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    Want San Francisco to Be Better? Do Something About It

    By Joanie Juster–

    One of the most popular parlor games these days is bemoaning the demise of San Francisco. It’s hard to pick up any publication without seeing an article about how the city has become a raging hellscape, and we’re all about to collapse into a heap of crime and decay.

    To which I say: Get a grip, folks. Yes, the city is facing serious problems that aren’t necessarily being addressed as quickly or efficiently as they should. Guess what? None of this is new, and San Francisco isn’t alone. Homelessness is not a uniquely San Francisco problem; plenty of cities (and even rural areas) are grappling with housing crises. Too many stores closing? It’s happening nationwide, as too many people do their shopping online, leaving local stores to struggle. Crime? Don’t read NextDoor—it will simply give you nightmares.

    My standard answer to almost anything that bothers you is simple: Don’t just bemoan the problems. Be part of the solution.

    I’m no Pollyanna. The problems we face are real, and require serious work. But what makes San Francisco so special—beyond our fabulous vistas and ocean breezes—is the people. And there are plenty of people left in this city who haven’t given up on San Francisco. Each of us can do something that will help, from picking up trash to helping an ailing neighbor. Let’s prove the naysayers wrong, and restore the magic to our city.

    Free Trainings: Overdose Recognition & Response

    A couple of weeks ago I fell at work. It was a hard fall, and I was down for the count for quite a while. But I was fortunate that there were co-workers on hand who were well-versed in basic first aid, and knew what to do until the EMTs arrived.

    A city that cares is filled with people who know how to take care of each other. A working knowledge of basic first aid should be part of everyone’s toolkit: you never know when you will come upon someone who needs immediate help. Knowing what to do when someone falls, or is bleeding, or suffers a medical emergency like heart attack or stroke, can save a life in those crucial first minutes.

    Sadly, one of the most frequent emergencies in our city today is drug overdoses. The statistics are devastating, and eye-opening. Over the past two years, far more people have died of drug overdoses in San Francisco than from COVID-19. It is a leading cause of death in our city, but it is also preventable. And despite public perceptions, it isn’t just happening on the streets of the Tenderloin. Recent data shows that this is a citywide problem, with overdoses happening in every neighborhood.

    Two local community organizations are stepping up to help by offering free workshops to teach the public how to recognize and respond to these emergencies, since people at music and entertainment venues are particularly susceptible to drug overdoses. As the invitation says, “Lots of venues and bars now carry naloxone in case of emergency, but it doesn’t work unless someone knows how to help.”

    Both trainings are scheduled for May 24From 7–8 pm. Community radio station BFF.FM is teaming up with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to present a free training on Overdose Recognition and Response. Eileen Loughran, Director of the Office of Overdose Prevention at the SF Department of Public Health, will cover how to identify someone in distress, how to respond, and how to administer naloxone. Admission is free, but registration through Eventbrite is required.

    On the same night, from 6–8 pm, the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District and harm reduction advocate Kochina Rude are partnering with Oasis to present a training open to the general public. This is their second year of responding to the overdoses in our community of hosting Narcan trainings, but previous events have been limited to entertainment venue staff.  Each participant will receive a two-pack of Narcan. The event is free, but Eventbrite registration is required so they know how many Narcan packs to supply.

    These workshops are great examples of San Franciscans stepping up to help provide solutions to the problems in our city.

    Action Alert: Rally for Access to Alzheimer’s Drugs on May 24

    Imagine being told there was a medicine that could help you live longer, and live your life more fully. Then imagine it being snatched away, because you were not deemed “eligible” for it. That’s the situation that people with Alzheimer’s find themselves in, so a rally is being planned in San Francisco on May 24 to fight for access for all who need it.

    In 2019, there were 18,749 people in San Francisco diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. By 2040, that number is expected to more than double, to over 37,000. This is a public health crisis. If you don’t currently know someone with Alzheimer’s, chances are you know someone who does, or perhaps someone who is caring for someone with the disease. In California alone, there are 1.6 million people providing unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s.

    There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. But Medicare has blocked access to FDA-approved treatments that can be beneficial, particularly to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Medicare covers all FDA-approved drugs, except those for Alzheimer’s. Access to these treatments means a person living with dementia has the possibility of a longer, fuller life, including time to hope for a cure. The thing is, every day without access to these FDA-approved drugs, more than 2,000 people transition to a more advanced stage Alzheimer’s where they are no longer eligible for treatment. This is a preventable tragedy.

    The Alzheimer’s Association is organizing a Rally for Access on Wednesday, May 24 at 11:30 am at the CMS Western Regional Office at 90 7th Street in San Francisco (aka the Federal Building). There will be signs and a sign-making station at the rally site from 10:30–11 am. Bring photos of your loved ones to personalize your sign, and be prepared to share your story.

    Alzheimer’s or other dementias touch almost every family. Don’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s? Just wait—you will. This is an issue that affects all of us, whether you are a patient, a caregiver, a friend, a co-worker, a business owner.  Register for the rally here:

    Hitting the Streets for Heklina

    Heklina was larger than life, and so, as it turns out, is her memorial.

    The original plans for an indoor event at the Castro Theatre imploded when the tickets sold out immediately. Clearly, no one theatre, not even the mighty Castro, could hold Heklina’s legions of fans. The solution? Take it to the streets.

    So, Heklina’s memorial on May 23rd will be live-streamed from the stage of the Castro Theatre to two giant screens outside the theatre on Castro Street. Pro tip #1: Get there early. Castro Street is going to be packed. Pro tip #2: This outdoor screening is being offered free to the public, but such things don’t come cheap, so please kick in a donation or, as the Facebook event page warns, “risk being haunted by Heklina forever.” Don’t risk that, and don’t risk missing what is bound to be a spectacularly only-in-San-Francisco event. Details:

    Fun With ChatGPT

    As someone who takes a ridiculously long time to write even something as simple as this column, I’ve been intrigued by all the buzz about ChatGPT. Fortunately, one of the best writers I know, my friend Rebecca Denison, took it out for a spin and reported back on it. And the results were jaw-dropping. 

    First, she asked it to invent a name for an online writing group for older HIV+ writers. ChatGPT first responded with a respectable attempt, “Legacy Ink.” Not bad. But as Rebecca kept asking it to try to add some flair to the name, the responses just kept getting better and better: “The Still Kicking, But Sometimes Limping, HIV Pen Pals.” “The HIV Geezers’ Groan and Scribble Society.” And my favorite (when asked to create one with an acronym) “CREAKY: Chronic Retroviral Elderly Authors Kvetching and scribbling Yarns.”


    Curious to see if I could be replaced by a bot, I asked Rebecca to have ChatGPT take a shot at writing this column. Rebecca asked it to write a friendly and chatty 1000-word article about recent and current events in San Francisco, geared toward an LGBTQ+ audience. And it did—in one second. (When I do it, it takes many hours. Harrumph.)

    How did ChatGPT do? Well, the result was indeed chatty, reading like it was written by a bubbly Chamber of Commerce intern. But the fascinating part was that it actually invented—and reviewed—three sophisticated, plausible-sounding events that I wasn’t able to find online, but would love to attend. Really excellent deep-fake stuff. 

    I’m grateful to Rebecca for this fascinating test drive in the fast lane. The future is here, but I think I’ll still keep writing my column the old-fashioned way, no matter how long it takes.

    Pride Pop-up Art Show

    Pride month is almost upon us, along with a a variety of Pride-themed cultural events. Heron Arts, in collaboration with the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District, Oasis Arts, and SoMa West CBD, has announced a group exhibition Pride Pop-Up Show. The exhibition will be a salon-style show featuring artwork by local LGBTQ+ artists. It will be both a celebration of the beginning of Pride month, as well as a celebration of the cultural heritage of the LGBTQ+ community in the SoMa neighborhood where Heron Arts is located. Pride Pop-Up Show will be on view at Heron Arts (7 Heron Street) from June 2–June 14. The free public opening reception on Friday, June 2, will feature DJ Trevor Sigler and a performance by Kochina Rude. For more details, and a list of participating artists:

    Project Nunway

    One of my favorite annual events is Project Nunway, produced by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. A giddily creative meet-up of eco-fashion, philanthropy, and good old irreverent fun, Project Nunway raises funds for the everyday good works of the Sisters, as they give grants to local grassroots organizations that provide support to marginalized communities. This year’s theme is “Sanctuary,” as the designers and the Sisters they are paired with explore themes of safety and refuge through their fashion creations. You have to see this event to believe it. Tickets:

    Wanted: Volunteers

    During the recent National Volunteers Appreciation Week, the Associated Press reported that since the pandemic, nonprofits have been struggling to recruit and retain volunteers. This sounds like a clear call to action to me: Now is a great time to make a difference by volunteering. If you are still shy about going out, there are still plenty of opportunities to volunteer from home (I know; I do it all the time). Our city, and our world, will be a better place if you do.  

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    In Case You Missed It
    Published on May 18, 2023