Residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Experience Growing COVID-19 Crisis

By Osvaldo Salazár

Upon walking through San Francisco’s Tenderloin at any given time, any shelter in place guideline or social distancing protocol is almost impossible to follow for people in this neighborhood. 

On April 29, 2020 San Franciscans line the sidewalks with tents and other belongings in the Tenderloin, where physical distancing is a challenge. Photo by Andy Damián-Correa/The Guardsman

While residents of San Francisco brace themselves for an extension of the city’s shelter in place order, those who live in the Tenderloin brace themselves for at least another four weeks of these orders being essentially ignored. Those in the neighborhood who are lucky to have housing are following the sheltering guidelines, but those who do not have access to safe housing have continued to pack and congest neighborhood streets and sidewalks which has virtually eliminated any chance of social distancing. 

While protections and guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials are followed without much difficulty in wealthier neighborhoods in the city, the risks just continue to grow for the over 20,000 residents of the Tenderloin district who are unable to leave their small urban dwellings. Simply leaving their homes to buy groceries, get exercise or even get fresh air puts their lives in direct danger. 

“I really don’t like having to be out here right now, it’s not safe at all, but I ran out of groceries so I just came to get what I needed and am going right back to my apartment. I hope I don’t run into too many people on the street on my way back,” said Tenderloin resident Lydia Bernal, 28. “There are just so many people outside all the time, the number of tents and homeless people I’ve seen lately in the neighborhood has also risen a lot, it’s worrying.” 

A homeless man who wishes to remain anonymous dons a mask as he prepares his belongings outside of San Francisco’s City Hall on April 29, 2020. Photo by Andy Damián-Correa/The Guardsman

According to the CDC’s guidance for COVID-19, city officials should “encourage people staying in encampments to set up their tents/sleeping quarters with at least 12 feet x 12 feet of space per individual.”  As of May 1, 391 tents lined the streets of one of the city’s densest neighborhoods which has increased exponentially from 149 in early March. 

CDC guidelines also require that cities provide sufficient handwashing stations and portable toilets for encampments of 10 people or more. Currently, five such stations exist in the neighborhood, not nearly a sufficient amount for the almost 300% spike in encampments currently saturating the Tenderloin. 

Aware of the violation of national and local social distancing guidelines, city supervisors pushed through emergency legislation on April 14 that would require over 8,000 empty hotel rooms be used to house the city’s homeless residents. By the last week of April, only 2,500 rooms had been secured, and just over 1,000 people had been moved into them. Mayor London Breed has stated she can’t comply with the ordinance fully at this time because it isn’t “paired with reality.”

On April 29, 2020 two pedestrains attempt to avoid contact with those lining the streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Photo by Andy Damián-Correa/The Guardsman

Amid a Lawsuit recently filed by the UC Hastings School of Law which is located in the Tenderloin, along with merchants and residents of the neighborhood, Breed’s office has released their “Tenderloin Neighborhood Plan for Covid-19”. This 32 page plan offers safer sleeping conditions to those in encampments, expands hygiene stations for unhoused residents, and ensures housed residents have safe passage and access to their homes to safely practice socially distancing. 

In an article by the San Francisco Chronicle, UC Hastings’ Chancellor and Dean David Faigman called the plan “entirely inadequate”, further stating it would only encourage more camping in the neighborhood. “The plan is just more talk. We need action, not talk. We need the tents and the drug dealers removed and the unhoused moved to safe and temporary housing, such as large tents or other shelter, until a permanent solution is accomplished.”

3 thoughts on “Residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Experience Growing COVID-19 Crisis

  • Sharon Adams

    They can use the old mint for shelter. But there is no need to cussing about it.

  • I would like to suggest that the ballpark parking lot become a tent camp you can spray paint six by six f****** spaces on the ground and get these guys f****** social distancing what is the problem it shouldn’t cost a dime maybe a little bit you know what I mean to have someone out there to kind of control that s*** you know shelter in place shelter-in-place wear masks have water soap and toilets and garbage okay right a f****** parking lot it’s a lot of space you can put a lot of people there they got to get off the streets in there come on people use your mind you had to rent hotel rooms they got tents you put them in f****** spaces 6 feet by 6 feet social distancing hello mother f****** hello

  • Rena Christensen

    This is not right at all we cant even open our widows for fresh air or Go outside cause we might get assaulted or spit on . i get threatened in myybour home and no peace and quite out in the Tenderloin. . The police dont respond hslf the time i a in fear of my life I’ve been cussed out threatened call the cops a do-nothing not fair to the residence who follow regulations and laws. known drug dealers out here and they do nothing about it these people may be they should br arrested and put somewhere else this is ridiculous out here the fucking Madhouse out here they need to be put somewhere else you got a whole island they could go there

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