SAN FRANCISCO -- With the closure of the APEC conference, San Franciscans can get back to business as usual but residents of one neighborhood hope that the disruptions to everyday life will have a lasting impact.
To many, the Tenderloin District is a symbol of San Francisco at its most hopeless. Yet, for one week, the city proved that is doesn't have to be that way. With the world watching, 300 shelter beds were suddenly opened and the streets became clean again.
"We saw cleanliness and we saw safety improve," said Bryan Young, interim CEO of St. Anthony's Foundation. "It's a small example of what could be done if effort and resources are dedicated to the Tenderloin and it's worth it."
St. Anthony's Foundation has turned one block of Golden Gate Avenue into an oasis of peace in an area known for chaos. It will host its second-annual "Giving Thanks on Golden Gate" block party on Tuesday. That will be followed on Thursday by its traditional Thanksgiving meal for the neighborhood residents. But, every day, its food program and community outreach serves the needs of Tenderloin residents.
On Saturday, in preparation for the block party, volunteers were gathering cold weather supplies: socks, scarves, hygiene kits and blankets being knotted together by 10-year-old Izzy Brunsell to form a barrier against the cold embrace of the streets.
"It's fun because you're doing it for other people that need the help, you know?" Izzy said.
Her mother, Sheila, agreed.
"You have to make it a point to expose yourself to those needs," she said. "So you don't forget that people are in need wherever you are -- surrounding you."
Beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling of the holidays, the question remains: What is to become of the Tenderloin?
With APEC ended, will the city allow the area to revert to being a haven for homelessness and drug addiction?
"The thing is, now that it's over, are they going to move back in? That's what I'm waiting to see now," said Tenderloin resident Jonathan Dyer. "I'm pretty sure they're going to start taking over the doorways once again."
Dyer makes his living playing saxaphone on Market Street and he said the Tenderloin's transformation over the past week was unmistakable.
"Before the conference it was really, really crowded and now it's really, really clean," he said.
Does he think the city can or will keep it that way?
"It can. It can and, I think, they've got plenty of money for it," he said.
A few blocks from where world leaders were discussing global pathways to prosperity, people were struggling just to survive on the streets. It may be a bitter irony but, back at St. Anthony's, Tiana Teunissen focused on tying her blanket -- one small effort to keep her hopes alive.
"Yeah, it's like, 'What can I do? The city's just gone to crap' -- but that's not the case at all! I think there's a lot that we can do to prevent it from getting worse and, hopefully, make it better," Teunissen said. She rejected the whole notion of a "doom loop."
"No, never! It's mindset!" she said.
In the Tenderloin, it is a mindset -- for both the residents and the city itself. Not much is invested so not much is expected and vice versa.
But for one week, everyone saw what was possible.
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