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Next Steps for the Occupy Movement: The Tenderloin Today Project

An Occupy-inspired San Francisco entrepreneur brings hot food and hot prospects to the Tenderloin.

Occupy San Francisco, October 7, 2011. (Photo: Glenn Halog)

Picking up from Occupy San Francisco, the Tenderloin Today Project aspires to revive a neighborhood with food, services, jobs and housing developed with, and through, community-based organizations.

By creating space for like-minded individuals to come together to identify their collective power, the Occupy movement shifted the parameters of activism and opened new ways of creating mutual aid. The physical camps of the Occupy movement were the birthplaces for this new thinking. Now, after its first birthday, we’re starting to see Occupy as its own entity and how it is going to interact with the world.

As a successful entrepreneur, I had the privilege and opportunity to jump in with both feet when the movement came to San Francisco. While many in the wealthy elite of this city saw the movement as a threat and something to be feared, I saw in it the seeds of the revolution we must create in order to ensure the survival of our planet and our species.

The next stage of the movement is about realigning our interests and our actions to build a culture that takes responsibility at an individual level for the wellbeing of everyone in our communities. With this in mind, I’ve been working to create a model for rebuilding communities from the street level, starting in San Francisco’s deeply troubled Tenderloin district.

After the peak activity of Occupy San Francisco began to subside, community members saw a need to create substantial impact at the ground level. The Tenderloin Today Project was launched to address some of the major challenges faced by the people in the Tenderloin. The project is currently functioning as a multi-level campaign to feed the less fortunate, improve their living conditions and help them create jobs that they themselves will own.

To accomplish these goals, the Tenderloin Today Project provides healthy, organic, locally grown, hot, prepared food to nonprofit organizations, homeless shelters and residential hotels in the Tenderloin area. This part of the project was implemented over the past four months, providing food to the YMCA, Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club, Coalition on Homelessness, Hospitality House homeless shelter and several other organizations. Food also has been delivered to the Tenderloin single-room occupancy hotels, residential communities which are often in need of support. The bulk of the prepared food comes from the kitchen of a large software company in the Bay Area and the quality is beyond exceptional.

The Tenderloin Today Project is currently working to create an employee-owned company, where employees will earn somewhere around $25 per hour. This company will be owned and operated by the Tenderloin resident-employees and will provide the additional benefit of teaching workers how to run a company. We are currently in the process of finding the right person to head this effort in the Tenderloin and I will coach and interface with this person, as I don’t live in the Tenderloin.

A key aspect of the Tenderloin Today project has been to bring together the community organizations that are already working in the Tenderloin. One very common issue at nonprofit organizations is a lack of resources. The Tenderloin Today Project has provided consultation services to a Tenderloin nonprofit, an organization dedicated to providing housing to seniors, the disabled and others less fortunate. A savings of $138,000 was identified in the short term and their total yearly bill of $138,000 was reduced to $25,000 on their core utility bill. This savings has given them an additional $1.18 million over the next ten years that can be put to use in furtherance of their mission.

This is just one example out of many of the ways that the Tenderloin Today Project has improved the effectiveness and collaboration of existing organizations. Leveraging the resources of groups that have aligned missions is a critical component of the project.

Building grass roots support for the Tenderloin Today Project with local, community, government and faith-based Tenderloin organizations can develop a process that can be replicated throughout San Francisco, helping the neighborhoods get the resources otherwise unavailable. The food provided by the Tenderloin Today Project helps keep people healthy and reduces their dependence on some of San Francisco’s medical services. Jobs, developing funds, counseling, teach-ins, seminars and resource development can make the Tenderloin a better place to live for its inhabitants. The Tenderloin Today Project is also in the initial stages of collaborating with organizations in the Mission District to replicate similar benefits, specific to the needs of the Mission. As was done in the Tenderloin, a needs assessment produced by speaking with the local residents and people of influence in the neighborhood will help identify how we can effect change in the Mission District. This will be a repeatable process used across the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

As successful as this project has been, it needs to be about more than one neighborhood or one city. There are principles at the core of this idea which are powerful – so powerful they might just be the principles we need to live by as a nation, and for humanity as a whole.

The Occupy movement woke so many of us from our delusional dreams. It made clear that governments and the wealthy are not going to save us, and in fact are trying their best to deprive us of our basic rights. If we are going to avoid catastrophe and begin regenerating our culture, it’s going to start at the neighborhood level. And it’s going to take all of us to continue to inspire enthusiasm, love, and compassion in one another.

I’ve witnessed the potential of this kind of effort to reawaken even the most downtrodden in the Tenderloin. Sitting at a table and eating hot, gourmet food with homeless and jobless people, watching their facial expressions and body language change with each bite, has restored and inspired my hope. We all need this kind of experience, because compassion and service are the real currency. Love is the truest wealth. Let’s work together to build a movement for involvement, rejuvenation and sincere action together.

If you are inspired to work in the San Francisco area on this project, please do not hesitate to email; my address is in my bio. Please also email if this article inspires you and you want to start your own project in your town, city or state.

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