Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Homeless person dies in Castro


The person known in the Castro as Anastasia. Photo: Courtesy Downtown Donna
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People in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood are remembering a homeless person who died recently outside a Peet's coffee shop as a troubled person who had frequently declined help.

The person was known as Anastasia. The medical examiner's office hasn't released information in the case, and it will probably be months before the cause and manner of death is made public, but officials have not indicated there were any signs of foul play. The city has been experiencing a severe cold snap, and it appears Anastasia had been ill and had spent the night outside the coffee shop.

Many who knew Anastasia use feminine pronouns when referring to her and have indicated she was likely transgender, although it's not clear if that's how she self-identified.

According to police, Anastasia, whose age was reportedly 45, was found outside the coffee shop, at 2257 Market Street, at about 10 a.m., Wednesday, December 31. Anastasia's legal name and age couldn't be confirmed.

At least one media outlet said people had tried to help Anastasia in the hours before she died.

Roy McKenzie wrote in a story for the Hoodline news website that he and a friend saw Anastasia at about 10 that morning.

"I shook her and found her stiff," McKenzie, who called Anastasia's death "surreal and heartbreaking," wrote. "We immediately called 911 and paramedics responded within five minutes."

In an email, Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, said, "An engine, ambulance, and rescue captain were dispatched at 10:01 to the location. ... The reporting party said that it looked as though a homeless person had passed out."

Talmadge added, "Upon arrival it was determined that the individual was deceased. There was no indication that there was any trauma involved."

People who knew Anastasia, who wore a scarf around her head, high heels, and had been known to wear a fur coat, said she was often outside Peet's. She'd also regularly been seen outside the nearby Cafe Flore and the Harvest grocery store, or walking around the neighborhood. She was usually talking to herself.

Ken Holley, 61, said in an interview that he'd frequently seen her outside Harvest, where he works, and last saw her at about 12:30 a.m. on the bench outside Peet's the morning she died.

Holley offered Anastasia a sandwich. She declined, but asked for a Coke.

She seemed "pretty miserable," Holley said. She was covered with just a blanket, and she was "shivering."

Hoodline shared a Facebook post from William Salt, who said that the morning Anastasia died, a Peet's worker had told him "he'd called an ambulance earlier, which came and then left without Anastasia. He then did the same with the police."

A Peet's worker who others said had been at the shop that morning said employees had been instructed not to talk to reporters, and referred the Bay Area Reporter to the district manager, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Francis Zamora, a spokesman for the Department of Emergency Management Services, wasn't immediately able to provide records related to the time leading up to Anastasia's death.


'Your Majesty'

Greg Carey, chair of the Castro Community on Patrol volunteer group, said Anastasia "probably" identified as transgender.

"In our encounters with her, she insisted you call her, 'Your Majesty,'" Carey said. "... She always spoke of herself in the feminine."

Most of his group's interactions with her involved "trespassing situations," Carey said, but he wasn't aware of any criminal complaints against her.

People who knew Anastasia said she hadn't looked well.

Carey said Anastasia, who'd been in the neighborhood for over a year, "never seemed healthy" to him.

"She always walked with a shuffle, and kind of hunched over," he said. "... She always walked as though she was not comfortable, or in pain."

The Castro patrol group had offered her shelter and other assistance, Carey said, but "she always refused services." She didn't explain why she didn't want help, he said, but she "was very strict about it."

Anastasia was always alone, and she always talked to herself, Carey said.

"It was a private conversation. It wasn't something where she was trying to attract attention or make people uncomfortable," he said.

Like others, Bill Tarquino, 52, who had frequently seen Anastasia outside of Peet's, said her health had declined. He said Anastasia had recently appeared to be "at death's door ... You could see it in his face."

Jimmy Strano, 51, a gay fundraiser and activist who lives in the neighborhood, said he knew Anastasia "fairly well."

Strano said he and others had given Anastasia coffee and food, and when he first knew her, she'd been "polite," but she'd then "started on a downward spiral, and it was very noticeable she had issues."

However, he said, "She didn't really want to speak about herself" and "she was always refusing help." He also said she eventually "wasn't the kindest person."

Strano last saw Anastasia "wrapped in a blanket" sitting on the bench outside Peet's early in the evening before she died.

"She said, 'I'm fucking cold,'" Strano said, and he gave her a hand warmer.


Rough expriences

Stu Gerry, who's co-owned Cafe Flore for about six months, was one of the people who'd had some rough experiences with Anastasia. He said she'd been "a thorn in my side."

Gerry said she virtually lived on the bench outside his eatery, where "for a long period of time," she didn't bother anybody, "but then she would have crazy days."

Among other problems, he said, Anastasia threatened him or others at least five times. She had said things like, "I'm going to kill you tonight," and "I will kill your whole staff," he said.

Gerry said he had called the police, who declined to file a report, and at the time Anastasia died, he was in the process of filing for a restraining order.

"I didn't hate her," he said. "I wasn't angry with her. But I wasn't about to put up with that. She was troubled." Gerry added that before he bought the cafe, Anastasia had been a "good customer," tipping well and paying for food.

Some have raised the issue of using a 5150 in cases like Anastasia's. Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the health department, noted in an email that the code refers to the process of holding someone "involuntarily for up to 72 hours while they undergo assessment for possible psychiatric disorders."

In response to a question about whether Anastasia may have met the criteria for a 5150, Kagan said with the details the B.A.R. was able to provide, "There just isn't enough information to base an answer on." However, she said, "I would say that 5150 is a crisis designation, and is not usually applied to ongoing circumstances."

Kagan called Anastasia's death "a very sad situation."

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