The Tenderloin's Burden

New homeless shelter proposal splits neighborhood

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the debate is that it opens the door on many of the issues the neighborhood will have to grapple with during its attempts at economic revitalization. While many feel the Tenderloin needs a mix of income levels to lure in neighborhood-serving businesses and improve the quality of life for those who live there now, some feel that desire has caused the community to turn its back on the needy at a time when rising rents are squeezing the poor like never before.

"I still feel like I owe the Tenderloin because of what I got from the people here," says Paul Boden, director of the Tenderloin-based Coalition on Homelessness, who was homeless himself when he first came to the neighborhood in 1982. "It's not about people anymore. It's about buildings, it's about lots, it's about grants, it's about money. ... It's kind of like saying there are enough poor people and no one else can come in."

Boden, who is heading up support for the project, says concessions offered by the city -- such as income from the building's 40 parking spaces, to be used for community projects, and an opportunity to locate a neighborhood-serving business on the ground floor -- led to his endorsement.

Jim Thompson of Tenderloin Community on Patrol.
Jim Thompson of Tenderloin Community on Patrol.

At the recent Human Services Commission meeting, a half-dozen or so Tenderloin residents and activists spoke against the shelter, but were outnumbered by more than 30 supporters, including homeless advocates and many speakers who identified themselves as formerly homeless mothers.

"This is a housing emergency and I don't see how we can put it off," said Commission President Jane Morrison prior to a unanimous vote in favor of the shelter.

At another meeting the following week, those opposed to the shelter weighed their options -- negotiating with the city for a moratorium on future shelters or other community benefits, fighting the proposal at the Finance Committee hearing, or filing a lawsuit alleging the process that led to the shelter was inadequate. No decision has yet been reached, and in the meantime, city officials say they will attempt to build neighborhood consensus.

"I would hope that between now and when it is going to be heard by the Finance Committee that the differences can be worked out," says Supervisor Leland Yee, who chairs the committee. "If they can't do it, then I guess the committee's going to have to step in and play the arbitrator, and we'll see what happens."

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