During the 2016 Bay Area Study Tour, journalist Clair Enlow (LF '02) toured San Francisco’s Tenderloin District with a mobile workshop and a knowledgeable guide, and learned how intentional planning strategies have ensured that this diverse neighborhood has remained one of the most gentrification resistant in America.
In a suit coat and hat and a tee shirt emblazoned with #staywoke, Del Seymour was our official guide in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood “often avoided and almost always overlooked,” according to a flyer on the tour. He introduced us to what might be the heart of the Tenderloin, a constellation of services under the banner of St. Anthony’s, and a place called Code Tenderloin, where people get hooked up with everything from computer training to a suit for a job interview.
One heading for what all of these places do is “lowering barriers.” For instance, they don’t ask anyone walking into St. Anthony’s tech lab for an ID. They don’t want to know who is there if a visitor is looking for someone in particular—whether that visitor is a policeman, an immigration official, an ex-spouse, or just someone holding a grudge.
“We are a barrier-removal organization,” Del Seymour, our tour guide and cofounder of Code Tenderloin. While one-on-one training is tailored for each candidate there, there’s also a basic curriculum on what you need to know to ace a job interview.
Even if you are not ready for that, you are welcome to get a free meal in St. Anthony Foundation’s Dining Room. Or, in St. Boniface church across the street, you can get “both eyes shut” sleep in the pews–free of worry about theft or assault–even as Mass is said.
On our tour, we saw a former vaudeville theater redesigned to mount inexpensive productions, a bar traditionally frequented by judges and also sometime defendants, and a business incubator full of tempting food outlets. We learned that like most urban neighborhoods, the Tenderloin is many things to many people. It’s a place where some hit bottom and some bounce back with the help of their neighbors.
But we also learned that, like many other districts in San Francisco, it’s a place where longtime neighbors can quickly become street dwellers due to pressures for new market-rate housing in an overheated economy. Activists citywide are seeking stricter controls. But the Tenderloin is being discovered.