SAN FRANCISCO — On his walking tours of the Tenderloin, a historically seamy neighborhood named for a cut of beef, Del Seymour passes Boeddeker Park, now a verdant jewel of urbanity. Eleven years ago, it was a notorious hellhole where Mr. Seymour, then a crack addict, dealer and pimp, shooed away do-gooders from the local church because, as he put it, “I’m selling dope here and you’re disturbing my business.” All those years of sleeping in doorways and beneath freeways gave Mr. Seymour a profound understanding of San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents: Tenderloin denizens whose lives stand in stark relief to the young tech employees who get signing bonuses and dine in airy cafeterias with private roof gardens on the neighborhood’s periphery. The brigade of tech companies now along Market Street, including recipients of the 2011 so-called Twitter tax break, which expired last year, brought thousands of well-paid jobs to the mid-Market area and cemented the city’s reputation as the vertiginous epicenter of income inequality. The coronavirus pandemic has put Code Tenderloin on the front lines, with staff and volunteers organizing testing, distributing food, hand sanitizers, clothes, space blankets, wipes, tampons, soap and water in a part of town with some sidewalks reeking of human waste and littered with heroin needles. The vast majority of these have pursued higher education or have found work, the organization said, including newbie software engineers making six figures — marquee talking points for Mr. Seymour— $25,000-a-year security guard positions and $17.75-an-hour jobs cleaning streets and picking up syringes. Mr. Brooks hurtled through classes at Code Tenderloin, held at the campuses of Uber and LinkedIn, skipping ahead and helping out his classmates because he had read that the fastest way to learn was by teaching. Mr. Brooks eventually landed his fantasy gig:a six-month apprenticeship at Airbnb, to which he was scootering from his new apartment in the Tenderloin, where he grows bonsais in the kitchen window and makes homemade ginger beer and sourdough bread. Before the “stupid” choices he made, Mr. Seymour had worked as an electrician, a plumber, a fire department paramedic and a Lincoln Mercury salesman; he was also an owner of a construction company with a forte in foreclosures. If and when Mr. Seymour’s walking tours are revived, he will show outsiders “the Tenderloin’s most sacred spot”: the Gubbio Project at St. Boniface Church, where 150 or so homeless people are invited to sleep in the pews during the day, the sound of snoring filling the sanctuary.
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