Who Lives in the Tenderloin?

It might not be who you think.

A mother and son walk down a street in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Photo by Thomas Hawk

They’re children, seniors, immigrants, and tech workers, hailing from Yemen, Vietnam, Turkey, and El Salvador. Some live alone, others four to a studio. Many own businesses nearby, while others have long commutes. There are few San Francisco neighborhoods as diverse as the Tenderloin, despite its small size, and the people who live there might surprise you. We dug through old census reports and city data, and while no available data set was perfect — some were out of date, others left out undocumented immigrants or homeless people — here’s what we learned.

First, if you stick with the neighborhood’s traditional (and controversial) borders, the one-quarter-square-mile area between Market, Mason, Larkin, and O’Farrell streets contains around 25,000 to 30,000 residents.

Men outnumber women in the neighborhood, by a 60-40 ratio, with the average age being 42, slightly older than the citywide mean of 38. It’s estimated there are between 2,500 and 3,000 kids who live in the TL.

Based on 2014 American Community Survey data, Tenderloin residents are 35 percent Asian, 29 percent White, 20 percent Latino, and 10 percent Black — although, with the citywide population of Black people dropping steadily since the 1970s, those numbers might already be out of date.

The median income is around $31,000 — less than half of the citywide average of $78,000. Thanks to the large number of single-room occupancy hotels and old rent-controlled buildings, however, the median rent is also much lower: $800 for a room, instead of $1,350 citywide.

At the end of the day, however, these are just numbers. If you really want to learn who lives in the Tenderloin, swing by Yemen Kitchen on Jones Street and chat with Abdul. Take a weekday stroll around 3 p.m., and watch the gaggles of school kids be escorted home by safe streets volunteers. Stop by Harry Harrington’s Pub and buy someone a drink at the bar. You’ll quickly learn — as we did — that the Tenderloin is the friendliest neighborhood in San Francisco.

 

For more Tenderloin coverage check out these stories:

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: The Tenderloin
It all depends on where you draw the neighborhood’s boundaries, but not even the Mission has this much variety crammed into such a dense triangle.

A Tale of Two Tenderloin Businesses
Small businesses in the Tenderloin face a unique set of challenges and rewards, which vary, block by block.

Roses from Concrete
Poetry offers a window to the perspective of eighth-graders living in the Tenderloin.

Screaming Queens Cause Scenes at Gene’s
The Tenderloin Museum mounts a theatrical re-creation of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, with audience members as coffee shop patrons.

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