Editorial Note: We thank Janice Tam, one of our professional advisor partners, for coming with us on this walk and writing about her experience of the Tenderloin Tour.
On June 23, 2016, I participated in a tour of the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The tour was organized by The San Francisco Foundation and led by the irrepressible Deleano (“Del”) Seymour, the unofficial but widely acknowledged “mayor” of the Tenderloin. Mr. Seymour lived on the streets of the Tenderloin for almost two decades, during which time he earned the dubious distinction of having been arrested for fourteen felonies on a single city block. But ever since the friars of St. Boniface Church intervened to help him turn his life around, he has made it his life’s purpose to help the other residents in the Tenderloin district.
Part of Mr. Seymour’s mission includes giving tours of the area to temper the way the rest of the city views the Tenderloin. To see the Tenderloin through Mr. Seymour’s eyes is to acknowledge the obvious problems of homelessness, mental illness, poverty and crime in the area, but to also see the ways in which the neighborhood is working to impart dignity to the residents and give them the tools to better their lives. Mr. Seymour reminds us that the Tenderloin is a neighborhood of families, as it contains the highest density of children in the city—between 3,000 to 4,000 children live in the neighborhood. Many of these families are struggling to get a footing to provide a future for their children.
We walked into St. Boniface Church, which, thanks to its partnership with the Gubbio Project, allows the homeless to sleep in its pews during the day from Monday through Friday. Not all the clients of the Gubbio Project are jobless; bus drivers or security guards are also found sleeping in the pews of the church, often in their uniforms, because they do not earn enough to be able to afford housing.
We toured St. Anthony Foundation, where the dining hall serves 2,400 hot, nutritious meals free of charge each day of the year. The Foundation also provides free medical services, computer access and job training and drug recovery programs.
We visited the back room of PianoFight, an entertainment venue and bar that allows its space to be used during the day for Code Tenderloin, a project founded by Mr. Seymour and staffed with volunteers only, that runs several job readiness programs, from a basic course that its students how to speak and dress at job interviews to a course that teaches front end web development to prepare students for the more advanced city-funded TechSF program.
After the tour, members of the TSFF, its guests, representatives of the mayor’s office and Mr. Seymour met to discuss how community, city and philanthropic ventures might coordinate to create the greatest positive impact for the residents of the Tenderloin. I am looking forward to seeing how TSFF’s renewed focus on racial and economic equity will manifest itself in the Tenderloin and other areas in the city. Several days after the tour, I happened to walk through the Tenderloin—and yes, I noticed open drug use and homelessness, but I also saw several small children playing outside the open door of their home under the watchful eye of their father.
To find out more about Del Seymour’s tours, or to donate to these organizations through your Donor Advised Funds, please contact the Donor Services team.
By Janice Tam, advisor