Beyond Outrage: Rediscovering our Neighbors

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. The Franciscan spirit that has guided St. Anthony’s all these years would have us look at things differently....

Coordinating Passion and Power for All to Flourish

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. The mayor’s proposals for better coordination of services and renewed commitment took on special meaning when listened to while sitting among the two groups gathered: my colleagues in the nonprofit world, who are in the trenches of this work, and the city department heads responsible for implementing plans. In one room we had the passion and the power to make things happen—the very forces that need to be coordinated. This conjunction also invited a proper understanding of the relationship between government and community responsibility: city agencies have the responsibility of providing a safety net of services to address the problem of homeless but this never absolves the community from caring for those who fall through...

This Place is for Us

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?  In this past year one of the improvements that has signaled the on-going change of the Tenderloin has been the completion of St. Anthony’s new Dining Room at the corner of Golden Gate and Jones. In some ways it’s the epitome of those two views of this neighborhood. Built by an organization that’s celebrating its 65th anniversary and that was founded by Franciscans who helped establish this city, this new structure speaks of the constant, never changing commitment to those who are poor. At the same time, the new Dining Room reflects change — change that stands against any force that threatens the neighborhood’s future or disregards its residents’ right to remain. This new space and other exciting efforts in the neighborhood proclaim the Tenderloin as a vibrant and caring community in this city. There are many things to celebrate about our new Dining Room. Every day we discover new ways that our new space is enhancing our work: we’re able to provide better meals; we can make better use of the food donations that come in; and more volunteers can engage with our guests. But my most...

Happy Feast of St. Anthony

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. St. Anthony is known throughout the world as the patron saint of lost things. This devotion arose from a story about how the teacher Anthony thought he had misplaced a book of the Psalms in which he had written extensive notes for the classes that he taught. He prayed that...

Bay Area Broadcaster and St. Anthony’s Supporter Lon Simmons Passes at 91

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. Read more about the life of Lon in SFGate....