Conditions worsen in San Francisco Tenderloin District, nonprofits say; Safety meeting to be held

Nonprofits to meet with SF police chief, DA over safety concerns in Tenderloin district

SAN FRANCISCO — A lot of places are dealing with an increase in crime, and there is growing public anger over governments' inability to control it. And in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, a place familiar with human turmoil, even those whose mission it is to show compassion say things have gone too far.

On Tuesday, outside St. Anthony's Dining Hall, they were handing out hot lunches to anyone who needed a meal, but CEO Nils Behnke said it's getting harder to find people willing to do it.

UPDATE: San Francisco DA Jenkins gets earful from blight-weary Tenderloin residents at town hall

"Our volunteers, our staff, are not wanting to come to us and participate because it's so dangerous to even walk the streets, at least that's their perception," he said.

The heightened fear stems from a shooting two weeks ago at the corner, in broad daylight, that left a man in critical condition.  Since then, there was another shooting and two stabbings, leaving two people dead.

Behnke says even the people who live on the streets are reluctant to come to the area.

"They're really afraid to even come to the dining room during the daytime to have lunch with us because of the situation on the street," he said.

He pointed to the brazen open air drug sales on Leavenworth Street as the source of the increase in violence. And though his entire mission is to be compassionate to the down and out, Behnke said enough is enough.

St Anthony's will meet with the DA and Police Chief on Thursday to discuss the lack of public safety and demand accountability.

"How hard can it be?" said Behnke. "We're like three blocks away from City Hall. The police station is two blocks up there. And it looks like this on Leavenworth? I can't compute how this can be allowed to happen."

Others in the nonprofit community agree. The Salvation Army operates a 110-bed supportive housing complex, but Captain Arwyn Rodriguera said she is frustrated by the City's practice of putting people into housing without regard to the drug or mental health problems they may be suffering.

"It's, 'Once you're in a house, you're there. Problem solved,'" said Rodriguera. "And what we're seeing bleed out onto the streets is many of the people are either dying there, in their addiction. So, it's an expensive, paid-for tomb, or they come back out to the streets and contribute to things like drug dealing."

And then, there are the kids. The Tenderloin is home to more than 3,000 children, but you rarely see them because it's not safe to play outside.

Bita Nazarian is Executive Director of "826 Valencia," a creative writing tutoring program. She said her students often write about their love for the Tenderloin, but she knows they are also suffering trauma from what they see every day.

"I think, with the pandemic things have been exacerbated in the neighborhood. A lot more of the crime and the unhealthy behaviors are more visible," said Nazarian. "And it's a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago, in my opinion, because the children have lived here this entire time."

These are people committed to helping their fellow man, but they see the damage being done by well-intentioned policies. Or, as Behnke put it, "compassion and reason do not have to be mutually exclusive."

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