San Francisco’s most glaring contradiction
October 24, 2013 7:58 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco Magazine visits the Tenderloin: "Barring a seismic shift in city politics, the TL is not going to gentrify the way that similar neighborhoods have in other cities. Not next year. Not in five years. Maybe never. For better or worse, it will likely remain a sanctuary for the poor, the vulnerable, and the damaged—and the violence and disorder that inevitably comes with them. The thousands of working people, seniors, and families, including many Southeast Asians, who make up a silent two-thirds majority of the Tenderloin’s 30,000 residents will remain there. And so will the thousands of not-so-silent mentally ill people, addicts, drunks, and ex-cons who share the streets with them—as well as the predators who come in from the outside to exploit them. The Tenderloin will remain the great anomaly of neighborhoods: a source of stubborn pride for San Francisco, or an acute embarrassment—or both."
posted by porn in the woods (48 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Just returned from SF and a 7-day holiday stay at that Holiday Inn on Van Ness. Really, you people don't have any fucking idea what a bad neighborhood looks like. You think the Tenderloin is a bad neighborhood? Christ on a nuclear-powered crutch that would be the nicest non-suburban neighborhood in most of the cities I've visited. You know why you have that neighborhood, SF? You need it. You need it because I simply would not have visited your fair city if the hotel rate was $400/day instead of the relatively reasonable $200 with good transit access. As far as "bad" New Orleans has areas that make the Tenderloin look like fucking Asgard by comparison. And wherever you might find yourself in this horrible, horrible place you have defined, you are never more than a 10 minute walk and wait from a swift and clean transit ride out.
posted by localroger at 8:10 PM on October 24, 2013 [14 favorites]

Just returned from SF and a 7-day holiday stay at that Holiday Inn on Van Ness. Really, you people don't have any fucking idea what a bad neighborhood looks like.

Tenderloin stops after Geary. Where you stayed was right in Nob Hill, one of the more affluent areas of SF.

I once walked through the Tenderloin without having a clue what the place was and I had the "I need to get out or I'm probably going to get stabbed" feeling until I got east of 6th and Mission. I've never gone deliberately walking through a bad neighbourhood in the states but it's definitely the worst neighbourhood I've ever been on foot on in my life.
posted by Talez at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2013 [12 favorites]

Sorry to derail so soon, but that holiday inn on Van Ness is very much not in the tenderloin. As someone who regularly commuted into and through the TL from Nob Hill and has an extremely high threshold for sketchiness, the TL is really rather sketchy at times.
posted by samthemander at 8:25 PM on October 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

localroger has a point. If you want to see real mean streets in the Bay Area, it's Bayview/Hunter's Point in San Francisco and Fruitvale over in Oakland. You don't walk through those neighborhoods without fear.

The Tenderloin is a weird place; it's not that far from the SRO hotels in SOMA, but it is just a few blocks from City Hall and a few other neighborhoods that are mixed, in terms of development. Hastings Law is right around the corner. One does not really feel a sense of danger in the Tenderloin that matches the heart-thumping fear one would have walking through some of the neighborhoods that localroger mentions, in other cities. I don't feel even a twinge of danger during the day if I'm in the Tenderloin. At night, you need to keep your guard up, but it's not the kind of apprehension that comes from a walk through a truly dangerous place like Hunter's Point, or Fruitvale, where if you walk through those neighborhoods at any time you never know if you're going to get out unscathed.

That said, I have always wondered why the Tenderloin has not developed. It may be that the landlords who own property there are making sufficient profit and have not been motivated to sell. It's an anomaly for sure.
posted by Vibrissae at 8:29 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I had a job interview once in the (actual) Tenderloin. As I waited for my bus home from the interview, a very indigent looking man sidled up to me and started an idle conversation. At some point he asked me if I had bus fare. I said "I only have bus fare to get home, I'm sorry" and he said "Oh NO, I'm just making sure you have bus fare to get outta here!".

My now-husband was glad I didn't get that job.
posted by padraigin at 8:30 PM on October 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Do genuine San Francisco residents consider Whiskey Thieves to be in the Tenderloin? I loved that bar, but I was cautioned because it's on Geary. Did not feel like I was in a risky place.
posted by spaltavian at 8:32 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The second paragraph in the article describes my TL experiences pretty well, albeit lacking any aging prostitutes. Not sure what cities have open crack smoking in the streets of the nicest neighborhoods. I guess there's a difference between bad neighborhoods and violent neighborhoods, but that doesn't make one of them nice.

Whenever people talk about the gentrification of the Mission, I always wonder when/if that could happen in the Tenderloin too (and if people would care as much) so this is a really interesting article to me.
posted by dogwalker at 8:34 PM on October 24, 2013

Anyway... Just read the article. Thank you for sharing. The TL has a number of challenges ahead, and I do not disagree that the weird confluence of non-profit presence and SRO housing stock will prevent significant gentrification in the near future.

Also, I'd never heard of the Gubbio Project til this. Inspiring stuff.
posted by samthemander at 8:39 PM on October 24, 2013

Gentrification does not fix systemic problems, it exacerbates them.

"Oh shame, why can't the Tenderloin be gentrified? It would be so lovely not to have to see the ugly underbelly of America!!!"
posted by nikoniko at 8:41 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

localroger: I'll grant that the Tenderloin isn't nearly as horrific as other places in the world, and we actually have some pretty "bad" neighborhoods that are a bit farther out of the way (not to mention certain parts of Oakland), but the contradiction with the Tenderloin isn't about a "my slum is slummier than your slum" competition; it's the proximity. We keep this slum right in the center of town. The fairly new Intercontinental Hotel, host to President Obama on a few occasions, basically abuts the Tenderloin in SOMA. Walk two blocks in one direction from the Powell St. Cable Car turnaround, tourist central, and you're at Neiman Marcus. Walk two blocks in the other direction and you're in the Tenderloin.

To illustrate: let's Street View ourselves to the corner of Powell and Ellis. Note the pricy Spanish clothing shop, the Body Shop, the cable car turnaround, Macy's, and all that other fancy stuff catering mostly to tourists. Let's go two blocks up Powell to Geary and Powell, where we have Union Square, the St. Francis Hotel (where Gerald Ford stayed and was nearly shot), Swarovski, art galleries, etc... Instead, if we go just two blocks in the other direction to Ellis and Taylor, we're in the Tenderloin. That homeless-looking man sitting on the ground isn't there to panhandle; he's getting an early jump on the line for what is one of the largest, if not the largest, soup kitchens in town, serving over 2,500 free meals every day. Nearby, we can visit the first block of Turk St (note the Westfield Shopping Center, home of Nordstrom and other fine retailers, across the street), home to absurdly high crime and all kinds of craziness (a police substation did recently open nearby and they are cracking down). The guy in that Street View pic who looks like he just wandered out into the middle of the street without a care in the world; my experience is that there's a 50/50 chance someone like him will be in the roadway, generally with apparent substance abuse and/or mental illness problems, at least insofar as you can tell with someone you're doing your very best not to run over.

So it's not that the Tenderloin is a crappy neighborhood, it's that it's, well, in the tenderloin of the City, connecting Union Square to City Hall, the Symphony, and Opera. That's what makes it such a fascinating case study.
posted by zachlipton at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2013 [16 favorites]

Once money appears, poor people disappear. Most American cities used to have Tenderloin-like neighborhoods downtown, but in almost all cases, those neighborhoods have been gentrified out of existence.....Similar changes have occurred in cities as disparate in size and disposition as Vancouver, London, San Diego, and Dallas.
Guy obviously doesn't get out much. Large cities will always have Tenderloins. You can move them down the road a ways but the untidy and difficult and broken and sick and addicted and poor and crazy and abandoned and otherwise unfortunate people still gotta live somewhere. The developers and upwardly mobile give lip service to inclusion and use phrases like "mixed-income neighborhoods" but real, practical examples are rare once property values become part of the equation. The Tenderloins will remain as reminders of how we're doing at caring for each other.
posted by islander at 8:52 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

"you are never more than a 10 minute walk and wait from a swift and clean transit ride out"
Hell, if you go North or South, I don't think you're ever more than a ten minute walk out of the Tenderloin.
I agree with Vibrassae for the most part, but I will point out that the TL has improved considerably over the past decade or so. A number of young entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the low rents and setting up shop, and there are of lot of working class and immigrant families in the neighborhood. And while there are still street merchants slinging rocks on any number of street corners, They mostly conduct their affairs with quiet efficiency, and heroin seems to have largely gone away, so the place isn't nearly the zombie walk it used to be (I swear some mornings looked like something right out of a Romero flick).
So it's gnarly, but there's way gnarlier.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Zachlipton, this morning a man was running out into traffic yelling "Run me Over!" Got to watch cars swerving to avoid him for a few minutes while i waited for the bus.
So there's that.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 9:04 PM on October 24, 2013

"(a police substation did recently open nearby and they are cracking down)"
Like this?
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 9:19 PM on October 24, 2013

Do genuine San Francisco residents consider Whiskey Thieves to be in the Tenderloin?

Not a SF resident but I visit regularly and have been to Whiskey Thieves a bunch of times. While it's technically in the Tenderloin, Geary Street isn't all that terrible if you keep your wits about you. I wouldn't generally stray too far south of there at night, but during the day most of the Tenderloin is safe enough if you're on your guard. As always, your mileage may vary if you're a woman or not used to (at times extreme) panhandlers/drug addicts/mentally ill.
posted by dhammond at 9:21 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a similar issue in New Orleans. The Iberville Project Housing is the last of the projects in New Orleans. Located just steps from the French Quarter, it is prime real-estate. Developers have been eying it for years. Just two blocks away, a converted commercial building has two bedroom apartments starting at $1795 per month.

So where will minimum wage workers live?

Ironically, Iberville’s cheap rent and proximity to the Quarter made that possible, Loyola University Law School Professor Bill Quigley said. “Iberville provided affordable housing to thousands of workers who cooked and cleaned for minimum wages the businesses and homes of many of the same people who criticized the place.”
posted by JujuB at 9:21 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've been taking a public bus through the heart of the TL every day for several years now. While it is a pit of human suffering on an EPIC scale that we should all be ashamed of, thats undeniable...I think the author is way off base in saying that it won't gentrify just like a lot of other SF neighborhoods have. I'm not saying I know where SFPD will corral the huddles of junkies and their virtually open-air hard drug market into next, or maybe their quadrant will just keep shrinking. Oh I know, maybe we'll treat them! hahaha I kid.

Tech money and the new tech boom is the driving force here, not the history of the neighborhood or its current makeup. The author misses the mark saying that somehow an entrenched group of residents can (like so many others have so repeatedly failed to do) stand up to the massive pressure of real-estate inflation in this comically absurd housing market. This market is INSANE, if you've not tried to rent or buy something here, try it, because its hilarious. But wear an adult diaper because you might piss your pants with laughter. No living space on earth is worth what people are regularly demanding here. With competition so stiff, a lot of these yuppies don't balk at the idea of stepping past the crackheads on the way to their new high-rise condo whose elevator transforms the suffering down below into a beautiful view and a nice breeze.

(PS I am part of the tech boom/economy so myeaaah)
posted by cbecker333 at 10:04 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

$200 a night for a hotel in the tenderloin?

Hotel Renoir was less than $80/night a couple of years ago. Looks like it's undergoing a $40m renovation by a celebrity hotel design now. So much for you can't gentrify the tenderloin.
posted by schwa at 10:11 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, the TL is not a very dangerous place, if we're going on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being just a few miles away in parts of Oakland, we're talking like a 2.5. I've never been threatened, attacked, etc, I'm sorta tall but with a skinny build and not very tough looking at all. Almost all the crime taking place is between junkies, dealers, and the rest of that whole scene. If you're not trying to score dope or stiff a prostitute for that blowjob you got, then you're pretty damn safe.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:15 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I lived on Mason in between Pine & Bush for a couple years. That's definitely not in the Tenderloin (though I have heard it called the Tendernob) - but it is close enough that I found myself walking through the Tenderloin frequently. I don't know if I was just being a careless 20-something, but I felt just fine walking through the Tenderloin both during the day and in the evening. A few times a week, I'd walk from my dance class at 7th & Market up Market then up Mason - usually around 9pm. There were always enough people around that it seemed fine to do, even as a young white woman, so long as I was aware of my surroundings.

I don't know what I'm trying to say. I certainly agree that it's very different from other parts of San Francisco, that it's poor, that the streets are full of drug-addicted, mentally ill, and desperate people. I agree that it's strange to have such a rapid transition from a wealthy area to a poor one. But it's also relatively safe to walk through, and there's something that feels wrong to me about suggesting that it's not.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:17 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I was just being a careless 20-something, but I felt just fine walking through the Tenderloin both during the day and in the evening.

Exactly, thank you - you weren't being careless, because the TL is not dangerous if you walk thru and just mind your business.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:20 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I took my first trip to SF with my girlfriend this year--we stayed in Berkeley and her parents drove from Santa Barbara to meet us for a few days. They stayed in the St. Francis, so we got really used to taking the walk from the Powell Street BART to the St. Francis. There's a lot of mid-tier and high end retail in that area, but you definitely get the feeling that if you look the wrong direction at an intersection, you're looking at something that's really out of place. I'd compare the shopping to SoHo in NYC, but I've never had to step over somebody that's passed out and covered with diarrhea in SoHo. I've never had a homeless guy repeatedly scream FUCK YOU in my ear while I was buying a Metrocard on Prince Street. Both of these things happened to me in a pretty touristy part of SF.

Of course there's worse neighborhoods elsewhere. It's like Cabrini-Green in Chicago. Everyone talks about how terrible it was, but the Robert Taylor Homes were just as bad, if not worse. The difference is people like me were much more likely to see Cabrini-Green.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:33 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are remarkable parallels with Vancouver's downtown east side (DTES), likewise full of crumbling SROs, drugs, prostitution, mentally ill, and homelessness -- and likewise steps away, literally as few as one and at MOST five small city blocks away, from swank restaurants and boutique fashion shops and very expensive gleaming condos. Encroaching, though, and I think Vancouver lacks at least some the barriers to gentrification that exist in the Tenderloin. zachlipton, I made a comment very much like yours, including the Street View tour. Having lived in both cities I am often struck by their similarities.

The DTES is controversial, of course it is. It's a cesspool of human misery, but at least it has missions and non-profits and social services like the safe injection site, at least people can afford a room on welfare, and if all that was swept away in the inevitable rise of gentrification, the city might not have to look at the human misery twice a day on the bus, but it's not as if all those structural social problems responsible for the suffering will be suddenly solved and the underclass will stop being the underclass. So now you have things like this: anti-gentrification protesters target new Vancouver restaurant, in which a certain group picketed outside and harassed patrons of a gleaming new restaurant smack in the middle of the DTES, Pidgin, which took it's name from Pigeon People's Park, a triangle of grass with a few benches where folks have gathered to pass the time. The protests have divided the city. They've petered out, and there is an undeniable feeling that the DTES is slowly losing ground even if on the scale of years, one building or shop at a time, and what this means for Vancouver is hard to say, but it is certainly not going to help reduce the already enourmous income inequality we see here, Vancouver being a popular place for the global elite to buy property.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:45 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Lived there a time with my two kids. Un-favorite experience, having to take them past a guy on a partially burned mattress half on the sidewalk, half in the gutter. I think the guy might have been dead. I never was sure on that. I left my kids at school, ran back and the guy and the mattress were gone.
I lived right by a busy fire station too.
We moved to a smaller town. Kids couldn't sleep. It was too quiet!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:47 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

We took a road trip to San Francisco a few years ago and stayed at the Serrano at O'Farrell and Taylor, which looks? like it's right on the border. I did laundry at a laundromat a few blocks away, I think at Eddy and Jones. It's definitely the sketchiest laundromat I've ever been in, but that's not really saying much—it's not like the locals were busy shooting up inside the laundromat or anything. There was enough off about the area to let you know it wasn't exactly a nice place to be, but either because we were dumb tourists or because it actually wasn't very dangerous, I don't recall any of us ever feeling more than vaguely uncomfortable walking through it.

The Downtown Eastside in Vancouver is a far sketchier place (and similar in the sense that it's right next to some very ritzy areas), and though I don't recommend walking through it at night, you're not exactly going to get murdered down there, either. Not surprisingly, there's a bunch of SROs in the Downtown Eastside as well, which I guess adds another data point to how these places manage to stay they way they are instead of being gentrified.
posted by chrominance at 10:48 PM on October 24, 2013

Oh, and ha ha, PercussivePaul not only beat me to the punch but also explains the Vancouver connection way better than I could. Kudos!
posted by chrominance at 10:49 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh hey, I often stay in the Serrano, never got the feeling the TL was particularly unsafe, depressing and sad, but not scary.
posted by The Whelk at 10:49 PM on October 24, 2013

Weird, I stay in the Serrano about one week out of three. Meta-Tenderloin nexus!
posted by jjwiseman at 12:57 AM on October 25, 2013

I don't think it's productive to idolize or demonize the TL. Lots of people who live there are just plain poor, and while I'm not happy they're poor, I'm happy they've found a way to eke out an existence in this increasingly expensive town. However, a lot of people there just plain can't take care of themselves. They need someone (or someones) to look after them. Letting them run loose in the city isn't good for them, and it's not good for the city. And then you have the people who prey on them, the crack dealers, the liquor stores, etc. We need treatment for these severely mentally-impaired and often drug-addicted people. And as unpopular an opinion this is, maybe in some cases they do need to live in an institution of some kind. I'm not convinced it's actually more humane to let them live on the streets and eat out of trash cans. Anyway, this is all to say that until we do something to reduce the harm these people do to themselves and the city, neighborhoods like the TL can only get so much better.
posted by evil otto at 1:16 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

My first experience of San Francisco was staying at the YMCA in the Tenderloin. I'd been working for about two years. The trip had started badly even at the airport. My two travelling companions, both work mates, and I had planned to drive down from SF to LA, and then head across to Vegas, onto Flagstaff, and then back to Vegas to fly onto New Orleans. With day trips and detours it would pan out to be more than 2,500 miles.

Upon arrival at the airport I checked if they had brought their driving licences. "Bob" revealed he hadn't driven since the day he had passed his test. "Chas", bizarrely, claimed his driving licence listed him incorrectly as a woman and he feared using it abroad. Neither had brought their licences. I was the sole driver.

We had also left most of the planning to Chas, who claimed to know a good travel agent and was adamant that he take charge. That decision cost us each $500 extra for flights and meant we never got to New Orleans. It also meant Chas had booked us into a large room in the YMCA in Tenderloin. Although neither Bob or I knew it at the time Chas would later turn out to have severe alcoholism and was battling whether to come out as gay. And so the three of us ended up sharing a room in the YMCA in the Tenderloin for a couple of nights.

The first night we hit town, had some dinner and went to a jazz club. The second night we went out drinking. We paid a street guy a few bucks to tell us where we could find a bar in which you could smoke and ended up in a dive bar which had become, after the ban, a sort of smoker's speakeasy where the pool table was ruled by a legless veteran who beat all comers. I played him twice. I got two shots in, lost as horribly as everyone else, and bought him a pint as my loser's penance.

I didn't think we had got that drunk. We got accosted a bit on our way back to the hostel and had a bit of friendly banter with the locals. And then we turned in for the night. The next morning, we woke up and Chas was in a panic. Someone had stolen his trousers. While I helped Chas turn the room over to find them Bob went into the bathroom. He came out 30 seconds later.

"I know what happened," he declared in his best Sherlock Holmes impression. He then led us both through the evidence.

"Your wallet is actually on the table in the room, Chas. Your socks are in the shower, wet. Something has been flushed down the toilet. The window in the bathroom is wide open. I think you shat yourself, showered in your clothes, flushed your boxers down the toilet and threw your dirty trousers out of the window, having removed your wallet."

Chas was indignant. Splenetic. He denied the very idea of it. Refused to discuss it further, even as I got tasked with fishing his underpants out of the toilet with a coathanger. He denied it for most of the five subsequent years he went on to spend as Bob's roommate and as my work mate.

We all went to the wide open sash window, with the lace curtain billowing about in the wind. We were five or so floors up. We poked our heads out and looked down at the sidewalk. The trousers were gone.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:57 AM on October 25, 2013 [30 favorites]

MuffinMan, with the exception of the words "work mate", your story reads like Bukowski.
posted by mistersquid at 4:10 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just returned from SF and a 7-day holiday stay at that Holiday Inn on Van Ness. Really, you people don't have any fucking idea what a bad neighborhood looks like. You think the Tenderloin is a bad neighborhood?

This is really not the point at all. As others have noted the remarkable thing is that it exists at all - on prime real estate in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

Did you explore the Tenderloin at all in your visit? Everyone should. It is one of SF's most historic neighborhoods with hundreds of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Thats another reasons developers won't touch the Tenderloin. It is locked up tight.

Next time you go, take a walking tour.
posted by vacapinta at 5:37 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Street view?!

Meanwhile in Kensington
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:52 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is a similar issue in New Orleans. The Iberville Project Housing is the last of the projects in New Orleans. Located just steps from the French Quarter, it is prime real-estate. Developers have been eying it for years. Just two blocks away, a converted commercial building has two bedroom apartments starting at $1795 per month.

I walked past Iberville when I was in New Orleans in September, on my way from St. Louis Cemetery #1 to #2. The buildings are lovely, though the complex is so empty it's eerie. I saw three women sitting on a stoop and they were the only people I saw there. I'm unsurprised that developers have been drooling over that site.

I've never felt especially unsafe in the TL, but then I've never been homeless there, or stupid-drunk at 2 am.
posted by rtha at 6:27 AM on October 25, 2013

I stayed in the TL for a few days last year. I found it rough around the edges but not so bad. I think it's important to have neighborhoods in cities where poor people can live. It'd be nice if these nabes could be clean, safe etc. But if that was the case wealthier people would live in them. I guess seediness works something like rent stabilization for poor people?

One other thing: don't ever underestimate developers (i.e. money's) ability to fundamentally change a place. See the entire NYC landscape for an ongoing example. Given the real estate market in SF I would wager that the TL will change, and much sooner than anyone thinks.
posted by nowhere man at 7:17 AM on October 25, 2013

I second the mentioning of Philadelphia. The Kensington district of Philly is one of the most hard-core bad neighborhoods in the country. You step out of that elevated subway station and you realize that every single woman on the busy street is a prostitute and all the men are slinging heroin, which is the purest in the country. There are living casualties strewn around by the dozen. The Tenderloin is a Catholic street festival by comparison.

I've lived in Harlem and Bed-Stuy for my adult life in NYC.... and holy shit, parts of Philadelphia may as well be in Iraq. A sample from the police blotter in my current neighborhood (Allegheny): "3AM - Units responding to a call find an unidentified body burning in a stairwell." That sure as hell didn't make the news.
posted by solipse at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

While it is a pit of human suffering on an EPIC scale

Seriously, visit India.
posted by Rykey at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by four panels at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Tenderloin actually does have an extremely high rate of violent crime, according to people who have studied the neighborhood.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:53 AM on October 25, 2013

....running scared....seeking out the quiet places where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know....

In some areas, the other name was "the other side of the tracks." Or worse. Every biggish city has one, because, for a surprising variety of reasons, they need it.

One of the reasons is because people are not demographically cooperative. It's amusing for most of us to use annual income as a handy divider, but I suspect the differences among us are far more complex.

So, how about Hunts Point in NYC? If you give me a choice of only those two places to live, I guess I'd pick the Tenderloin. If you give me three choices, I wouldn't live in either place.

Well, I wouldn't want to live in Oklahoma City, either, so I guess the list would get pretty long. Also, Phoenix. Or Ayer, in Massachusetts.

I lived in San Francisco in 1977-78, and passed through it many times in the eight years previous to that. I lived on top the hill between Noe Valley and the Castro, and out on the avenues, near GGP. I won't try to compare the "now and then" thing about it, but the City had a personality--a senses of inclusiveness--that I loved to be a part of, and I can't help but believe that it still carries its charm. To me it was like a huge, dysfunctional family, whose black-sheep uncles still got invited to the holiday gatherings. In those days I didn't go to the Tenderloin much. I had to use the Greyhound Bus station a few times, and I visited the old USO a few times before they tore it down.

I have the notion that the City I knew hasn't changed much. Yeah, the prices all get extra zeros on them, I guess, and I don't carry my sleeping bag around anymore. I wonder if I could still find a place to crash in GGP?
posted by mule98J at 11:32 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Longtime SF resident here. As a woman, I'm not afraid of walking through the Tenderloin, day or night -- I keep my wits about me and walk purposefully. I don't wear earbuds or get my phone out in the street, but that applies to just about anywhere.

In fact, it feels safe to me precisely because there are so many people around and so many businesses that are open late at night (bars, corner stores, Mitchell Brothers, etc.). I've been spat on and harassed, but really you just run the gauntlet. I say hello to people, wish them a good day, etc.

Meanwhile, my commute takes me through parts of the Bayview that I really don't want to spend time in outside the bus. A friend who was helping trap feral cats was menaced by a man who strongly implied he had a gun and who didn't understand why she was sitting on an empty lot on a quiet residential street late at night.

I recently visited Vancouver, where friends told me not to go to the Eastside because it was "really rough." I strolled around there during the day, and it was fine. In fact, I described it to my friends later as Toytown Tenderloin -- sure, the buildings were shabbier, and there were disheveled people who looked high on something or other, but they didn't seem scary at all.
posted by vickyverky at 11:47 AM on October 25, 2013

I wonder if I could still find a place to crash in GGP? Not if Scott Wiener gets his way.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:34 PM on October 25, 2013

Honestly, I don't find the Tenderloin to be an incredibly dangerous place to be as someone who passes through, but it features a good number of volatile and unpredictable people on the streets. Unless you're actively engaging trouble, it's fairly unlikely anybody will specifically want to harm you, but you're sharing space with an unusually large number of people who aren't acting rationally, and that's a scary thing. It's too easy to wind up next to something unpredictable. Of course, plenty of people are pretty nice folks and simply have nowhere else to be. It's not an issue of gangs or organized crime (though drug dealers are a part of it to be sure); the Tenderloin is disorganized crime.

Perhaps proving my point, this afternoon, a man in the Tenderloin was transported to hospital after an M-80 firework went off near his head.
posted by zachlipton at 4:20 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The TL doesn't creep me out as much as SOMA, with its long, dark, deserted blocks.

However I once came across a lady crying alone in a dark doorway at Larkin and O'Farrell who had been punched so hard in the mouth that her tooth had come through her lip. So, you know, maybe people aren't getting shot so much, but violent, horrible things do happen there. She refused hospital treatment and asked me to buy her some vodka but settled for being taken to Walgreens to wash the blood off her face. Her name is Jasmine. I still wonder what happened to her sometimes.
posted by superquail at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

but you're sharing space with an unusually large number of people who aren't acting rationally, and that's a scary thing

That neighborhood is called the United States of America.
posted by localroger at 6:49 PM on October 25, 2013

I lived Tenderloin-adjacent (on Bush between Leavenworth and Jones) while I was going to Hastings, and so I walked through the Tenderloin at least twice a day going back and forth to class. At 8am it was pretty quiet, mostly just families walking their kids to school. Walking back up the hill in the late afternoon/early evening things were a lot more active but I never once had a problem, it never felt risky or dangerous.

I do remember one day walking home from class and running into the guy who cut my hair walking with my Evidence professor. When Gustavo announced "David is taking me to the Mother Lode!" I could see my Evidence Professor wincing at his worlds colliding, unplanned. Heh.
posted by ambrosia at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This last Friday, 25 October, SF Critical Mass took the right off Market up Turk. I was thrilled, especially after having read the first three pages of Kamiya's article.

I stayed with the ride for about 14 miles. It went up Polk, around toward China Town, back toward Market and along The Mission's gentrified Valencia, toward Noe Valley and doubled back to and through SOMA.

We covered around half a dozen neighborhoods, but ONLY in the Tenderloin did pedestrians stand in the middle of the Critical Mass stream, wiggling their booties, flashing their smiles, and high-fiving us riders. The spirits of the TL pedestrians I saw were no lower for their rough-cut and hard-living looks.

After finishing Kamiya's article this morning, I had to come back and share this beautiful passage:
Mandated “give back to the community” programs like Zendesk’s have been criticized as PC Band-Aids, and both the Central City Extra newspaper and the website Buzzfeed have raised questions about the efficacy and enforceability of the CBAs [Community Benefit Agreements]. But Zendesk has won praise from Tenderloin activists for the depth of its commitment to the neighborhood. Regular teams of company volunteers serve meals at Glide and cook breakfast at the Gubbio Project, a unique program at St. Boniface Parish that allows people to sleep on its pews between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. (The Gubbio Project deserves special mention. Seymour took me and a half dozen Tech Lab employees into St. Boniface one morning. It’s a regular part of his walking tour. Inside the beautiful old church, 80 or 90 people were sleeping—old Asian ladies, children, scruffy people who looked down on their luck, even a couple of young Euro-looking travelers with backpacks. Most of them were lying on the pews, a few in the aisles. The smell of incense filled the air. It was silent and warm, a refuge. The figure of Christ looked down from behind the altar. I am not a religious person, but I found my eyes blinded with tears.)
posted by mistersquid at 8:51 AM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

> My first experience of San Francisco was staying at the YMCA in the Tenderloin

I stayed there once. I wasn't really scared walking around the Tenderloin -- it didn't seem any sketchier than the Lower East Side, which was where I often did my drinking -- but oh my god, so much pee.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:40 PM on October 27, 2013

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