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SF Weekly Letters 


Bread and Gutter
Rap on the knuckles for Jamison: Peter Jamison's article on direct services to the poor in the Tenderloin ["Their Daily Bread," Feature, 2/4] shared a sadly inaccurate view of those using social services in the Tenderloin. His description of St. Anthony Foundation (a social services organization, not a church), which has been serving the poor in the Tenderloin since 1950, was also inaccurate.

St. Anthony's has served veterans from more than six wars, the economically affected from seven recessions, and victims of deadly diseases from AIDS to hepatitis. We've provided the only free pediatric clinic in the Tenderloin, lobbied with our guests to improve food stamp eligibility, provided a free residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, called on the Board of Supervisors to bring a city presence into the Tenderloin besides the police presence, offered free job coaching and computer training, supported the conversion of the General Delivery Post Office into a full-service location, and provided an educational program for San Francisco students to learn firsthand about the slippery slope of poverty in the heart of one of the world's wealthiest geographies. Our Client Safety Services staff has been trained in de-escalation and security since the 1980s. They regulate the line to the Dining Room and explain and enforce our rules. That includes forbidding the exchange or sale of drugs anywhere near the premises.  

Jamison characterizes Tenderloin immigrants as a new phenomenon. Immigrants have always been a part of the Tenderloin, from the Germans at the turn of the 20th century to the recent waves of Vietnamese, Turkish, and Mongolians. Immigrants volunteer in our programs and work on our staff, receive food and medical care, and make annual gifts and leave sizable bequests to our foundation. 

More important than these inaccuracies is the implication that social service organizations, faith-based organizations, and the community at large aren't working together — we all want to see a safer and healthier S.F., and a safer and healthier Tenderloin. We will continue to work with neighbors, students, business groups, other service providers, and the poor themselves, to improve the quality of life for any San Franciscan who needs a hand. In times like these, many see that as a blessing.

Barry Stenger

Director of Communications and Development, St. Anthony Foundation

San Francisco

Stenger correctly points out that the St. Anthony Foundation is not a church. It is a faith-based service organization founded by the late pastor of St. Boniface, the Catholic church adjacent to the foundation's soup kitchen.

Give us your poor, just not so many of them: With St. Anthony's getting visits from Nancy Pelosi and Glide getting donations from Warren Hellman and Will Smith, it's obvious why people are interested in pimping the poor in the area. Yes, these organizations and many others in the Tenderloin do good work in the community, but there has to be a saturation point and a real gut check about the effects of numerous social service CBOs [community based organizations] in the neighborhood. When women, kids, and working families are consistently harassed in the street and regularly ignored by city government, at some point I think we should be thinking about jobs, schools, and infrastructure (e.g., grocery stores, safe playgrounds, community accountability, and/or policing) instead of putting Band-Aids on the area's challenges.

As a 10-year Tenderloin resident raising a baby, I'm not "yuppie scum." I work my butt off doing nonprofit work in the city. I'm for public transportation. I support district elections. I don't own an iPhone. That said, I've seen the containment factor placed on our neighborhood, and shake my head every time I see someone hitting the crack pipe, taking a crap in front of a mother walking her kid in a stroller, or generally acting a fool. (Read: publicly drunk and violent, screaming and yelling profanities at 4 a.m., and blowing a john in a door stoop). These aren't symptoms of being poor: These are symptoms of a neighborhood lost to drugs, apathy, and tourist novelty (how many double-decker tour buses drive through our neighborhood each week?).

Sadly, the Tenderloin isn't going to change. There's too much money being made off drugs, prostitution, and chronic homelessness. Kudos to SF Weekly for challenging reporting on the area that holds a mirror up to those maintaining the Tenderloin status quo and fighting against real social change; hence the kicking and screaming by the usual suspects each time these articles are printed.


San Francisco


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