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‘The problem is getting worse’: SF’s troubled Tenderloin buckles under weight of coronavirus

Tenderloin residents have long felt dismissed by City Hall. It’s adjacent to the seat of San Francisco power geographically, but it might as well be a world away.

Though city officials would never admit it, they’ve long treated the low-income neighborhood as a containment zone, tolerating everything from blatant drug dealing to open-air injection drug use to filthy sidewalks that wouldn’t stand in wealthier parts of town.

COVID-19 is just the latest example.

While many San Francisco neighborhoods are far quieter San Francisco News than usual as people shelter in place in their homes, the Tenderloin looks more crowded and dirty. A recent visit to the neighborhood showed some sidewalks are clear and clean, but many are packed with tents, garbage and people milling around in proximity.

The Tenderloin Community Benefit District counts 300 tents in the neighborhood, up from 120 before the virus struck. While it’s better than homeless people have a tent than nothing, it also means impassable sidewalks for everybody else.

The dense, low-income neighborhood houses more children per capita than anywhere else in San Francisco. Many families live in tiny rooms in single-room-occupancy hotels, sharing communal kitchens and bathrooms. But to get outside for fresh air or to run essential errands, they’re faced with an impossible choice: push through crowded sidewalks, social distancing be damned, or walk into traffic to get around the throngs.

“The problem is getting worse,” said Simon Bertrang, executive director of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District. “Kids have not been outside for weeks who are living in small apartments in the Tenderloin. As someone who’s sheltering in place with my children, that’s pretty hard to hear.”

Bertrang had to temporarily halt the nonprofit’s cleaning of the neighborhood Wednesday because someone on the cleaning crew developed COVID-19 symptoms and is awaiting test results. He said the city’s few handwashing stations and extra Pit Stop public Press Release Distribution Service In San Francisco toilets are appreciated — and the city says more are on the way — but the response doesn’t seem to match the severity of the epidemic.

After all, as the outbreak at the MSC South homeless shelter showed, the virus can quickly rip through a crowd of people living in proximity.

There are some answers. The city should move as many homeless people as possible into vacant hotel rooms. Mayor London Breed is working to move those who are older than 60 or who have chronic illnesses out of shelters and into hotel rooms, but she’s adamant that it’s not realistic to move the entire homeless population inside, saying Wednesday, “If it were that easy we would have done it a long time ago.”

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