Throughout last week, Bay Area media outlets made a concerted effort to focus on the issue of homelessness in San Francisco. They admittedly stepped beyond their role of just reporting the news and used their resources to try to creatively propose solutions to this vexing social issue. We consider this a real service to the folks we serve at St. Anthony’s.
St. Anthony’s has been very much a part of this effort: I have done a number of interviews for radio and TV, and our communications staff have arranged interviews with staff and guests and provided important background materials about our programs.
What consistently came through in the media’s coverage was confirmation of what surveys of San Franciscans show: 97 percent San Francisco residents say that they consider homeless to be a serious problem for the city (77 percent agree that it’s a “crisis”). Seventy percent say that they are pessimistic about whether this problem can be solved.
Perhaps not unrelated to this pessimism is the fact that most of the media’s discussion of the problem of homelessness in San Francisco pointed to city government as the party responsible for creating this crisis and the party responsible for coming up with solutions. That seems to me to be a recipe for pessimism: if we as members of the larger community point to those people over there, the homeless, as the problem, and then ask the agencies over here, the city, to clean it up, we are doomed to frustration and failure.
On December 3, we were honored to welcome the Honorable Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, to St. Anthony’s. Mayor Lee wanted to announce a new initiative from his office to deal with the problem of homelessness in the city.
As I told the group gathered when welcoming them, those of us who work daily with people who are homeless know that the greatest burden of their predicament is the isolation and exclusion they experience. So we were thankful that the Mayor was coming to the Tenderloin to make his announcement. Those of us who are committed to addressing this persistent issue also know that we should not see “the homeless” as the problem. Those who are homeless are our brothers and sisters. The problem is our problem as a community—a community with incalculable resources but one that cannot structure our economy, align our resources or redistribute our wealth in ways to benefit all.
St. Anthony’s is located in an old San Francisco neighborhood: the Tenderloin. Many view this neighborhood as never changing — it’s always the poorest, toughest grid of streets in this otherwise glorious city. For those who’ve lived here it seems like it’s always changing. Over the decades, various immigrant groups have landed here, gotten their feet under them and then moved on. Old buildings get renovated by a nonprofit housing group; run down parks are resurrected; new restaurants open. Some of these changes scare us. Are improvements to the neighborhood signs of gentrification? Are the all-powerful real estate interests going to claim this scarce and valuable property? Will the poor be driven from one of the last neighborhoods in San Francisco that will have them? read more…
Happy feast of St. Anthony of Padua. This thirteenth century saint is the namesake of St. Anthony Foundation, and quite understandably so. For one reason, he brought together, in a unique way, the habits of a great friar scholar with a dedicated ministry to the poor in the Italian city of Padua—just as St. Anthony’s founder, Fr. Alfred Boeddeker OFM, a former theology professor, moved to the Tenderloin and started a dining room to feed the hungry.
“When people lose their appreciation of the inherent dignity of those who are poor, St. Anthony guides them to our Dining Room.”
The story goes that in 1950 Fr. Alfred, frustrated by the daily line outside the friary of hungry folks looking for a meal, knelt in front of the statue of St. Anthony in St. Boniface Church. The statue showed St. Anthony giving a loaf of bread as he did 800 years ago when he reached out to the poor of northern Italy. Fr. Alfred said to himself, “Why don’t you do that?” After pondering the possibilities, Fr. Alfred asked St. Anthony “What should I do?” and the answer came back, “You do it and I’ll help.” And for 65 years now, St. Anthony has helped the friars and their successors serve over 41 million meals to poor and low-income San Franciscans.
Those who’ve read all the kind and great things said about Lon Simmons, the former broadcaster for the Giants, A’s, and 49ers will not be surprised to know that his compassion and goodness was expressed each month through a generous donation to support the work of St. Anthony’s.
Lon took care of all of us who couldn’t get to the game and listened over the airwaves. For decades and right up to the present, he made sure that the poorest among us also listened to the game after having shared a nutritious meal in our Dining Room.