The residents in one notorious neighborhood of San Francisco are coming together to revitalize their streets — and it’s working.
Ever wonder how the Tenderloin neighborhood got its name?
Once full of speakeasies and jazz clubs, gamblers and prostitutes, the area has always welcomed outsiders and misfits, even if that earned it kind of a notorious reputation. And in the 1930s, the neighborhood is believed to have gotten its name because police officers were often paid more to work its streets, thereby allowing them to buy more expensive cuts of meat — including, of course, tenderloin steak.
Today, the Tenderloin is still one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco, welcoming insiders and outsiders alike.
But its residents also live with higher rates of poverty, homelessness, drug dealing, and crime than the rest of the city.
Roughly 3,800 individuals in the community are homeless, there are numerous abandoned buildings and decrepit hotels, and the area suffers from a serious drug trade problem.
This bad rap had been somewhat isolating for the people who call it home — including recent immigrants and a number of immigrant families that have been drawn to the area for its affordability. In fact, about 4,000 schoolchildren live there.
One event, called 4-Corner Friday, is working to change people’s perceptions and experiences of the Tenderloin by fostering a more inclusive, stronger community for its residents.
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4-Corner Friday holds meet-ups once a month on Friday afternoons so that neighbors can meet each other, have fun together, and build connections.
Whether it’s getting to know each other over hot chocolate and popcorn or playing games and painting murals as a community, these get-togethers help residents break down preconceptions, foster a sense of inclusion, and promote healthy, positive activities.
People — no matter who they are — are able to find common ground with each other because they have conversations and work together to make their neighborhood better a place for kindness.
The event, which is supported by Dignity Health, is a project started by the Golden Gate Block Safety Group, a group of neighborhood service agencies dedicated to improving the collective safety of the neighborhood by reducing crime and drugs in the area.
4-Corner Friday began at an intersection infamous for persistent drug dealing at 3 p.m. (a high drug traffic time), and the safety group hopes to help residents take back their neighborhood one small step at a time.
When residents get involved in their communities, real change can happen.
This is especially true for community groups that help engage children and young adults. By providing kids with safe places to play and meaningful attention, they feel seen and heard, which has a positive impact on their lives. In turn, crime can be combated. But it’s also true for the larger community, because when everyone is engaged, collective action can be taken to stop crime.
The changes 4-Corner Friday has created are starting to be felt, according to residents.
Of course, it’s been an uphill battle, and the conditions that created the drug abuse and trafficking problems in the neighborhood didn’t change overnight after the first 4-Corner Friday event.
Still, change is slowly coming to the Tenderloin. Local eateries and restaurants are starting to get new attention, the theater district and art scene are thriving, and developers and city supervisors are even working on making the neighborhood the first recognized transgender cultural district in the world.
Boeddeker Park, the largest park in the neighborhood, reopened in 2014 and is considered a safe haven, full of community activities serving children, seniors, and anyone who wants to enjoy the beautiful amenities.
As part of the Tenderloin Safe Passage Program, neighborhood partners like the Tenderloin Community Benefit District station community-corner captains to assist school kids and seniors moving through the neighborhood during designated hours. And many corner captains are actually parents and residents themselves who take the responsibility of creating a safer community very seriously.
Most importantly, residents are starting to feel safer just walking their block, and they’re starting to feel like part of a community that cares about one another. And this stronger community is building a new image of the Tenderloin as one of San Francisco’s friendliest, most caring neighborhoods.