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Building Trust in the Tenderloin
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News for 11.20.15
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The City Hope Community Development Center is open for business. The building at 45 Olive Street has been under construction for months, but back in September the team opened their doors and began to welcome their neighbors for football watching parties, game nights, and movies, all in the hopes of being a safe space for healthy community in the Tenderloin. The bustle and activity are a welcome change from the long days of construction: “It’s great to see this space being used for its intended purposes,” said Paul Trudeau, City Hope’s director. “We’re getting people in the doors, and that’s what really matters.”

While the building was under construction, Trudeau and the rest of the City Hope team set about forming relationships with their neighbors. They started by connecting with three nearby single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels—the Iroquois, The Essex, and the Elk--where they held listening sessions and pizza parties to get to know the residents and hear about what they wanted to see in their neighborhood. A number have since been coming to events at the Community Center.

City Hope Quote “We always say that respect is given, trust is earned, and accountability is required,” Trudeau said. He remembered a time earlier in the fall when the Community Center opened its doors for a movie night. People came inside to watch the film being projected onto the big screen, but there was one man who stood in the alley, watching from outside. “He just wasn’t ready to come in,” said Trudeau, and there was no pressure for him to do so. The next week he was ready and the City Hope team welcomed him. Around that same time, some neighbors started coming in to use the shower facilities at the Community Center. “It’s a vulnerable thing to do,” Trudeau said, to go into a brand-new space and trust the folks there enough to use their shower. But that’s all part of the Community Center’s mission.

“Building trust is key to building healthy community,” said Sally Steele, City Hope’s Director of Operations. Some of the people who live in the Tenderloin “are traumatized people—that’s not all they are, but trauma is part of their life story. They need to know you’re there just to care for them; that it’s not a bait-and-switch,” said Trudeau. That is part of the challenge of building trust in a new place: You only have a small window of time to talk about who you are and connect with the people you hope to serve. So these small windows of time get used for small moments of building trust, like inviting someone in off the street to use the bathroom or charge their phone.

One of City Hope’s objectives as a community development center is to listen well and let some of the initiative for events come from the Tenderloin community. To that end, City Hope is gearing up for its first-ever talent show, called Kickin’ It With The Stars, on Saturday, December 12th. Conceived and produced by Tenderloin resident Dominique Johnson, the show will feature 10-12 acts, all from the Tenderloin neighborhood. Johnson left her native Tennessee five years ago and traveled around to several cities including New York before settling in San Francisco. She lives in a nearby SRO and says that since the City Hope Community Development Center moved in, “People are excited that this part is here as a big light in the neighborhood. When the word in the community gets out, people will want to be a part of something.”

Johnson is a performer and is excited to be able to bring her talents to both put together and perform in the upcoming talent show. “I want to fill the room,” she said. “The word is out at the hotels...I just want to be involved.” The Tenderloin is home to a number of talented musicians and other performers, and on the night of the 12th we’ll have the chance to see them onstage.

Empowering and community-building events like this talent show are the kinds of things that the City Hope Community Development Center exists for. Trudeau notes, “It will take time as we keep our doors open and meet new neighbors for them to feel comfortable here. We will continue to welcome them in and host fun community events. We’re glad our doors are open.”

image #4 above by Dale Tan