the beginning of the pandemic after watching her best friend find their passion for the sport. She was hooked after her first session. But it wasn’t just riding the board that sparked her love. Through skateboarding, Smith found a sense of community, a new friend group and freedom from self-criticism. But young women like Smith often feel they have to fight for space at the skatepark and for basic respect from their male peers — respect handed much quicker and easier to the men

entering skateboarding. Angelica Rodriguez, a 21-year-old skater living in San Francisco, said that she doesn’t skate that often these days because she feels that men don’t believe she skates for the “right reasons” — in other words, that she’s only skating to pick up men, not to learn and progress. “I feel like I constantly have to prove myself,” Rodriguez said. “When [a guy] is a beginner, they don’t call [them] a poser. When a girl is, they call them a poser.” Rodriguez started skateboarding during high school in Southern California after her older brother came home with a board from Walmart. Eventually, her brother found more interest in video games but supported her skateboarding from the sidelines. Her brother's encouragement played a significant part in her 13

Sophia Swigart does a frontside boneless off a ledge at Playland at 43rd skatepark in Outer Sunset on March 30, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)


pursuing the sport, serving as an outlet during her parent’s divorce. “At skateparks, these guys try to snake you out, and try to push you out of places because we’re learning,” said Smith. “But I’ve always felt really welcomed by a lot of men, and that’s really comforting when there are not men trying to mansplain when they’re just supportive. There’s a huge difference.” Skateboarding has seen an increase in popularity over the last decade, and as a result, there is an increasing number of women beginning to skate. Two of the last seven Thrasher magazines featured women on the cover. Before that, only three of the 489 issues since 1981 gave women the cover spread. Despite being a sport born out of a community of outcasts, skateboarding is still plagued by a culture of otherness and exclusion. Thirty years after the explosion of skateboarding, women and other marginalized communities are still fighting for their space in this male-dominated community. The first openly gay mainstream professional skateboarder, Brian Anderson, only came out in 2016, despite a two-decade-long career, most of which he was actively hiding his 14

Sophia Swigart (left) pulls her pants up to show Rayann Elsarrag (right) her bruises as they wait their turn to skate at Playland at 43rd skatepark in Outer Sunset on March 30, 2022. Swigart and Elsarrag began skateboarding together every day during the pandemic. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

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Angelica Rodriguez (left) and Layla Smith (center right) wait for their turns to skate at Potrero skatepark in Potrero Hill on March 29, 2022. It’s common etiquette in skateboarding to take turns in a rotating order so as to not “snake” anyone. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

sexuality. This marked a turning point in skateboarding culture as it sparked a debate about the sport’s inclusivity. Smith recounted the numerous times she has seen or experienced harassment and enabling actions by male skateboarders in San Francisco. She feels the sometimes predacious actions by male skaters towards women make the sport unappealing for women to even want to start. “I’ve seen so many people look past actual rapists, actual abusers, people who have hit people, people still skating for companies even though they’re known abusers,” Smith said. And for skaters like Smith, seeing skateboarders like Breanna Geering on the cover of Thrasher and watching other women stake their claim in skateboarding solidifies her passion and outlook on the future of the sport. “It's so inspiring to so many people; to children, people who didn’t think they could skate,” said Smith. “I think it’s definitely on its way.” Sophia Swigart and Rayann Elsarrag met in San Francisco during the pandemic and started skating together every day. They rarely go to skateparks alone and go as far as to avoid certain parks because of the atmosphere there. “You never know who’s gonna get mad or be weird,” Swigart said. “There are skateparks that I specifically don’t go to because I feel judged there.” Elsarrag said she often feels uncomfortable and unwelcomed from what she perceives as degrading stares that she receives from male skateboarders. Both of them have had negative experiences at skate shops as well. They no longer go to the shops 15

XPRESS MAGAZINE in the city, reverting to online shopping for their skateboarding needs. “We need a woman-owned skate shop, so girls will feel comfortable going, especially girls that want to start skating,” Swigart said. Despite the challenges, to Rodriguez and others, skateboarding is worth it for the friends they’ve made, the sense of community they’ve felt and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. “It’s fun, though. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, I really wouldn’t,” said Rodriguez.


Angelica Rodriguez poses in her bedroom with her skateboard in San Francisco on Feb. 12, 2022. Rodriguez started skateboarding in high school. She recalls classmates yelling “skater girl” and making fun of her as she skated to school in a cheer uniform. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)

Sophia Swigart ties her shoes at Playland at 43rd skatepark in Outer Sunset on March 30, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)


Photo illustration by Saskia Hatvany

APRIL 2022

The Uncounted

SF’s homeless deaths have gone unreported by the city and county since 2019 BY ALBERT SERNA JR. AND ALBERT GREGORY The last time Reverend Victor Floyd saw his friend Charles Davis, he was smiling. Davis had spent much of the last 45 years unhoused, living on the streets of San Francisco and Seattle. It was early 2020, the start of the pandemic, when he thought he had finally found a home in temporary housing at the Tilden Hotel on Taylor Street. Floyd, a Reverend at San Francisco’s Calvary Presbyterian Church, had helped him secure the spot. When he called Davis to let him know about the hotel, Davis came straight to the church, his smile beaming through his bushy red beard. Davis asked Floyd to buy him some ramen and ice cream. Floyd gladly complied and supplied his friend with a white grocery bag of ramen and another filled with cartons of ice cream. Davis, a wiry redheaded man originally from Vancouver, Washington, stood outside in the sun

and smiled, excited this might be the chance he needed to get his life back on track after surviving the brutal San Francisco streets for years. His bag full of ice cream melted in the sun’s hot rays, but Davis didn’t care; he just wanted to get to his new place. “I prefer the ice cream soft anyways,” Floyd recalled Davis saying. That was the last time Floyd would see his friend. Only a few months later, Davis died alone in his room at the Tilden, according to a copy of his death certificate obtained by Xpress. He was 61. In 2018, two years prior to Davis’s death, there were 135 reported homeless deaths in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. But since the last report was published in January 2019, San Francisco’s total number of homeless deaths has gone unreported by the city and county. While


XPRESS MAGAZINE some data documenting COVID-19-related homeless deaths has been released, official data is unavailable and is not expected to be published until mid-2022, according to Barry Zevin, a Medical Director at the SFDPH. For the City and County of San Francisco, Zevin is tasked with collecting this data from an 8,000-plus population primarily centered in the City’s South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods — a population that included Davis. The data has not been made public; however, in an article published by the Guardian, Zevin supplied data from a small sample size in Spring 2020 that he has not since provided despite multiple requests. In response to a request for data on homeless deaths, David Serrano Sewell, the chief operating officer at the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, directed reporters to Zevin and the SFDPH. In a followup email, Sewell said he did not have this data. The medical examiner’s office confirmed they did not have a public portal or public access to this information. “Unfortunately, the analysis is not complete on 2019-2020 data, and it is not available,” said Zevin in an email to Xpress on December 9, 2021. Cities with similar or larger populations of people experiencing homelessness have released data regularly. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released their findings from 2020-2021 in April 2022. The data show that 1,727 people experiencing homelessness died in Los Angeles County. However, the county’s homeless population is significantly larger than San Francisco’s. That year, the LA County’s homeless population topped 58,000, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. LA County also releases weekly data on the number of people experiencing homelessness who died of COVID. Currently, the City of San Francisco estimates that 13 people experiencing homelessness died of COVID-19 through May 2, 2022. “That’s all held by the medical examiner’s office. And with the caveat that this population is really hard to keep track of,” 18

A funeral remembrance card for Charles Davis. Every December, the Coalition on Homelessness holds a vigil where they read the names of everyone who died that year who was homeless. (Photo Courtesy of Kelly Cutler)

said Denny Machuca-Grebe, the public information officer at the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. He added that although the DHSH does not keep formal data, it does have informal information about the number of homeless people who died in single residence occupancies, but that information is not currently available to the public and will not be until an unspecified time in 2022. He did not elaborate further. While the SFDPH has not made the data on homeless deaths available, advocates and activists in the community have seen firsthand the toll the pandemic has had on people experiencing homelessness, people like Davis. “It had such a dramatic impact where everything just shut down,” said Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. “All of these things that people don’t necessarily think of that are part of this system that supports folks who are forced to live on the street, like a big part of that system, got shut down.” One of those services is Street Sheet, a San

APRIL 2022 Francisco newspaper that focuses on the issues of poverty and housing published by the Coalition on Homelessness. The coalition gives the publication to people experiencing houselessness for free to sell and earn money for themselves. Davis worked as a Street Sheet vendor and, in a 2017 issue, authored an article about his tumultuous early life. He left home at the age of 16 to escape an abusive father and spent some time in juvenile hall before living with his aunt and uncle in Castle Rock, a small Washington farm town far from the city and its towering skyscrapers. He stayed there until he was 17, and then he went out on his own. That’s how he lived up until his death — alone. Davis spent time traveling throughout the country with stops in San Francisco, Nebraska, North Carolina and Seattle before finally landing back in San Francisco in the late 2010s. Like Davis, many people experiencing homelessness are also transitory, which means they go from location to location over a short period of time. This experience is, for some, what keeps them alive. However, when they enter some form of stable housing, it gives their bodies a chance to rest. “A lot of folks when it comes to homelessness, by the time that they finally get into an SRO, it’s not uncommon that people will then die by the

time that the system has finally gotten them into housing,” said Cutler. “They’re physically just so worn down and have been through so much trauma that’s when their body is finally able to rest. [It’s not] uncommon for folks to die that way.” Floyd still remembers how happy Davis was to have a shelter and have his own space. Davis had hopes that the city would make the Tilden Hotel permanent housing for the homeless. “He was so excited. It was like Christmas morning. He was just elated that he would have a place just to be and to be safe,” Floyd said. Davis’ cause of death was due to an overdose on cocaine and fentanyl, according to his death certificate. His ashes remain in Floyd’s office, and he feels unsure what to do with them. “It’s kind of bizarre; his ashes are very heavy,” he said. “Every once in a while, I say, ‘Hello,’ and he’s with me right now.”

Read the full story at XpressMagazine.org

Photo illustration by Saskia Hatvany




Algorithmic Bias

RACIST TECH? (Esteban Renteria / Xpress Magazine)

BY NICOLE GONZALES In the twenty-first century, virtually everything is processed or created through code and algorithms. From social media platforms and college applications to GPS routes, the ever-increasing presence of technology causes most people to interact with algorithms on a daily basis — whether they are aware of that or not. A recent phenomenon, known as algorithmic bias, presents issues in machine learning and computer codes. While intelligent and useful, certain algorithms can pose prejudice and discrimination in the data they process, causing concern among computer scientists and technologists alike. So — can technology be racist? How exactly does this impact society, and what can be done about it? “We use algorithms to automate certain tasks that would take up a lot of time and space if they were done manually,” said Jesica Maldonado. Maldonado works as the president and founder of EDiT at San Francisco State University. EDiT, Encouraging Diversity in Tech, is a program that highlights underrepresented voices in the computer science community at SF State by providing a monthly newsletter. “Before an algorithm even runs, there’s got to be data that exists, and that is going to go into the algorithm. If your data is biased [or] 20

you have bad data going into the algorithm, then you’re going to have bad outcomes coming out,” said Betsy Cooper, the founding director of the AspenTech Policy Hub, a program that trains technologists of all backgrounds on policy processes with machine learning. Cooper has also served as the founding executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. Within each step in the coding process, there is a potential for human faults to be replicated by the machines doing the work. “For instance, let’s say that a company only hires white males into AI technologist jobs, then it’s very likely that the algorithm [will] learn that a good candidate for that job is going to be a white male,” said Cooper. “Then it might downgrade black female applicants on the assumption that that is a problem.” In the 2020 peer-reviewed paper titled “Algorithmic bias: review, synthesis, and future research directions,” the authors looked into the nature of computer-driven decision making and its possibility to copy discrimination. Technologists Nima Kordzadeh and Maryam Ghasemaghaei found that “algorithmic systems can yield socially-biased outcomes, thereby compounding inequalities in the workplace and in society.” “Despite the enormous value that AI and analytics technologies offer…algorithms

may impose ethical risks at different levels of organizations and society,” they wrote. “A major ethical concern is that AI algorithms [are] likely to replicate and reinforce the biases that exist in society.” Notably, major companies and industries have begun using algorithms for large-scale decision-making. One of the most notorious uses is resume screening. “If your pool of possible job candidates is biased, the algorithm can’t correct from that,” said Cooper. “Even if you’ve taught the algorithm that it shouldn’t take race into account, if there are no diverse candidates in the data that’s going in, then you’re going to see bias shown there as well.” Examining resume screening results provided by coding is one of the most tangible forms of seeing the bias that can arise from algorithmic systems. While AI and algorithmic systems have not fully replaced human intelligence or operations, they are becoming increasingly present. This presence raises worry for those in the computer science fields. “I think it’s very harmful that most people are unaware of this issue,” said Maldonado. “While there are people who realize that many systems are biased, they don’t realize that the issue begins at the hands of the people who create these algorithms.” Introducing diverse ideas in tech will not only benefit computer scientists but will also improve our society at large, experts believe. Additionally, holding those in positions of power accountable streamlines solutions.

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While there are people who realize that many systems are biased, they don’t realize that the issue begins at the hands of the people who create these algorithms.

“I’ve seen and experienced oftentimes companies and organizations talk about including more queer and people of color in tech, but it is usually just for the statistics,” said Maldonado. “We have to especially dismantle the idea that coding and tech are only for a certain group of people.” While technologists may be aware of complications within computer algorithms, correcting them is more complex than it may seem. The intricate essence of algorithms, fundamentally, makes this issue hard to combat. As the increased aid of machine learning spreads, technologists believe it’s important to educate and inform the broader public on how they are impacted. “With the internet of things where everything we touch is digital, the more data is collected, the more algorithms are being used, and the more important it will become,” said Cooper. “So then the question for the rest of us is how comfortable are we with that? And how much are we paying attention?”


Photo illustration by Esteban Renteria



Energy Flows


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Hippie Hill’s dr

Larry Miles struts in the middle of the Hippie Hill drum circle on April 9, 2022. Miles is a regular to the drum circle and often sings and dances in the concrete pathway. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)

BY MAXIMO VAZQUEZ Near a single green wooden bench at the base of Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill, Alex Carpenter grabs an orange to eat from a communal offering. He then paces around the open patch of grass in a meditative-like manner while twirling a 5-foot-long wooden stick. After this ritual, he finds a place to sit in a drum circle and initiates a hypnotic rhythm on the conga. When the weather permits on weekends, drummers ranging in skill level have been gathering to play at Hippie Hill since the 1960s. At one point during that era, especially around the famous Summer of Love period in 1967, Hippie Hill was an extremely popular social and cultural hub for all who identified with the hippie counterculture movement.

x Hippie Hill drum circle performs on April 9, 2022. The drum circle welcomes anyone to join and play an instrument and encourages people to dance along to the music in the middle of the circle. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)


APRIL 2022 Bobby Ray Hayes plays the drums at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park on April 9, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)

Bobby Ray Hayes’ equipment on the lawn of Hippie Hill on April 9, 2022. Hayes is a regular at Hippie Hill who plays various percussion instruments ranging from drums, congas and bongos. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)

Bobby Ray Hayes plays the drums after handing a child drumsticks to play along at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park on April 9, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)