The TenderNob

Juanita MORE!
7 min readAug 11, 2020
Jackson, 2020

Since the beginning of San Francisco’s pandemic lockdown, my TenderNob neighborhood has struggled to stay on its feet. For those of you who don’t live in the City, the TenderNob is the unofficial, somewhat suggestive name for the area where the downtrodden Tenderloin and swankier Nob Hill overlap. And, for 30 years, it’s the slice of San Francisco that I’ve called home.

My first introduction to the neighborhood came on the heels of a three-year stint in New York City. The year was 1990. A good friend told me that there was an apartment for rent in one of the properties his mother owned, and he took me to see a studio apartment in a building just a few blocks east of Polk Street. When I was a young queer kid, the “Polk Gulch” is where I spent a lot of my time, and it felt like a homecoming of sorts to think I may be living so close to it.

But back to the apartment: it was a room, in the basement — at the back of the building. Oh, and there were at least three sets of blankets covering the windows in the central room. Meanwhile, the kitchen had been converted into a litter box for the cat.

Not surprisingly, at first, I wasn’t interested in the apartment. But something told me to find out what those covered windows were hiding, and I went around to the back of the building to see. Emerging from a dark passageway running underneath the complex, I stepped out into a big garden with a four-story pine tree towering above me, along with two laden avocado trees, and a shit load of Jade plants. I moved in the following week and have never left.

The majority of the buildings in the TenderNob neighborhood are mainly studios and one-bedrooms. There is also a fair amount of Single-Room occupancy (SRO) and tourist hotels. After the 1906 earthquake and fires, these new structures housed single people, short-term residents, the young, the elderly, and non-conforming families — to this day, a great representation of my neighborhood. San Francisco has always been a city of transients and tourists.

Just a few blocks north, and you are on the top of Nob Hill. There, Grace Cathedral towers above the City and rubs shoulders with the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins hotels, monuments of San Francisco’s historical ties to railroad barons, and Gilded Age excess. It’s altogether a more rarified view of the City: less than a mile away from the Tenderloin, but worlds apart.

Meanwhile, a few blocks south of the TenderNob, and you find yourself deep in the heart of the Tenderloin. Once home to jazz nightclubs, theaters, speakeasies, and gambling halls, over the decades, the area’s luster has slowly faded, transforming into the rough neighborhood that it is today. In many ways, the Tenderloin has always been a kind of containment zone: historically, the area operated as a vice district. Fast living, loose rules, and street smarts have always been the unspoken law of the Tenderloin. Today, there are ongoing attempts to rehabilitate the community — though those efforts still seem far from realizing any triumph.

When I first moved into my apartment in 1990, there were very few people living on the street in my immediate area. But, over the past ten years, there has been a steady increase in the homeless population located along the alleyways that line Larkin and Polk Streets. And then, following the COVID-19 “shelter in place” lockdown on March 16th, every single alley in my neighborhood became an encampment from one end to another — a swelling population grew before my eyes during the early weeks of the pandemic, during those brief, short walks with Jackson in my neighborhood.

Over time I, like many of the City’s inhabitants, began to hear news of the multitude of tent encampments popping up all across the City, precariously perched under freeways and on vacant lots pushed up against the side of highways. True to form, Mayor Breed’s solution was to conduct sweeps clearing out the displaced residents (though our lovely Mayor still proclaims, “We don’t’ do sweeps,” as she did in an interview with the New Yorker in May). However, once cleared out, those who were again displaced, found themselves pushed around from neighborhood to neighborhood, a legacy no doubt of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2010 “sit-lie” law, which allowed police to cite individuals resting on sidewalks between 7 AM and 11 PM. And, Proposition Q, a 2016 ballot measure, supported by Breed, which allowed the City to “remove unauthorized tents if the City provides 24-hour advance notice.” Speaking on Prop Q’s legacy, Breed noted in the New Yorker article, “To let them [displaced individuals] set up shop and use drugs in these tents — and to continue to impact public health in the way they are — is not something we’re going to tolerate.”

The San Francisco Department of Public Works budget is about $400 million a year — and that doesn’t include the $100 million for Street Environmental Services. The City likes to call cleaning up temporary sites of displaced individuals as “resolving an encampment.” But there’s nothing resolved about it. If you don’t get to the root of the issue — treating mental illness, recognizing the effects of institutional racism, addressing the disastrous consequences of income inequality — there is no resolution that will be lasting.

Produce from the Heart of the City’s Farmers Market and my Gratin, profiled in the Chronicle

Case in point, a recent trip I made to Civic Center’s Heart of the City’s Farmers Market, the first I’ve made since the lockdown began. For me, there is nothing like a stroll past stalls of fresh produce from local farms — especially in a neighborhood that doesn’t even have a supermarket. Heading down from my apartment walking down Hyde Street, I had to plot my path, considering which side of the street to take with Jackson. The 300 and 400th block of Hyde Street is teeming with many of our City’s most afflicted individuals, suffering from addiction, poverty, and mental illness. Crossing Geary Street, I found myself crossing back and forth, from one side to another. I would walk in the street, walk fast, slow down. I caught four guys heating their heroin spoon in the middle of the sidewalk, overlooked matter-of-fact drug deals, and witnessed people frantically digging through all of their belongings on the street — all while wearing next to nothing, and without a face mask. It was a challenging, intense, and relentless walk to get produce.

Living through COVID-19 has tested each of us, weighing heavily on our mental and emotional well being. I can’t imagine what it is like to be on the streets now — or ever. If it was anything like my walk to-and-from Civic Center, then I don’t want anyone to experience it, even for a day.

So, the question is, what can we do? How does the neighborhood that I have called home for 30 years, my “TenderNob,” once again become a safe space for me while also ensuring that the displaced individuals who end up there have resources and options to find long-term solutions to the issues they are confronting?

While the Mayor’s office has started placing displaced individuals in hotels and safe sleeping sites, there are still reports of inadequate services being provided to their inhabitants. In June, several media outlets reported that several displaced inhabitants, placed in hotel housing, had died from drug overdoses. Now is the time for all of us to hold City Hall accountable and ensure that alternative housing sites, such as hotels, are appropriately staffed and receive the funding and oversight they require.

Tied to this issue, before the pandemic hit, there was an initiative led by Supervisor Haney and the Mayor’s office to establish both Overdose Prevention Sites and Sobering Sites, to reduce overdose-related deaths. The sites were also intended to give people a place to safely use as an alternative to shooting up on the street. Supervisor Haney has introduced a ballot measure that would establish a new Department of Sanitation and Streets, which will focus exclusively on the state of our roads, and would oversee public bathrooms, power washing of the sidewalks, street and sidewalk maintenance, urban forestry, and pest control. When you vote on November 3rd, please mark your ballots in favor of the Charter Amendment for the “Public Works Commission, Department of Sanitation and Streets, and Sanitation and Streets Commission.”

Lastly, know who in city governance and law enforcement is accountable for the Tenderloin and the areas around it. If you have something you believe as a resident needs to be addressed, write a letter to them, post a picture to Twitter and tag them, heck, give them a call.

My neighborhood consists of four different districts, with the following supervisors. If you don’t know your District, you can find it here:

District 2 — Catherine Stefani — (415) 554–7752 -Catherine.Stefani@sfgov.org

District 3 — Aaron Peskin — (415) 554–7450 — Aaron.Peskin@sfgov.org

District 5 — Dean Preston — (415) 554–7630 — Dean.Preston@sfgov.org

District 6 — Matt Haney — (415) 554–7970 — Matt.Haney@sfgov.org

There are three different police departments–just to make things more complicated:

Tenderloin — Captain Carl Fabbri — carl.fabbri@sfgov.org

Northern — Captain Paul Yep — paul.yep@sfgov.org

Central — Captain Robert Yick — robert.yick@sfgov.org

All who answer to their boss — Mayor London Breed:

MayorLondonBreed@sfgov.org — (415) 554–6141

And, Police Chief William “Bill” Scott:

SFPDchief@sfgov.org

--

--

Juanita MORE!

High glamour, drag irreverence, danceable beats, culinary delectables, political activism and a philanthropic heart.