Trauma and drug use are big hurdles in helping San Francisco’s homeless Tenderloin

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — This is the day John Dwyer has been dreaming of since he learned he was moving to a new home.

“I’m excited. I’m almost overwhelmed,” Dwyer said as he rode an elevator up to the second floor of the Garland Hotel.

For the past ten years, Dwyer has lived at the Baldwin Hotel, a single-dwelling hotel on 6th Street operated by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as supportive housing for formerly homeless people.

The Baldwin has 183 rooms but none with an in-unit bathroom. Residents must share toilets and showers on each floor.

“When I went to the toilets at the Baldwin, I had to be careful of needles. People were overdosing in the toilets there,” said Dwyer, who was homeless and a drug addict before finding accommodation at the Baldwin.

The garland promises to be a much different experience. The room is twice the size of where Dwyer used to live. It also has a small kitchenette and a sink, which it did not have before.

But, he’s most excited about the bathroom.

“It’s my own bathroom,” Dwyer said as he showed us his new bedroom. “I can soak in the tub. I can take a shower. I don’t have to wait for anyone. And the toilet is my own throne.”

The Garland’s 80 rooms are more like a regular apartment.

“I call it SRO 2.0,” said Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which also operates the recently renovated Garland Hotel.

THC operates 25 supportive housing units in San Francisco.

“People coming in are mostly formerly homeless people. There are a lot of challenges with this population, especially since people are coming from the streets,” Shaw explained.

Since the Tenderloin Emergency Initiative in December 2021, the city has housed over 800 homeless people in the Tenderloin area.

“800 people on the streets in a neighborhood in the space of four months is significant,” said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

The initiative began as a way to combat the overdose epidemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been twice as many overdose deaths in the city as deaths attributed to Covid-19.

In response, the city established the Linkage Center, now called the Tenderloin Center, where homeless people could pick up food, do laundry, shower, and learn about housing and social services.

Around 400 people visit the center daily.

“What we do is reach out to people and say, ‘We want to help you,'” Carroll explained. “The question is whether it made a difference for the whole community and that remains to be determined.”

The Tenderloin Center has been criticized for allowing people to use drugs on the site.

“Our number one goal is to get people in. And we have to accept the reality that people are at different stages of thinking about substance use,” said Krista Gaeta, who oversees the center at the Department of Public Health. .

Gaeta said staff are there to observe people using drugs and can administer methadone to prevent an overdose.

“While we’re there, we’re starting to have conversations with them. We’re offering a hot meal. We’re giving them the things they need. It’s an opportunity to connect with someone about their health needs. more important health,” added Gaeta.

Del Seymour said that was the right approach. He was homeless and addicted to crack for 18 years before he got clean.

He founded Code Tenderloin, a workforce development organization that provides job training and computer programming classes to people who are homeless, living in shelters, or marginally housed.

Seymour does not want drug use to be criminalized.

“It’s a disease. You don’t lock someone up for having cancer. You don’t lock someone up for having leukemia. Why do you want to lock someone up who has an addiction,” he said. -he explains.

Seymour said he’s been through many court-mandated drug programs, but none of them have worked for him. It took 18 years before he decided to make a change.

He said the majority of people who use drugs on the street deal with some kind of personal trauma.

“The reason people use drugs is to get them out of the situation they’re in. At least during those hours when they’re drunk, they don’t have to be who they are” , explained Seymour.

He said the Tenderloin is overrun with drug addicts because that’s where they can easily buy drugs.

“If you’re a drug user, when you’re buying on the street, you’re using on the street because your addiction makes you want to use it right away,” Seymour said.

Shireen McSpadden, who directs the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in San Francisco, said it’s difficult for people who have experienced trauma and have been homeless to trust the system and to ‘acquire help.

Tom Kincaid was among the first to move into the 80-unit Garland Hotel, which unlike other SRO hotels has private bathrooms in every room.

“It’s very chaotic on the streets and it’s really hard for people to join a program when they’re on the streets,” McSpadden said.

Daniel McClenon felt this violently.

McClenon is a street performer with the talent to do so much more. He uses pencils and ballpoint pens to draw elaborate portraits on pieces of cardboard.

“The hardest part is keeping my artwork safe. If you don’t sleep on it, it’s stolen for its quality or they’ll steal it for another rug to sleep on,” McClenon said, as he showed bloodstains. about his sleep and his pants from a stroke he suffered a few days earlier.

He regularly posts on Instagram (@danielmcclenon) to exhibit his works, but he reveals what it is like to live on the streets.

He struggled with drug addiction and mental illness, possibly compounded by the death of his younger brother for which he still suffers greatly.

McClenon recently had an exhibition of his works at Hospitality House which he dedicated to his brother. A fan started a GoFundMe page for him.

Daniel McClenon, a homeless artist, creates one of his works of art while sitting on Market Street in San Francisco.

McClenon said the trauma he carries has made it difficult for him to find stable housing and pursue his dream of teaching again.

Back at the Garland Hotel, Tom Kincaid already has a new outlook on life since moving there a few weeks ago from the Baldwin Hotel.

“The Baldwin was so old and run down. The Garland is nicer,” said Kincaid, who was previously homeless and a heroin addict.

“It’s a fresh start. I want to use it as a way to get better. I have no excuses,” Kincaid said.

McSpadden admits that ORS like the Baldwin Hotel are not ideal for permanent housing. That’s why the building is being converted into a shelter that will give people more privacy than the traditional shelters that housed people in one giant room.

“People talk about how much it means to them to have a door that can close and they can feel calm,” McSpadden explained. “It helps them organize their thoughts and lets them think about what they need to do to get ahead in life.”

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