By Barry Stenger, Executive Director of St. Anthony’s
For seven decades, guided by the teachings and example of this city’s patron, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony Foundation has served those who are poor and homeless in San Francisco. When Francis walked among the poor and the marginalized of 13th century Italy, he did not see problems to be solved, nor morally depraved individuals to be avoided—he saw brothers and sisters who revealed to him God’s abundant love.
Francis pinpointed his conversion to that moment when he was able to climb down off of his horse and embrace the moral outcasts of his day: those suffering from leprosy. Medieval society believed leprosy was caused by moral failure. Today, with the help of medicine, we know that leprosy is caused by Hansen’s disease—a sickness, not a sin.
Every day, on the sidewalks of the Tenderloin and in the alleys and bathrooms of our programs, our sisters and brothers struggling with addiction inject drugs, openly and in public. What other options have they but to use the curbside, the doorway or the park bench? When we consider their plight not as the wages of sin but as the ravages of the disease of addiction, we must ask the Franciscan question: how do we embrace the moral outcasts of our day? When Fr. Alfred, our founder, opened the Dining Room in 1950, he was just as concerned about sharing a meal in a way that respected the inherent dignity of those who were hungry as he was about meeting basic nutritional needs. He used to insist: “It’s not a soup kitchen, it’s a Dining Room!”
In that spirit, I invite you to read about what some of my fellow leaders of nonprofits in the Tenderloin are thinking about those who have to deal with their addiction in ways that deny their worth and push them further toward disgrace and death. You may also like to read an interview with one of our guests, Sandra, pictured above, who speaks candidly about the impact of addiction on her life.
If you have any questions about this or any other issue please do get in touch with us by calling 415-592-2736 or emailing community@StAnthonySF.org
Update May 22, 2017: A task force was launched by the City to examine hard reduction issues. Watch Barry speak at the launch below.