This has been a busy week for me (and I’m sure that every single week this summer will be equally as hectic). I have had a packed schedule at work with the rest of the St. Anthony’s interns getting to know one another, meeting basically everyone at the Foundation, learning about the organization, serving together, and learning together.
For three days, we had the opportunity to get to know the organization and the neighborhood from the inside out through volunteering, meetings, tours, and reflections. On Tuesday, we embarked on a walking tour of the Tenderloin (or the TL as many affectionately call it). We saw everything from the old St. Anthony’s Foundation (SAF) building, Glide Memorial Church and countless non-profits working to make the neighborhood better to the gold-leafed city hall and the main library to the police station to numerous liquor stores and single room occupancy hotels and apartment buildings (SROs). We learned that in twenty square blocks, twenty thousand people are crammed, making it one of the most densely populated territory in the San Francisco. Between eighty and ninety percent of the residents live in an SRO. An SRO here has an average monthly rent of $800 and is set up similar to a dorm: each room is the size of a large closet or office and is designed to house one individual (although many are forced to pack as many as three to five people into these spaces); there are shared showers at one end of the floor and a toilet/ sink area at the other. Many times, the conditions are not kept up adequately or safely and are at risk to break down at anytime. Many of the tenants of these buildings are seniors, people with physical disabilities, individuals with mental disabilities and illnesses, and new immigrants. Once their already-small budget pays for their rent, many residents are left with a few hundred dollars to cover all other expenses, including food, transportation, medical bills, etc. There is no grocery store in the TL so if you want a meal, you must shop at an unhealthy and overpriced liquor or corner store (this is commonly known as a food desert).
So what brings people to the Tenderloin? Well, people first started to inhabit this neighborhood during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The TL was a desirable place to be: theatres, restaurants, brothels and hotels. Following the 1906 earthquake, the neighborhood was rebuilt with casinos, theaters, billiard halls, boxing rings, restaurants, speakeasies, and much more. People flocked to the area for the exciting, artistic and oftentimes scandalous trends of the time, some to vacation, others to live permanently. Because of the rapidly changing crowd of the Loin, the residents have lived in single room occupancy hotels since the Gold Rush.
Many of the people most neglected from society have found their way here. The lowest income bracket, like people who are unable to work because of physical or mental disabilities and immigrants, came originally because of the low deposits, background checks and proximity to many of the standout aspects of the city. People without homes, who are addicted to drugs, or promote illegal activity made home here due to the lack of police enforcement. Many people from alternative lifestyles showed up in the TL because the people did not judge them or force them to conform.
There are many possible reasons that the Tenderloin got its name. Some claim that it is because there were many butcher stores in the area. Others say that it is because the police officers were finally able to afford the cut of tenderloin after accepting bribes from people handing off money in the region or a bonus hazard pay for working in a “dangerous” neighborhood. Still others think that it is because of the prostitutes that once walked the streets and showed off their “loins.” While we do not know where exactly the name came from, we do know that it has always been an exciting, active place and will continue to be a comfortable place for all people to find refuge and a sense of belonging.