Playing in the Tenderloin

Here is a list of parks that are open to the public and child-friendly. Many include playgrounds, exercise classes and just a place to relax or play with your children.

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Final Reflections

After spending three months in the Tenderloin and visiting on a weekly basis it opened my eyes to an entirely new world.

I had my preconceived notions about the neighborhood, which were pretty much all of the stereotypes that have all been heard. I still remember the first day I parked my car and made sure all of my possessions were hidden. I tripled checked to make sure I locked my door and clung to my bag for dear life.

It didn’t take me long to realize the Tenderloin, while seedy and rough, is truly a unique and diverse place. After my first day of exploration in a new territory I no longer felt unsafe or threatened.

I began to appreciate the diverse environment around me. After talking to so many business owners and residents I began to recognize the strong sense of community in the Tenderloin. People were never ashamed to say the lived or worked in there.

Being in this neighborhood introduced me to so many new people. I met artists, drug users, homeless, writers, students, families and activists. Many of them said they had a sort of love-hate relationship with the Tenderloin but most agreed that they would hate to see it gentrified.

At first I thought why shouldn’t the Tenderloin be gentrified? It would help the city and the neighborhood. However, after hearing many other points of view I understand that it would detrimental to all those who call it home because they have nowhere else to go. One of the resident’s put it best when he said it’s like the wild west where anything goes.

In fact there is a sort of dimented charm about the seediness and ruggedness about the neighborhood that defines it. I just hope others can see it too.

“A few of my favorite things”

Stopped by the Tenderloin National Forest for a place to rest and just take a few moments when this caught my eye.

Alcazar Theatre

Built in 1917 the Alcazar Theatre is the host of many touring broadway productions, cabarets, comedians and other theatrical productions.

The theatre is located on 650 Geary Street in the Tenderloin/Nob Hill. It was deemed a San Franisco Historical landmark in 1989.

There isn’t much information available on the building or its sporadic calendar of events. However the structure was built by an architect named T. Patterson Ross and that it was created as a Shriner’s Temple.

It’s a shame the venue isn’t used more regularly but perhaps it’s because of the location. I’m not too sure what it looks like inside but I can only wonder.

Currently, the theatre is hosting 42nd Street Moon Tuesday through Friday 12 p.m.- 5 p.m. and Saturday 1 p.m.- 4 p.m. May 2 through May 20.

Tenderloin National Forest

Amid the pigeons, homeless, commuters and quite frankly human poop in the Tenderloin lies a true hidden gem. Tucked away in a small alley and guarded by towering apartments is the Tenderloin National Forest.

It’s a small oasis among the urban environment. It’s easy to forget where you are and let yourself get lost in its beauty.

The Tenderloin National Forest is located off of Ellis Street and was started in 2009 by an organization called the Luggage Store. It was designed to preserve what little green space there is in such a crowded environment.

The forest today has a vast array of plants from vegetables, herbs and flowers. There are benches to sit back, relax and take in the view. All of the residential buildings are covered in beauitful murals from top to bottom.

This small yet powerful area truly showcases the diversity and hidden beauty the Tenderloin has to offer. It isn’t always open but sometimes it’s nice to walk by or just know that it’s there.

http://www.luggagestoregallery.org/tnf/

Home to the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union

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A room full of people talking over one another, and many others waiting their turn, sit in the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union general meeting discussing the possibility of a safe injection site. It’s a small room with orange walls, mismatched furniture and a smoke detector wrapped in plastic that holds the bi-monthly meetings in the Tenderloin District.

“Obviously we don’t all want to get clean. We are a policy group that reflects the views of active users,” Isaac Jackson said, the senior organizer of the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union.

Members of the group include former and current drug users who are looking to become involved in drug policy. The San Francisco Drug Users’ Union, established in 2010, is an activist group whose ultimate goal is to decriminalize drugs, but is focusing on creating a safe injection facility in San Francisco. They are using Vancouver, British Columbia as a model, where a successful safe injection site has already been established.

San Francisco isn’t the only city in the United States to create a drug users’ union. Seattle and New York have already established unions. In New York there is VOCAL and in Seattle there is the Urban Survivor’s Union.

The union said their meetings aren’t a place for people to use drugs and get high. They also don’t allow drug dealings during their meetings.

“We’re not a needle exchange but we have some around. We have a drop box but it’s more of a community service, just like if someone wants a glass of water,” Isaac said.

The union is working on a number of campaigns and isn’t shy about their ambitions, including decriminalization of drugs, however, they are working hard on improving the treatment of drug users, particularly in hospitals.

As a result the union has been working with San Francisco General Hospital to create a “sort of guide” on how to improve and accurately treat drug users.

Members said the guide includes a lot of information about new drugs that are on the street that many doctors and nurses probably don’t know exist.

Gary West, a peer organizer for the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union, said it can be tough when people don’t take the union or its members seriously.

“It’s difficult with community acceptance, people on the street laugh at you. We brush it off but it makes us more determined,” West said.

Despite the stigma the union’s name has, West said they have been growing quickly and even pokes fun at himself and the union when he talks about how Jay Leno made a reference to the union.

“When you’re on Jay Leno you know you hit the big time,” West said.

He said sometimes there are difficulties within the group, because while they do have a core membership of enthusiastic people, it can be hard to get more people involved and to volunteer.

“People don’t realize the amount of paperwork needed, all the phone calls and clerical work involved. Part of it is our demographic but all unions have that,” West said.

According to Jackson, the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union is not officially a nonprofit organization but more of a project of the Harm Reduction Coalition. They received their first grant in 2010 from the San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force.

“We’re still learning how to be an organization. It’s hard to find people who can be on board as drug users,” Jackson said.

Jackson said in order to become a staff member you need to be or at one point have been a drug user.

“It’s the one requirement we have,” Jackson said.

Jackson said hepatitis C is a huge concern with intravenous drug users, which is why a safe injection facility is so important to the drug user community. He said as many as 80 percent of intravenous drug users have hepatitis C.

“We have enough supervisors to pass it but don’t have enough to not veto it,” Jackson said about the safe injection facility. “Mayor Ed Lee said he doesn’t want to see it, the board of supervisors wants to see it and the department of public health wants to save lives from overdosing.”

Then there is the issue of the location of the safe injection facility.

“No one wants to live near an injection sight,” Jackson said.

Paul Harkin, HIV services manager at Glide Health Services said it is important advance harm reduction and it’s difficult for drug users to get health information.

“I’m surprised San Francisco took this long to have one (a safe injection facility) for such a radical city,” Harkin said. “It should be a no brainer for a progressive society.”

Harkin said it’s important to have a safe injection facility where there is a lot of drug use, like the Tenderloin.

“The Tenderloin is notorious. You can’t walk a block without being offered drugs,” Harkin said.

Eliza Wheeler the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education, also known as DOPE, manager agreed that she hopes to see a safe injection facility in San Francisco.

“I think if it could happen anywhere it would happen here. Certainly not in an election year though,” Wheeler said.

Through the safe injection sight Wheeler said it would be a prime place to distribute Narcan.

“The SFDUU have been great advocates for expanding access to Narcan and for projects like ours,” Wheeler said.

Narcan is a trade name for naxalone, which is a narcotic antagonist especially effective with opiates like morphine or heroin.

Despite being under the watchful eye of the police, the San Francisco Drug Users’ Union continues to push for a safe injection site as a number one priority.

“I guarantee you we’re on the ‘keep an eye on them list’ somewhere. Every now and then we get an undercover (police officer),” West said. “Unfortunately we haven’t gotten the notoriety of the black panther or the communist party.”

Jackson said he is proud of the union and where they are today.

“The fact we’re doing what we’re doing is great, we got a store front, we’re writing grants, doing demonstrations, writing letters and staying together,” Jackson said.

Young artist leaves his mark in the Tenderloin

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Surrounded by tattered cardboard stapled to the walls and piled on the floor, Erlin Geffrard uses donated and recycled goods from the Tenderloin for his art. He finds beauty and motivation where others see defeat.

“The Tenderloin is such a giving place, (there’s) so much trash it’s relatively easy getting materials. It just works out in your favor and I like using recycled materials,” Geffrard said.

He jokes with his friends who keep him company as he prepares for his exhibition, Belly of the Beast, at Gallery Heist on Saturday. This is the gallery’s first solo exhibition; however it isn’t for Geffrard. He is no stranger to art and has been drawing since he was a child.

Geffrard grew up in Riviera Beach, Fla. but moved to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship. Geffrard said art has been always been part of his life.

“I’m having fun with art right now,” he said. “Being in the moment of what I’m doing is the most amazing feeling.”

He grew up going to art schools beginning with middle school and later being accepted to one of the finest art high school in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“I tried to get into the same art school,”said Geffrard’s brother, Lordins Geffrard. “I didn’t get in, but he did. I remember he won an art contest for a drawing in the first grade.”

Erlin Geffrard said he grew up as a middle child, number three in a family of six children and two cousins.

“There’s never a dull moment, always hear voices. I like my family a lot,” he said.

He said when his aunts and uncles faced economic hardships they would often drop off their children for his mother to watch.

“My mom and dad were just like we gotta get bigger pots. She’s raised kids that aren’t even her own,” Erlin Geffrard said.

His family has been very influential in his life, particularly his older brother Lordins Geffrard.

“You have no choice but to be influenced by people you’re around,” he said. “I have some mannerisms of my older brother. He’s fun, charismatic and outgoing.”

However, they weren’t always so close. In fact, Lordins Geffrard said they used to fight all the time.

“I hated his guts when I was little. I was an evil brother. I used to give him the silent treatment and he (Erlin) would say‘please talk,’” Lordins Geffrard said.

Lordins Geffrard said it all changed after they were on a fishing trip but got into a car accident along the way.

“The first thing I thought was, where is Erlin? I was giving him the silent treatment at the time. After that I realized how much I liked him and that was the last time I ever gave him the silent treatment,” he said.

His father is also a constant reminder of his background. His father immigrated to Florida from Haiti and works as a landscaper.

“He worked for rich people, got to see lavish lifestyles though an immigrant,” Erlin Geffrard said. “I grew up seeing people yell at him. I saw him walk away from jobs and it always makes me want to stand up for myself.”

Erlin Geffrard said he got his positive outlook on life through his father.

“My father said riches aren’t in cars. Real riches are in the soil and what’s around you,” he said.

He said he remembers going to work with his dad at the age of 7 and it wasn’t easy.

“I really had to work. Everyone has to carry their weight,” he said.

As a result, Erlin Geffrard said he inherited his father’s work ethic and can appreciate things more than most people.

“He doesn’t believe in a free meal,” Erlin Geffrard said about his father. “He’s obsessive about work I feel like I have that as well. Not a lot of people be into, like, working towards something that isn’t immediately gratifying, especially with art.”

Erlin Geffrard said his strong work ethic has gotten him out of bed at 6 a.m. on his days off so he can work on projects.

“I feel good about myself when I’m involved and getting something done. The ability to create, it’s like art is a gift that people don’t realize they have. It’s amazing, it’s really awesome,” Erlin Geffrard said.

His passion and excitement are evident when he begins to talk about art. He pauses from using his staple gun so he can clearly express what he thinks and how he feels. In the middle of the interview his phone rings; it’s an offer to do another gallery showing.

“I’ve been expressing everything that comes into my mind. I think it’s cool I can still speak my mind,” he said. “Less people express what they have to say and make more videos of how stupid they act.”

He said art has become an outlet since he grew up in a low-income community with lots of violence.

“Young death, gun violence, babies walking on glass and pregnant ladies fighting in a KFC parking lot. “You focus on what you want. If I focused on the fighting I’d be into fighting,” he said.

Lordins Geffrard said he remembers what it was like growing up in a community with high crime and gangs.

“My dad was a landscaper, there were countless times where they stole his equipment. All you can do is be resilient. It makes you so much tougher and appreciate things people take for granted,” Lordins Geffrard said.

Erlin Geffrard said there was a lot of negativity in his community but a lot of positivity too. In fact he started showing his work in community galleries

“All the kids in the neighborhood got together and would draw. We’d have drawing wars of who would have the best batman. We didn’t have basketball courts or anything so we just drew,” he said.

His childhood still influences him through all of the different people and diversity he experienced.

“I kind of grew up in a mixed neighborhood, multiracial community. I see it as a rainbow, maybe just a dirtier rainbow. A dirty rainbow of the underclass, it was filthy, but it was still our neighborhood,” he said.

He said he sees himself as an exception to growing up in a low-income and gang infested neighborhood.

“You’re in shit condition and you’re going to be stuck in it. If you can take that bull shit and turn it into fertilizer, and grow a garden,” Erlin Geffrard said.

Erlin Geffrard’s positive outlook never ceased, even when he heard his peers talking about vacations and luxuries he didn’t have.

“I got to be with kids from upper class. At first they told me about weekends on yachts,” he said. “My dad doesn’t have a yacht but I’m rich with patience, perseverance. I’m rich in a different way, rich with love. My parents believed in rich morals and values.”
He went to school in hand me downs that were sometimes too big for him but he didn’t mind.

“I wore baggy clothes and people thought it was cool. Sometimes kids would say random things but I never let it get to me. I would just, you know, say thank you for your opinion and walk away. I was always peaceful, never violent because it wasn’t worth it. I’d just be adding to what I see,” he said.

However, he said he isn’t an exception to his family since four of his family members have graduated college and the rest are too young. They’ve all had positive role models to rely on and motivate them.

He said he misses his family but it can be hard going back.

“I see a lot, pit bulls fighting in parking lots, people setting places on fire. I could easily go back to that,” he said.

In the meantime Erlin Geffrard is enjoying San Francisco and creating art in such a diverse city.

“It was crazy. San Francisco is a wild place. The first time I came I was a hermit, just wanted to draw, paint and I would be covered in paint. I guess one night I went out with friends and one night became a semester,” he said.

Erlin Geffrard is taking a semester off from school to focus on his artistic endeavors and discover what other opportunities lay ahead for him.

“Things are kind of good. Make art in the real art world not in a bubble,” he said. “You meet people, that’s a plus. I’ve met people that have changed my life.”

People like Triple Mike Strandjord, who has become Erlin Geffrard’s best friend and art collaborator.

“We met at my ex-girlfriend’s house. He was always there because he was dating a girl too and we’d always run into each other,”Strandjord said.

Erlin Geffrard said he was dating Lou Diamond Phillips’s niece at the time.

Strandjord said Erlin Geffrard is a great friend and enjoys working with him.

“It’s pretty awesome. He can be super light but can also go deep. He’s spiritual but not religious per se, and he’s really in tune with what’s going on around him,” Strandjord said. “He is playful (and) hardworking but can be scatter brained at times.”

Strandjord said he has worked on several projects with Erlin Geffrard including a collaborative with a couple of other friends called So Artsy Entertainment.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating but most of the time it’s pretty awesome. He has a particular vision, but I think it’s a good thing. He’s really talented and he can sing,” Strandjord said.

Strandjord and Erlin Geffrard have matching tattoos on their forearms. It’s an anchor with the number 1825, which used to be their address.

Strandjord said he is completely different from Erlin Geffrard but it helps with the creative process and keeps things fun.

“I party way harder and he gets mad at me. He’ more serious but I bring something else to the table,” Strandjord said. “He stays in a lot, meditates and wakes up early.

He said Erlin Geffrard is for the most part optimistic and a serious artist but knows how to have fun.

“He cares a lot about the community. He’s serious about what he’s doing and changing what people see. He doesn’t want to be trapped in a box and wants to be himself,” Strandjord said.

Erlin Geffrard’s friend, Mario Ayala, also agrees that he knows how to keep a balance of fun.

“It’s exciting, never a dull moment,” Ayala said. “The best way to describe him is youthful and wise, it’s what makes a grown up. He’s in a middle place which is hard, but an amazing quality for sure,” Ayala said.

Ayala said Erlin Geffrard takes his art very seriously but still youthful by finding an intellectual concept and aesthetically making it playful.

“It was 3 a.m. and I came into the studio. He was playing this sick hip hop and there was shit all over the place, paper cut outs, glitter. He was hyped, the hype that makes you hype, kind of like going to a show,” Ayala said.

Lordins Geffrard said he is proud of his brother and appreciates his creativity.

“Its unorthodox, it’s innovative, his work is nothing like I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Erlin Geffrard said his art mostly deals with immigration, indigenous and human rights, which he became aware of at a very young age.

“My dad made us watch crazy documentaries, I mean graphic. Travesties, genocides, I knew about Rwanda, the holocaust, about all the wars. Geography and history were really big,” he said. “Things tend to repeat themselves.”

His exhibit, Belly of the Beast, will showcase his views on the American education system and what he believes is the American dream.

“It’s going to be an installation with found objects of the Tenderloin. I’m going to transform the gallery into a fish. People can walk into the mouth of a fish, walk through the intestines. Like they’re being processed by the school system,” he said.

He said he disagrees with the way the school system creates people like it’s an assembly line. He hopes the show will start a dialogue of how we view our education.

“We’re born into the world, go to elementary school, high school, college, get married, have kids, then die. The American dream, what is it really? Is it my dream or someone else pushing it on me?” he said.

He said he hopes to inspire people and create something for the San Francisco community to look into.

“I feel like there is no one American dream for everyone one. It’s working with what you got,” Erlin Geffrard said.

Erlin Geffrard also goes by his artist name Kool Kid Kreyola, which he got from a community activist in Florida. He took on the name as a project but has kept it since.

“I was 18, he couldn’t’ remember my name. He would remember me as the cool creole kid,” he said.

He decided to use k’s instead of c’s because its initials were kkk like the Klu Klux Klan, but he wanted to turn something negative and make it positive.

The Belly of the Beast will open and have its reception at Gallery Heist in the Tenderloin on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

His friends and family are all extraordinarily proud of him.

“He is so passionate about his art. We discussed what success means to us. If he accomplishes that, then I’ll be ecstatic for my brother,” Lordins Geffrard said.

Tenderloin Crime Report

            Melanie Mahakena sits in a Marina Floral Design staring at a broken door, patched up with plywood. The store employee talks about how the shop was burglarized in addition to the graffiti she has to clean on a weekly basis.

            Small businesses are often victims of burglary vandalism in the Tenderloin. Some business owners say it’s a small price to pay for the low rent and good business, while others only last a couple of months before they close shop and move.

            According to www.crimemapping.com 72 burglaries and robberies were reported, which made up 9 percent of the Tenderloin’s total crimes in March. It is an increase from 9 years ago in 2003 where only 25 robbery and burglary crimes were reported, according to the San Francisco Police Department crime scene statistics report.

            “They took all the money except $1,” Melanie Mahakena said. “There was only $40.”

            Mahakena works at Marina Floral Design in the Tenderloin. On Monday she said she had arrived for work and realized someone had broken into the store.

            “It happened this morning. I’m not too surprised if it is a druggy because it had to have been someone small,” Mahakena said.

            She said there was a small hole in the door where someone had broken in. She said the thief took $40 from the register but this is the second time the store had been burglarized.

            “It happened last year during autumn or winter,” she said.

            She said there isn’t much that can be done about it and she called the police but no one came.

            “Even if we install a security system, you can only do so much prevention. I’m trying not to disappear,” she said.

            Mahakena did say that an employee didn’t properly secure the door when the shop closed.

            “It’s funny, he’s watching us. How we lock the door,” Mahakena said of the thief. “It’s a ghetto neighborhood.”

            She said she stays because of her job and the business needs her because her boss had a family emergency.

            “We have a stable internet business,” she said. “Should we move? People buy. At night it becomes the other side of the coin.”

            She said when she called regarding the most recent burglary the police department never came after it said it would send someone to the shop.

            “ The Police department didn’t do anything,” Mahakena said. “But you see them (the police) giving a lot of tickets for people driving too fast or driving in the carpool (lane), but not a lot of people being arrested.”

            Mahakena said she believes small business owners get forgotten in the city and their needs aren’t always met.

            “This city is obsessed with cleaning but how about us small businesses? We can’t afford security cameras,” she said.

            Across the street is Alex’s Gift Shop, which has been in the Tenderloin for 31 years and doesn’t have any plans of moving.

            Lisa, who said she can only go by her first name, has worked in the gift shop for 17 years and said she, has seen a lot happen.

              “Sometimes crazy people (come in) so we put an alarm (in the shop),” she said.

            She said she stays for her job but has seen a lot of businesses open and close over the years.

            “(The) Rent (is) too high and (the) neighborhood makes people scared,” she said.

            Lynn Kim is the owner of Nite Cap, a bar in the Tenderloin, she said the bar had a window smashed six weeks ago.

            She said the bar has never been broken into but has had its fair share of damages throughout the years.

            “Graffiti in the bathroom, I’ve had broken water tanks from the toilet. I don’t know why kids do it,” Kim said. “Art school students, they think it is art.”

            She said a lot of art school students come to the bar since the San Francisco Art Institute isn’t very far.

            John Joseph Garrity, the captain of the Tenderloin Police Station, said they respond to graffiti through a citywide task force.

            “We have a graffiti abatement team,” Garrity said. “ Vandalism is more opportunistic, it’s a crime of passion.”

            He said vandalism is actually down by 13 percent from March 24 of last year.

            “Statistics can be deceiving. This past weekend three cars were broken into but no property was stolen,” Garrity said. “It’s just malicious mischief. Most vandalism is alcohol-or-drug-related.”

            However, just a block away on Geary Street Crown Market & Liquor has had almost no vandalism.

            Alex Mozeb, who works at the shop, said he thinks there isn’t as many problems because he is on the border of the Tenderloin and Nob Hill.

            “Geary is OK, it’s the border,” he said. “I put the trash outside, they open it and they throw it everywhere.”

            He said he gets people from the Tenderloin, who he assumes are homeless, looking through trash at night.

            “I have to pay $12 a month for trash locks, but it’s the only problem so far,” Mozeb said.

            Mozeb has been working at the store for a month, ever since the store underwent new ownership. He said so far it has been good. He said he pays close attention to the people who come in and makes sure they don’t steal.

            Garrity said they try to crack down on vandalism by keeping present but tis’ difficult to fight opportunistic crimes and crimes of passion.