The Tenderloin is generally regarded as one of the worst parts of San Francisco.
People think of drugs. They think of “crazy” people. (<— Horrible term… used too often.) They think of corruption and violence. Of out-of-date establishments dotting the blocks.
To be fair, there are some facts to this:
There is a lot of drug use going on here. Prescription drugs being the biggest problem– Oxycontin coming in first. There are many people here with mental illnesses. And yes, some (not all) of those brought on by prolonged drug use.
There is corruption and some violence. Most crime being drug related. And violence is still something to consider, but most violence tends to keep to it itself in the Tenderloin. It is rare that those not involved will ever really see it. (The Mission, however, still deals with gangs -much more than the Tenderloin- and they are less likely to keep to themselves.)
Out of date establishments? Sure… that’s true. And a lot of them are still perfectly charming. Often ran by kind, hardworking people.
Here’s the point: we’re forgetting that the Tenderloin is still a part of San Francisco– the city we love so dearly. The history here is rich. And when you force yourself to look past the negative parts, what you’ll find is actually a lot of hope within these blocks.
Earlier this year, we took a walking tour of the Tenderloin with Del Seymour. (His tour has had some prominent press and has won numerous awards.)
Del is one of the most charming and passionate guys we’ve ever met. As we walked through the streets, he didn’t go a block without knowing someone by their first name. His story? He was living on the streets of the Tenderloin for 18 years.
“You know how people say they did Vegas for the weekend? Well, I DID the tenderloin. I did it for 18 years.” says Del.
This man was heavy into drug use and crime, and 8 years ago he turned everything around, got his life together and now spends his time doing all he can to help the neighborhood itself get turned around. His love for the Tenderloin and the people within it are so apparent. He, like so many people here, just want to help.
“I can’t change people. You can’t change people,” he says. “But I can give them the tools necessary to change themselves.”
Among many cool sites, we learned about all the great strides in humanity and hope happening within these blocks. Like Code Tenderloin, a donation based program that provides an intensive 6-week course for those who desire to become the perfect job candidate. They teach life skills for the very people who so desperately want to better their lives. Committed and pushing forward and willing to put in work for something better– the Tenderloin is home to many people like this.
We learned about St. Anthony Medical center– which is also entirely donation based (the city does not pay for this) and what they do is provide ethical medical care and educational programs for those in need. They don’t provide any painkillers for patients here– they don’t want to contribute to the problem on the streets. And their other location provides 3,000 meals a day and offers up ~100 beds to sleep on at night.
There is St. Boniface church, which provides a safe haven for 150 people to rest in during the day on M-F from 6am-3pm (and 6pm when it’s raining.) They offer hygiene kits, basic medicine, clothing and more.
There are youth programs, there are parks opening up. There are ethical restaurants being built and new companies coming about who aim to hire these very people from the neighborhood.
There are “gems” here, like Saigon Sandwiches. And the Phoenix hotel. ACT (Strand) Theatre. Piano Fight Bar. So many worthy establishments who happily make the Tenderloin their home. We see Del warmly greeting people in the streets, neighbors saying hello to each other, genuinely happy people here. You don’t always see that sense of camaraderie. It’s beautiful!
There is something to be said about the sense of community within the Tenderloin that most everyday passer-bys don’t see. It is truly a beautiful thing. It can’t be said of everyone there, but a lot (and I do mean a lot) of these people want to get their act together. They don’t want handouts for long– they are willing to work to change their life around. With the stigma the Tenderloin brings, they have so much against them. Yet this community is persisting in wanting to make it better.
If you haven’t already, hopefully you’ll allow yourself to see a different side to this part of your city as well. The people will welcome you! You’ll find some of the kindest around. 🙂
Photography by: Brandon || Dopensteez