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Tenderloin trauma: Residents demand emergency action from City Hall as safety fears spike

Tenderloin residents and business owners gathered in front of City Hall on Saturday to demand that Mayor London Breed declare a state of emergency in response to what they say are crisis levels of crime and violence in the neighborhood.

Demonstrators began their march in front of La Cocina Municipal Market on Hyde Street, where a mass shooting left three people injured in October. Parents from the Tenderloin, which houses more than 3,000 children according to local estimates, pleaded for an increased law enforcement response and more support for the distressed neighborhood, pointing to an attack on an 11-year-old in September, among other incidents. 

“My children and I have been attacked on the streets a couple of times…Because of these incidents, my son is severely traumatized and is being treated psychologically,” said Nadia Saber, a mother of three who was among the approximately 200 demonstrators. “Even after I reported these incidents, I still see the same people that attacked me and my children on the walk to their school.”

Long one of San Francisco’s most troubled districts, the Tenderloin’s problems have outlasted numerous city leaders and neighborhood improvement programs.

Thus far in 2021, just over 1,000 of the city’s 6,563 total assault cases occurred in the Tenderloin and over 70% of those cases are still active. In October, a report from SFPD cited a 71% increase in fatal and non-fatal shootings in the Tenderloin since the same time last year. The neighborhood is at the center of the city’s drug addiction crisis, and residents and visitors alike report a palpable sense of danger on many blocks. 

“The violence is growing; drugs are openly traded and used. We want to see more foot beat officers to deal with these issues in the street,” said Rene Colorado, executive director of the Tenderloin Merchants Association, on Saturday. “Businesses and residents can no longer tolerate these conditions, conditions that would never be tolerated in any other district.” 

In May, Breed announced a mid-Market vibrancy and safety plan aimed at increasing the presence of both police and safety ambassadors in the area. The project taps $8.8 million of city funding over two years to station community ambassadors on each block between U.N. Plaza and Powell Street, in an effort to address illegal activity and make the area more welcoming.

Protestors gather in front of San Francisco City Hall on November 6, 2021. | Photo by Annie Gaus

But the demonstrators demanded that Breed, as well as Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the district, do much more. Although City Hall is closed on weekends and Mayor London Breed was not in attendance at the rally, the crowd presented a letter directly addressing the Mayor and asking for an immediate coordinated response among city agencies to help the Tenderloin.  

“We know you didn’t cause the conditions in the Tenderloin, but we demand you put an end to them. We need you to treat this like an emergency,” the letter read. “We have been completely forgotten…We cannot do it on our own.”

In an interview with Here/Say, Haney pointed to an increase in safety ambassadors in the area, community efforts to walk children to school, and other initiatives intended to improve conditions in the neighborhood. 

Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, pointed to a few efforts to improve Tenderloin safety, including street crisis and overdose response teams that can respond to unhealthy street behavior, and said that city agencies are already collaborating on fostering a more positive environment.

“This includes activations in particularly difficult areas to create more family-friendly environments, like farmers markets, park activities, shared spaces, community festivals, and soon to open holiday programming,” Lynch said. “We will continue to work with members of the community to make progress, because no one in our city should feel unsafe in their homes and their neighborhood.”    

David Sjostedt can be reached at
Annie Gaus can be reached at