Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Monday, February 04, 2008

Did Tony Bennett Leave His Heart Here?

Here is a little known area of San Francisco, or one that no one takes about. Many people think that the Bay Area has no urban issues due to the high cost of living and general reputation of our region. Once when family was visiting we took a tour of San Francisco. The tour guide proudly proclaimed that SF has no poverty, as he avoided the Tenderloin, Sunnydale, Bayview and the Mission.

Here is an article in the The Chronicle about the area around the Cow Palace, the Sunnydale district. Our COGIC district superintendant is planting a church in this area. Please pray for his ministry in this distressed area.
On a typical day in San Francisco's largest housing project, teens ditch school to take the bus to a funeral. A woman wanders into the liquor store to buy Cheetos for her young grandson and a 20-ounce beer for herself. Two 3-year-old boys ride their tricycles down a steep hill patched with trash and broken glass.

Such is life in Sunnydale, quite possibly the most dangerous, depressed and decrepit area of the city. The dilapidated barracks that make up the development are lined up on a hillside in the shadow of the Cow Palace, opposite McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley.

Though the housing is designed to be temporary, residents stay for decades. A combination of factors - geographic isolation, extreme poverty and a lack of access to social services - make it virtually impossible to leave Sunnydale. There are no stepping-stones to something better, no road map for how to get out.

"We don't have role models. We don't go to Harvard. We barely have police. We have to take care of ourselves," said 55-year-old Keith "Kilo" Perry, who runs a barbershop in the development. "This is like a concentration camp. There is no way out unless you die."

Though the primary mission of the federally run San Francisco Housing Authority is to provide safe, sanitary, affordable and decent housing for very low-income families, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, officials admit the housing is unacceptable.

"It is a privilege to live in San Francisco, and this is what happens to you if you can't afford it," says Sharen Hewitt, a community activist and head of the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response, a support team for victims of violence. "This city claims to be so compassionate and progressive, but Sunnydale proves a contradiction. We need services out here.

"Sunnydale is San Francisco's Lower Ninth Ward," she also said, referring to the impoverished neighborhood in New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Hewitt said the few who do make it out of Sunnydale often go to another housing project. The Bayview, also infamous for violence and poor public housing, is considered a step up.

"People here have been downtrodden for so long that they are just kind of immune," Hewitt said. "They are happy to get out but then they go get trapped somewhere else."

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