Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Tenderloin

I've heard The Tenderloin of San Francisco described in many ways. Perhaps 'excused' is a better word. Many San Francisco residents accept it as an unchangeable part of the city's terrain. It is what it is, and if you don't like it, stay away. This attitude is so prevalent that it can be found even within the police department.

Early in his term, Mayor Newsom made a habit of jogging through the Tenderloin. He didn't like what he saw. Police union boss Gary Delagnes had this response:

"With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, we could put a cop on every corner, and the drug dealers would just deal in between them,'' Delagnes said. "But if you are really tired of seeing drug dealers, there is one solution I could suggest."

"What's that?'' the mayor asked.

"Try jogging somewhere else."

The Tenderloin is known for its street display of homelessness, overt drug deals and drug doing, prostitution, mental illness, and any imaginable unsightly act associated with the above. It is also home to a large portion of the city's immigrants, as well as many low-income families, seniors, and disabled.

It sits squarely in the very center of the city, bordered on the North by Post Street, on the East by Taylor and 6th Streets, on the South by Mission Street and on the West by Van Ness and 9th Streets. The area contains some of the most historic structures in San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, the Tenderloin was born out of the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, when hotels were erected in the area to house the displaced. Those that could moved on a few decades later. Those that couldn't afford to go anywhere else stayed, and the near empty hotels were converted into low-income housing. This led to an extreme concentration of impoverished in the area, which led to causes typical of extreme poverty - crime and other illicit activities. The concentration of homeless residents increased as, over the next several decades, business and retail operations abandoned the area, and building owners began renting those spaces out to various social agencies that served the homeless community.

Due to the large population of children and families, there are several parks and recreation centers in The Tenderloin. Not surprisingly, they are neglected and in great need of care. Last week I went to a community meeting at Boeddeker Park and Recreation Center on Eddy and Jones streets. Many nearby residents are passionate about the future of the park, and want to see it become a clean, safe, and beautiful place for the community. As it is now, the entrance on Ellis Street remains locked, and the stretch of fence has become a backdrop to a sort of Skid Row of cardboard shelters. The main entry on the corner of Eddy and Jones is open for most of the day. During my walk-through, I saw a number of homeless men, and male drug-dealers. There were no women, and no children.

The park is mainly brick, with planted landscaping on brick platforms. There is a green lawn in the children's play area, in which adults without children are not allowed. The play structure is in extreme disrepair and looks dangerous. There are large patches of dirt, lacking plants or landscaping of any kind. The recreation center is just as bleak. At a recent clean-up day, a volunteer found rat droppings in the kitchen. During the community meeting, there was a group of adults gambling real money at a nearby table.

Making Boeddeker Park a safe place for children and seniors is a real conundrum, and there are no simple answers. I see it as a symbol of the large problems in the Tenderloin. If anyone reading this is familiar with the park, and has any ideas for it, please share them here. Please also share any knowledge you have of the history of the Tenderloin and local politics regarding the area.

Boedekker Park





J.W. said...

I've always been baffled by the fact that the T-loin borders on so many nice neighborhoods and so closely to large civic structures like City Hall and the UN plaza. How could it remain so un-gentrified under such proximity to nicer parts of downtown? I don't think I'd like to see the area turned into more upscale condos or anything like that, but I'd like to feel like I could walk through it without a can of mace some day. It has lots of beautiful buildings, hidden restaurants, and other little gems just waiting to be discovered, but my inclination to tour the area is always thwarted by the extremely obvious degenerates in the area.

If there's one reason to clean up the neighborhood, it's for the families and individuals in the neighborhood who deserve better living conditions. Even though there are families and children living there in struggle, people in SF seem to tolerate the drug addicts, dealers, prostitutes, and corner thugs. The SF attitude seems to be "It's a way of life. Let them live that way." Or, worse, "They aren't hurting anybody."

In reality, the conditions of the neighborhood are actually making life harder for those poor families and individuals who are forced to live in the area because they can't live anywhere else. I don't think people in S.F. have come to that realization yet.

Marianne said...

What fascinates me about your blog is that the pictures don't look that bad. I guess you'd have to FEEL the sense of degradation by actually being there--?

When I was new, very new, to this country, I visited New York and went for a job interview at The Nation. No one told me about "Needle Park", or 14th St. (Today the area is very gentrified, there's even a Whole Foods just opened there), and when I emerged from the subway stop, I immediately became confused at the sight of so many hard-faced people. I had $500 in my wallet, I wanted to run, and I've never felt such a sense of panic in my life. Now, would this be similar to what an outsider would feel if he/she were to take a stroll in the neighborhood in your pictures?

Channing said...

With these pictures, I wanted to show the bleakness of the park itself. To tell the truth, I wouldn't feel safe wandering around the streets of the Tenderloin snapping photos. To get a sense of the streets, visit this site:

I can't say that it's merely a feeling one has when walking through the Tenderloin. It really is all there, right out in the open. I've seen (from my car windows) men shooting up, dozens of drug deals, women selling themselves. Once I saw a man defecating in a street gutter. A few weeks before I made this post, my colleague saw a homeless couple having intercourse in front of the Boedekker Park clubhouse in bright daylight - the Tenderloin police station is directly across the street.

laurendo said...

Boedekker has always been a very trouble ridden part of the TL neighborhood. The weird thing is, even located across the street from the TL Police Department hasn't helped solve the problems. It really is a shame because open space in the TL is very scare and there are a lot of families that live in apartments and have no yards to play in safely and Boedekker is one of the few parks in the TL.

I really hate Gary Delagnes answer though regarding the problems in the TL. I used to work in the TL and talked to cops there all the time who said if they had the manpower and more cops walking neighborhood beats, it would deter a lot of the negative acts in the TL. Gary Delagnes' "solution" was a cop out (no pun intended).

I don't think that the folks living in the TL are so dismissive of things you are talking about, but when you think about who is living there (e.g. people of color, the very poor, immigrants with limited English) those aren't the power players in SF or anywhere else. Combine that with the HIGHEST concentration of social services and nonprofit agencies like soup kitchens, shelters, etc... and you bring additional problems into the TL which should be spread out throughout the entire city.

Innofehon said...

:) reflects the couple's low-key approach to their royal connections.

Betty Traynor said...

If you'd like to see improvements at Boeddeker park, please attend our first community meeting on the renovation of the park, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 7 pm at the Boeddeker Clubhouse, 240 Eddy St.

The Trust for Public Land's Parks for People program has secured money for the renovation of Boeddeker Park.

Attend this first in a series of workshops to give your ideas of how you would like to see the new Boeddeker park.

Betty Traynor, Coordinator
Friends of Boeddeker Park

cindy said...

I used to live in TL as a foreign exchange student. Standing at a courner waiting to be picked up by my friend's parent, cars used to stop by asking me "How much?" At age 15, i HAD NO IDEA what they were asking. It still makes me a bit nervous to travel to that part of the city, but I deliverately signed up my kids' activities at the TL rec center to let them see a glimps of reality. There are immigrant families, drug addicts, prostitutions, homelessness Everywhere and most of them struggle to survive the best they could. I have no solutions for this desolated part of the city nor judgment. I can't cure their mental illness. All I can say is we can not shut our eyes nor put a lid on this and go on our business. Witnessing is where salvation starts.