Did you say… the Tenderloin? For those unfamiliar with San Francisco’s neighborhoods, the Tenderloin has a rough past and present. The popular account of how the Tenderloin got its name goes like this: back in the day the cops in this area were particularly corrupt and collected a lot of bribes. They made so much money they were able to afford the tenderloin cut of meat, which was very expensive. The name stuck.
The Tenderloin is located in the center of San Francisco. It is nestled between Chinatown, Downtown/City Center, and Market (where many bankers and lawyers work). It is also a neighborhood densely populated with homeless people (also called un-housed). Due to a mix of misunderstandings and misconceptions, most people who know SF were concerned for our safety. So, why the Tenderloin? And why San Francisco? Heck, why are we starting a study abroad in America?
The most obvious statement about this study abroad is that it is not a typical study abroad. It is an “academic program that travels”. We go to three countries, live in host families, take four courses with a traveling professor and local professors, visit 50+ sites, and have guest lecturers. We analyze, in-depth, social entrepreneurship, technology, and development from a myriad of perspectives. We research specific topics of interest and create a business prototype by the end.
We start in San Francisco because it is the global hub of technology and innovation (at least, Silicon Valley). We start in the Tenderloin because high wages and cost of living has priced out many locals and created a serious homelessness problem. We start in America because before going off to other places, we need to be grounded in understanding that our home country has issues. Additionally, San Francisco is new to most of us, so we are experiencing a new culture through street art, man buns, and the constant smell of marijuana.
We met with the Coalition on Homelessness SF, whose mission is to “organize homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness, while working to protect the human rights of those forced to remain on the streets.” Their recent big win was Proposition C, a tax on wealthy corporations that will generate $300 million annually for the homeless. Homelessness is a violation of human rights, according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but there is not enough allocated government funding to address it. Liberal tax policies supported the Tech Boom in the Bay Area, so a tax on those corporations to help the neediest of SF’s population makes sense. Last year, a UN expert called SF’s homelessness crisis a “cruelty that is unsurpassed.” Although the U.S. acknowledges the Declaration of Human Rights and goes to other countries “promoting” them, we also criminalize homelessness. The U.S. is a country of contradictions.
The Coalition asked if we would continue to educate ourselves and our communities on homelessness. What I would like to share is that, although the most visible part of the population struggle with substance abuse and mental issues, that that is not the majority of the population. When we were walking, I saw a young man shooting up on the street. Sometimes, a person walked by talking to an unknown audience. For me, the fear I have around people living on the streets comes from not knowing if I am putting myself in a vulnerable position by acknowledging someone because they might not be all entirely there. At the same time, it was emphasized that acknowledging someone is a way to humanize someone who is suffering. When I am inclined treat someone differently because of a past experience or a generalization I have on homelessness, I must remember that every person, at least, deserves their humanity.