San Francisco’s Tenderloin: Where hope somehow shines through

Rays of sunshine

We went to a tour of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco today. Apprehensive and unsure of what to expect, we wanted to understand how we ended up with 6,000 people who are without a home, high rates of drug addiction and violence. It was an uncomfortable journey. One source of the discomfort was the uncertainty of the situation in my eyes (I had heard a lot about the Tenderloin and the violence there), so I was on edge wondering at what a situation could turn violent and unpredictable. The greater source of discomfort though was to see people, many of whom, had lost their dignity many through the plague of substance abuse. Although this may sound like a broad generalization, the Tenderloin could happen to anyone. Our tour guide was one former drug addict, drug dealer and pimp, who had become a drug addict when he was forty years old (had not touched drugs before then) and did not leave the Tenderloin until eighteen years later. He told us that many people in the Tenderloin were highly educated, some of them had served their country in the military, others had life events throw them off course, such as divorce or a cancer or mental health issues. He found a new direction somewhat by accident when one day he met someone from a church. He is now working hard to give people in the Tenderloin opportunities to live more fulfilled lives. He has a non-profit aimed at helping people learn how to code, training people for job interviews, building partnerships with the tech giants like Twitter whose headquarters are in the vicinity to employ people from the Tenderloin. In his words, the people in the Tenderloin do not want a handout, but want opportunity to thrive. Amongst the heartwrenching sights of the Tenderloin’s homelessness, violence, drugs and prostitution, there are rays of hope shining through for the people who by some misfortune in life have ended up on these streets. During our tour, we saw a park which was recently redesigned and there was an energy, joy and life that would be typical of a park in a suburban middle class neighbourhood. I am not sure what the correct policy interventions are to solve what is a complex set of problems, but some people are doing great social work to give some people some hope of greater fulfilled lives without any handout. In many ways, their lives are eerily similar to the lives of the rest of us, they try to find a place to live, food to eat and find a community. The Tenderloin could happen to any of us.