Other neighborhoods

When the Vice Magazine article about social work in the Tenderloin came out last week I had a strong desire to write my own rebuttal. My main problem being the hopelessly negative view of a neighborhood with a lot of uphill battles that sits in the middle of a city of extreme wealth. The Tenderloin needs all the help it can get, and I don’t think this article helps. It’s fun to talk and write about all the cool things that other neighborhoods have going for them, as writers on this blog often do, but when the only thing we hear about the communities that aren’t booming is a tired old story like the Vice article it just seems lame.

Before I had the chance to write about it I saw the interview with Brian Brophy on Uptown Almanac, which I thought presented some great counter points and an overall reality check back to Vice, as well as a surprisingly thoughtful comment thread. I also saw the powerful response by Dregs One, which really highlighted the Vice interviewee’s lack of awareness about her own privilege and unhelpful dearth of empathy. I say unhelpful, because I think for people working with a community like the one she works with you need to have empathy not to feel sorry for your clients, but to understand how they’ve come to be in this situation so that you can help them move toward a healthier life. Maybe this person does have that awareness, something gets her out of bed and to this work every day, but it wasn’t present in the article.

Though I don’t read Vice, I understand that the writers are probably going for a tone that is “honest” in that it sounds like two friends talking with each other like they would if nobody was listening. But people are listening. Maybe the social worker in this article needed to vent after day after day of dealing with intense situations. Fine. But now that venting is a widely read article that defines this community in a lot of people’s minds. In a time when San Francisco is changing very fast and some of us are working really hard to make sure that certain communities don’t get shut out and left behind, again, this is not helpful. I know all too well that talking about blood and human waste and edgy stuff gets a lot more attention than stories of hope and triumph, at least in the demographic and mediums that this blog and Vice have in common. I’ve blogged about poop before and I’ll do it again. Even so, I’m going to take up a little internet real estate every once and a while to share other kinds of stories that I see going on in this city that I feel need to be shared. I don’t do enough to bring them to light, but here I am trying.

Summer Program - Graphic Arts 02
[picture of Jayraj by Ariel Dovas for BAYCAT]

Contrary to what the social worker says in the Vice article, the Tenderloin is not “one of the two predominately black neighborhoods left in SF”. However, the Bayview Hunters Point population in 2010 was made up of 33.7% African Americans, the largest ethnic group in that neighborhood. As I’ve mentioned a number of times before, I’ve spent almost 9 years working with people from this community at BAYCAT, Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology. Recently, one of our former students and a current intern, high school student Jayraj Govender, created a short video for his school that deals with the the choices that a teenager faces. I think it shows a real maturity and artistic curiosity and I’m excited to see what he does next.

[Link on Vimeo]

For the last thing, in 2012 Jayraj teamed up with three other former BAYCAT students turned young adult interns from Bayview Hunters Point, Iman Rodney, Teak Stephanchild and Tiffany Jones, to create a short documentary bringing the neighborhood’s health issues to light from a young adult’s perspective, called Endangered. The project was funded by Metta Fund and produced with mentorship from Melinda James. Tiffany created all the animation for the piece.

[Link on Vimeo]

24 Responses to “Other neighborhoods”

  1. Lindsey says:

    Ariel, you are the best. Poignant and powerful.

  2. Jen says:

    I have lived on California and Polk for a long time. The tenderloin is not that bad. Yes, there are a lot of issues with drugs and homelessness, but it’s a decent enough neighborhood. The writer of this article is correct, it shouldn’t be kicked while it is down. I’m from Chicago and I will tell you what, the writer of the Vice article should spend one day on the South Side of Chicago and she will thank her lucky stars she only has urine on her doorstep to deal with.

    • LetMeIn says:

      World of difference between Cal/Polk and, say, Leavenworth and Eddy/Turk where I lived for a few years. Cal and Polk, which borders between Russian Hill and Nob Hill is pretty clean compared to the real TL, where it is that bad. Those “lot of issues” you mention are prostitution—sometimes out in the open courtyards of neighboring apartments—and crack dealers. There were 3 shootings in the span of four months in front of my apartment. Not ‘up the street,’ but in front of; where I couldn’t even come outside due to police investigating.

    • Dude! says:

      California and Polk!?! That is Nob Hill, not the Tenderloin. Obviously need to live there longer.

  3. blah says:

    I’m not generally a fan of Joe Klein, but he has a saying that seems on point in this context and in connection with much of what one reads in Vice: “Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre.”

    Being a social worker is challenging, and people burn out? Poverty and drug addiction are complicated problems, and people don’t necessarily want to be “helped”? No shit, Vice. That’s the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it.

  4. Braveheart says:

    That girl got fired from her job if that makes everyone feel better! I never knew her but I heard she was a twat anyway.

  5. Jen says:

    @ LetMeln you seem to be of the understanding that I neither eat, shop, visit friends or otherwise involve myself in the tenderloin. I am writing this message in defense of a neighborhood I have constant intervention with.

  6. Jen says:

    3 shootings in a month? Chicago has 3 shootings per night. Be grateful. Seriously. SF is a bastion.

  7. Jen says:

    Again, the fact my street corner is California and Polj
    Doesn’t meant daily interactions don’t involve the tenderloin. My point is, the tenderloin isn’t that bad. Yes, is there addiction, homelessness and prostituntion? Absolutely. Are there things I wish I didn’t witness? Without a doubt. Is it 1000 times better than the gun violence epidemic ridden city of Chicago from
    Which I came? On many levels. Perspective.

    • commonparlance says:

      To say the TL is “1000 better than Chicago” is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? Chicago, like every major city, has a lot of nice parts, and a lot of not nice parts.

      I guarantee you the TL has more poverty and crime than vast the majority of Chicago neighborhoods. It’s also worth noting that the high violent crime numbers for Chicago are a recent thing, and city-wide, Chicago is still well below places like Detroit, St. Louis, and our own backyard of Oakland. I’d be willing to guess that most of the murders, assaults, etc. in Chicago occur in a relatively small geographic area.

      Hey, it’s not a contest! But please get your facts straight before making comments about how a neighborhood you live on the outskirts of isn’t that bad.

      • Huh? says:

        Don’t tell people to get their facts straight when all your are providing are “guesses”

  8. galaxy pie says:

    Oh c’mon, give her a break! I thought that she was pretty compassionate and level-headed given what she has to deal with on a daily basis. If she was fired, then good riddance. How many of the haters are low-paid social workers? SF sometimes feels like an open-air lunatic asylum. The rest of the country dumps their severely mentally ill and drifter types on us, where we allow them to flourish. Have you seen how many registered sex offenders there are in the Tenderloin? What I’m saying is, let’s not pretend that this is a wonderful population of people just temporary down on their luck. In the past, many of them would be in institutions. The right kicked them onto the streets, and the left took up the torch many years later to champion for freedom to be street people. So all you compassionate, tenderloin-loving, caring people who don’t want anyone to speak the truth, well, when have you worked with people who would be inclined to eat their feces?

    • Ariel Dovas says:

      If they’re not a wonderful population of people I think you have to ask yourself why they aren’t. If there is a strong case to be made for institutional racism, among many other systems of control, then I think it’s all of our responsibility to do our part to help correct that. So that the same people can live healthy lives.

  9. Salsa Shark says:

    Way to turn the Tenderloin’s issues into a buzz marketing piece for your own efforts in a different neighborhood, Ariel.

  10. mike says:

    thanks for this piece. i have to admit i wasnt offended by the vice article, but i appreciate the rebuttal points here.

  11. commentariatsays says:


  12. Jen says:

    Commonparlance- obviously I was comparing the bad neighborhoods in the South side and West side of Chicago, not say Lincoln Park. That should have been obvious when I said “gun violence epidemic” which you should perhaps bother to read about and get your facts straight. And again, because I live on the outskirts, how does that make me unqualified to talk about a neighborhood I have daily interactions with?

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      You are really, really bad at replying to comments instead of the post as a whole.