Tenderloin safety?
May 3, 2008 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Safety in the Tenderloin? (San Francisco)

My older foster kid is getting transitional housing through a brand new Salvation Army project. Yay him, yay me! The move-in date is estimated to be July 15, 2008.

The site is in the Tenderloin, on Turk Street between Jones and Leavenworth. What should he expect living on that block? What about walking from the Powell Street Muni to the site? Should he walk up Eddy and then cross down to Turk?

He's a street saavy kid who can handle himself in urban situations. He understands that he'll be living in a neighborhood that has a lot of drug use and related situations. But he's also a very small kid. Should we get him licensed for mace, or is that a bad idea? What about pepper spray? Other tips?

(This *is* where he will be moving, so "Don't move there!" is not helpful.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If he's on Turk between Jones & Leavenworth, I'd actually get off at Civic Center BART, because it's only a couple of blocks up Hyde to Turk. I haven't done a lot of late-night walking around there, but Hyde is reasonably busy with foot traffic from office workers and students at Hastings and the library and so forth, so it's always seemed less dismal and bleak to me compared to some of the blocks a little deeper into the TL.

The SFPD has CrimeMaps - it needs Windows and IE (grrrr!!!), but it can give you a sort of overall view of what kinds of crimes are reported.

I've done my share of drinking in the TL (at bars! not out of a paper bag on the street!), and I've never felt particularly menaced, from either residents or cops. But I'm also not a young, mixed-race kid, so HMwilldefinitelyV.

And check your mefimail.
posted by rtha at 9:58 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is he really street smart? Does he keep his nose out of other people's business, yet stay alert and aware? Since he's moving to the Tenderlon, can I assume he won't be wearing expensive looking clothes or looking like a tourist?

If so, he should be fine. Most of the "dangerous" or "unsavory" Tenderloin residents are usually simply poor addicts, or simply just poor.

However, has he ever been in any fights? Has he ever taken a self defense class? Does he like to skateboard, or otherwise engage in physical, possibly risky activity that can increase his physical self confidence?

Just knowing that oneself can take a tussle and survive can do a lot for the way one carries themself through a "risky" area, and whether or not they signal to a would-be mugger "victim" or "easy mark", rather than "scrapper" or "not so easy of a mark".

For self defense I personally carry what is known as a "traveller's wrench" or "impact kerambit". Read the article in that link, that describes why these things are good self defense, if not even better than Mace or pepper spray, and certainly much much better than something stupid and dangerous like a knife or a baton. Knives can not only be used against you, and not only do they require lots of training to actually be reliably useful, but using one even in self defense can also get you in a whole lot of trouble.

The impact kerambits are very inexpensive. You can get them for about 2 or 3 dollars - but don't spend more than $10 on one. Usually you can get them cheaper.

I have it on my person pretty much all the time. If I'm wearing my big jacket - and I usually am, because this is chilly SF - the impact kerambit goes in my right front pocket, as I'm right handed. If I'm in a dodgy place or walking through a dodgy neighborhood it's highly comforting to be able to keep my hand on it in my pocket and still walk around without looking obvious. If I don't have my jacket on, it goes in my front right pants pocket, right back pants pocket or gets tucked into my belt.

In either case, I always make sure that it is the only thing in that pocket. I don't attach my keys to it. You want to be able to find it and pull it out easily if threatened.

The impact kerambit is very well designed for "panicked defense". As most of us know, people don't box like they do in the movies, nor do they box or spar like they do in self-defense schools or classes. People tend to panic and forget all that stuff. If striking is involved, it generally more resembles slapping, swing-strikes or other flailing arm movements. The kerambit works with all of that in mind.

Besides panic striking, it's also good for striking or poking pressure points - or almost any point at all. The plastic is EXTREMELY dense plastic. I've sparred with friends with it, and the damn thing just hurts when you're poked with it, even lightly.

I've also done a lot of "security" or "bouncer" type duty for bars/parties, and it has totally replaced my big Mag-Light as the scary "hey, asshole, pay attention" tool of choice. I almost had to use it at a recent party when this dork was being, in the local vernacular, hella stupid and becoming a violent drunk. He was ignoring our requests to leave, and I could see that he was about to take a swing at one of my friends. As soon as the kerambit came out and I assumed a fighting stance and locked eyes with him and told him clearly that the talking was over, he simmered right down and left.

It is also designed so that it can't be taken away from you very easily. Note how it is held in the photos - first finger through the big hole, the remaining three fingers around the handle.

And even if it does somehow get taken away, it's not going to be lethal to you or anyone. It's legal to travel with - even flying. It doesn't trigger metal detectors at all - it's all plastic.

I haven't actually had to use it yet, but it did help scare off a would-be mugger who tried to corner me a few months ago near 6th street in SOMA. Scaring off the mugger probably had more to do with the fact I confronted him and was obviously ready to defend myself, but having the kerambit in one fist helped my confidence to do so and probably helped scare off the mugger. (Mine is bright red, as opposed to black as in the picture. They come in different colors. I like the red one because it is much more visible.)

The friend who turned me on to these is pretty severely handicapped as well as small in stature, and he lives in a rough segment of SOMA and he's used it to fend off crackheads and muggers himself.

I don't have any spares, otherwise I'd just give you one to give him. (That's how inexpensive they are.)

If he does want one of these and he or you would like me to show him how to use it, including how to locate and apply it pressure points, or general sparring/grappling techniques, I'd be happy to. Just send me a message. You know where I live, we have room for it here. Good luck!

Again, I highly recommend the impact kerambit. It's not your average self-defense widget - in that it actually works, it's hard to take away from you, and even if someone does take it away from you, it's not likely to be a life-threatening crisis. It's good for girls and boys of all ages.
posted by loquacious at 10:59 AM on May 3, 2008 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Loquacious, what a great idea!! I'd never heard of that tool, sounds perfect. I will get one and relay your offer of a demonstration/practice session. And yes, though he's very small, he's scrappy and has been in his share of fights, so I don't think he'll be perceived as an easy mark. He knows who and what to avoid -- he's lived in lots of different neighborhoods all over the Bay Area. But he's also a little PTSD from various life experiences, so I think having the tool will help him be more at ease.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2008

I think he'll be fine as long as he keeps his wits about him. I've lived in many neighborhoods in my thirty years in the city, including a stint at Eddy and Hyde, and frankly I've seen more vandalism and street violence here in the Inner Mission than I ever did in the Tenderloin. It's true there are many down and out folks around there, but their issues are mainly with themselves and between each other.

I'll second the recommendation for the Civic Center station, but I don't see any problem just cutting through United Nations Plaza and heading straight up Leavenworth to Turk (unless he'd feel safer on Hyde).

Good luck and congratulations to both of you!
posted by trip and a half at 12:09 PM on May 3, 2008

Just an anecdotal note. When I was 21, I lived about two blocks from the Civic Center BART Station in the other direction. (I lived at Natoma (between Mission & Howard), between 6th & 7th, and that was back before they started to clean up 6th St. some.) I saw a lot of hard-up people, but nobody ever bothered me. I'm a white female, so his experience might be different; nobody tried to pick a fight with me like they might with a guy, for one thing.

From friends who work around there, I hear that the 7th & Market corner is still pretty rough, but they seem to find it more sad and disgusting (eg, poop on the sidewalk) than outright threatening.
posted by salvia at 12:35 PM on May 3, 2008

Hmm, thinking more about that BART station, he might also test out getting out at Powell and walking up Turk.
posted by salvia at 12:36 PM on May 3, 2008

Best answer: Congrats Claudiacenter to you and your son! I'm so glad for you that this is working out.

There's a couple of thoughts I have - one is that this is an issue for the entire community at the site, so I'd certainly encourage your son to raise the safety issue in community meetings and other fora at the site, so that everyone can work together to come up with safety plans - this will also help with building networks of community support for your son.

I've had occasion to go through that area a lot, and my sense is that most dangers can be prevented by keeping your attention focused ahead of you, where you're going, rather than on what's going on around you.

This is hard sometimes, as there's quite a show on the sidewalks. I think about it from a gravitational perspective - once your attention gets hooked by some of the spectacle (dealers/hookers/ beggars/ homeless people) calling out "Hey YOU!" you're in these people's orbit, and it can be challenging to get out of it. My experience is that most of the street people are focused on their little piece of turf there on the sidewalk, and will rarely leave it to pursue someone. But they *will* do their darndest to rope passers-by into that little piece of turf with all kinds of ploys, including asking innocent-sounding questions like for directions or for the time or for a dime or whatever.

Your son needs to find a way to be invisible and/or callous and just keep moving toward his destination. This can be helped by certain types of martial arts classes - NOT ones that focus on becoming a bad MoFo, but ones that focus on building confidence and having clear intentions, not radiating fear, and all that. Aikido comes to mind, and the City Aikido dojo at 9th and Mission is one of the best, IMO. Being invisible, of course, requires not calling attention to oneself with lavish possessions (i.e., no ipods for a time).

After a time, the people on the street will become accustomed to your son and will stop calling out to him.
posted by jasper411 at 12:45 PM on May 3, 2008

Best answer: I used to work at Golden Gate and Leavenworth. I would agree with using the Civic Center BART and walking up Leavenworth. I was usually there during the day, but never felt particularly unsafe. Sad and angry about how we as a society abandon people, and worried for the health and safety of my neighbors, but not unsafe. Working there definitely took a psychic toll, seeing so much suffering on the sidewalks, but that wasn't your question. Also, your son may have better defenses against that than I do.

My sense is that the dangers in that neighborhood come from a couple of places. One is people who are not in their right minds, for whatever combination of reasons. They are responding to internal stimuli, so are not predictable or rational, and it's hard to know what they are responding to. Confrontations can usually be defused, especially by leaving the situation. The other, and I'll get an update for you on this, is gang activity. At least when I was working there last year, there was increased gang activity, with some struggle for control, that led to a number of shootings. I will ask my former colleagues for info on where that stands now. (Of course, that also brings some increased police activity, which is never a neutral force when a young man of color is involved, alas, but your son may have some experience in defusing cop attention already.)

The rest of the violence in the area tends to be self-directed, or directed at companions and, um, business partners. Stay out of the various relationships and deals and it won't affect you much. The rhythms of the TL are predictable, and he'll get used to them, if he isn't already. "Check Day" when folks can cash their benefit checks, is usually a day of increased purchases and activity, for example. The converse is the end of the month, when more folks may be out on the street if they've run out of housing money.

The good side of the TL is that because many people live their lives out on the streets there are almost always people around, and one quickly starts to recognize the "regulars" and they know you. I knew a lot of area residents because of where I worked, and I appreciated that. Becoming known as a TL regular without getting involved in other people's drama is the trick of course.

Congratulations on finding a place! That's really great news. The other residents of the housing facility, and the staff there, may also be helpful with neighborhood info once he gets settled in. And if he likes Indian food, there are some excellent places near there!
posted by gingerbeer at 4:31 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to go down there to eat at Original Joe's at Turk and Taylor. I would amuse myself reading sfgate.com's accounts of shootings by figuring how many yards were between the shooter and Joe's and how likely it was that a stray bullet might have killed me while I was sitting at the counter eating my ravioli.

One of the perks of eating at Joe's was that the street-side wheels of my BMW were almost always washed clean of brake-dust by a stream of homeless person urine by the time I got back to my car. I drew the line, though, when I got my windshield washed that way; I never went back. Since Joe's burned down last year I have not had any reason to visit that neighborhood.

My advice to your foster kid would be: dress inconspicuously, don't make eye contact, walk quickly, don't stop to talk to people in that neighborhood, and know when to run away. He should not buy drugs there and he should not avail himself of the services of whores there. Pepper spray and mace seem like a bad idea, more likely to enrage an assailant than disable them and more likely to encourage your kid to fail to avoid a conflict.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:57 PM on May 3, 2008

I lived at Turk and Leavenworth for a year-and-a-half and I agree with what Jasper says. Walk tall and walk fast, and don't make eye contact with anyone. People would get in my face and catcall or offer me drugs and I would just ignore them. Civic Center is definitely the best BART station to use - the block of Turk between Jones and Market was way scarier than walking up Leavenworth to Turk.
posted by bendy at 8:47 PM on May 4, 2008

Best answer: Did you see this column in the Chron today?
posted by gingerbeer at 8:19 AM on May 6, 2008

Response by poster: I did not, gingerbeer. "An island in a sea of shark-infested waters." Heh.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:37 PM on May 6, 2008

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