Tenderloin program gives homeless hope


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"TNDC gave me a new outlook on life," said Johnny Martin.

"It's changed my life in a lot of ways because I realize there are people out there that can help," said Mary Cassidy.

"It's given me stability and a safe clean place to be at," said Jaz Groome.

Johnny, Mary and Jaz are just some of the thousands of people who live and thrive in one of San Francisco's most challenging neighborhoods, the Tenderloin. Most outsiders associate it with a lot of crime, prostitution and drugs.

But, the T.L. as it is called, also has life-altering programs that provide a solution to homelessness and opportunities for the future. One of those is the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, TNDC for short.

"TNDC owns almost 2,000 units of affordable housing. 2,500 residents, most of them earning $1,000 or less a month, most on public asistance. We have 20 social workers and they work with our tenants," explained TNDC's executive director Don Falk.

People familiar with the T.L. know that Johnny Martin, also known as "Cowboy," is a great ambassador for TNDC's services. He got help and a place to live after a string of bad luck.

"He was earning six figures a year and he got cancer. And, it's not long after that, he's homeless," Falk explained.

Cowboy often uses some of his assistance money to buy coupons and sends the hungry to Mimi's on Jones Street, his favorite restaurant in the T.L. He says it is just his way of giving back.

When asked how she would rate her life with TNDC compared to her old life, Jaz Groome replied, "I'd say plus ten. On a scale of one to ten we gotta go with plus ten."

Groome started using drugs and alcohol when she was 11.

"I had a lot of anger growing and I became a fighter," she said.

She served time at Chowchilla Prison. Now, thanks to TNDC, she is on the other side of the law, preparing to be a minister and a lawyer. She is in a highly-structured program at Heald College in San Francisco studying to be a paralegal.

"It allows them to be very focused on their needs. They can get in. They can get out. And, they can get ahead," said Heald College president Daniel Waterman.

TNDC is changing the face of the Tenderloin with beautiful and secure low-rent buildings like the Curran House for families. That is where Mary Cassidy lives with her four children and her boyfriend. She is a recovering addict who started using drugs at the age of 11.

"Marijuana, alcohol and then I started using cocaine, and crystal, and crack," she said.

She went through rehab and still struggles, but her children are doing really well because of TNDC and the free afterschool program. Her 15-year-old daughter Aileen has already gone on a college tour provided by the program.

"If one sibling goes to college, the chances of the other siblings going is significantly increased," said Laura Choe who manages the Tenderloin afterschool program.

"Thank you very much for the services you have provided and that I know you will provide for me and my children," said Cassidy.

Those services provide hope for a bright future.

The Tenderloin After school program is in need of many items including:

  • New large and sturdy backpacks
  • A digital camera to document activities and special events
  • A video camera to document activities and special events
  • AMC theater movie passes for program participants
  • Plain white t-shirts in kids and adult sizes, for art projects
  • New art supplies including markers, colored pencils, drawing notebooks, paint, etc.
  • New school supplies including binders, notebooks, scientific calculators, lined paper, etc.
  • Safeway gift cards for daily snacks and special events.

    To make a monetary donation visit the TNDC website and click "Donate now."

    ABC 7 News' Cheryl Jennings will emcee a big fundraiser for the TNDC on May 12, 2009 at the San Francisco Hilton hotel from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Click here for ticket information and to find out other ways to help.

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