The Tenderloin is Getting Healthier 
and it Started With Boeddeker

By Precious Listana and TLHIP

When you walk in the Tenderloin, at first glance, you might not notice the hopeful faces of children

walking to Boeddeker Park or the families that live here. Instead, you might notice the dirt and the grit, needles in the gutter, or other signs of drug use and drug dealing, which undoubtedly, can all negatively influence your perception of a thriving neighborhood. The unfortunate truth is this snap-judgment overlooks the unique spirit of community that is the Tenderloin.

The Tenderloin, spread over 40 blocks, is home to nearly 35,000 residents comprised of low-income families, children, artists, seniors, newly-arrived immigrants, ex-convicts, drug-dealers, mentally ill and the homeless. All are accepted in this neighborhood. The richness in diversity of every resident molds a culture of “resilience in the struggle” to make ends meet. This is a community that reminds us that there is beauty in diversity and adversity. 

I know from growing up in the Tenderloin, that non-Tenderloin residents often have preconceived notions of who I am. My zip code and cross streets categorized me as poor and dependent in their minds. From the start, these negative associations lead residents, like myself, to believe that this is and must be our realities. Most of us see education as our means in achieving our dreams. But, because we live in a low-income community with limited opportunities, people believe that our dreams are close to impossible. That doubt has a ripple effect in the Tenderloin. Children that grow up here start to believe that their dreams are too big and too difficult to achieve. Therefore, these negative perceptions start to limit their potential. It makes people who are raised in impoverished neighborhoods to doubt and think less of themselves.

As a community, residents and organizations are working together to shift this paradigm, and calling it the Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership (TLHIP)

The Power of Collective Impact

Started by the Saint Francis Foundation and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in 2014, Tenderloin HIP brings together residents, government agencies, businesses and nonprofits under the overarching goal of improving residents’ health outcomes. This means following the collective impact model of co-designing an agenda, solutions, and aligning interventions that are already working.

“One of the things about collective impact is that it challenges people to step outside of their day-to-day work and specific organization,” says Jennifer Kiss, the director of Saint Francis Foundation and initial advocate for Tenderloin HIP. By taking that step back to analyze the bigger picture of the neighborhood’s health needs, they can then start to align their efforts toward a common goal.

It is that collective impact model that is bringing resources together.

Kate Robinson, Program Director of Safe Passage at Tenderloin Community Benefit District

Please read our Seeding Change report to learn more about our collective impact model.

This model has revolutionized how organizations collaborate in the Tenderloin. “For so long, the city has operated where organizations build their own legacies,” says Kate Robinson, the lead for the Safe Passage program for the past 8 years. Many organizations provide different services, but serve the same population. Instead of thinking of every organization as a separate entity, how can we start bringing them under one, unifying umbrella? “It is that collective impact model, the Tenderloin HIP model,” Kate responds, “that is bringing resources together.” The strong level of commitment and passion that every organization has in improving the Tenderloin is what makes this collective impact model successful, as seen with Boeddeker Park.

The renovation of Boeddeker Park by the Trust for Public Land and Recreation and Parks Department and with programmatic funding from Saint Francis Foundation, it has planted the seed in these organizations that this cross-collaboration is not just a possibility, but a necessity in improving residents’ health outcomes.

The Tenderloin hosts a large number of non-profit organizations, many of whom have been operating in the neighborhood for decades. TLHIP provides a framework for those organizations to align and collaborate in order to achieve neighborhood-wide impact.

Prioritizing Safety Together

In a community known for pervasive drug activity, it is critical to ensure that neighborhood safety is a collective priority so that residents can access opportunities free of fear. When children grow up in an environment with open-air drug dealing and drug use, they are constantly exposed to street drugs and may see them as quick life fixes. For example, if money is tight, dealing can be fast money. If they need an outlet for escape, drugs can be perceived as the remedy. “If you see the drug-dealers out in the corner, families having to avoid them, and hazardous waste on the sidewalk,” said former Tenderloin Boys & Girls Club’s Site Director Brent Nier, “then those are indications of an unsafe neighborhood.”

Other Crime Includes:

- disorderly conduct

- driving under the influence

- drunkenness

- fraud

- kidnapping 

- loitering 

- prostitution

- vandalism

- warrants

Learn more about the FBI's descriptions of property crimes here and violent crimes here.

Recognizing the negative influence of drugs and crime in the Tenderloin and the effect it has on health outcomes, community leaders came together to prioritize community issues. Addressing neighborhood safety is not just about preventing and reducing crimes, nor is it one person’s responsibility. Tenderloin HIP developed public-private partnerships between organizations like De Marillac Academy and the Golden Gate Safety Group, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Saint Anthony's, Glide, Curry Senior Center, San Francisco Police Department, Recreation and Parks Department, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development

Together, working with TLHIP, partners prioritized:

1) ensuring safe and healthy living environments,

2) increasing opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity, and

3) building community connections to support health and well-being.

With these three core priorities and a wide range of partners, TLHIP is on a mission to change outcomes in the Tenderloin, starting with the perception of safety. 

Investing in Public Spaces, Focusing on Parks

At its inception, Boeddeker Park was designed to serve as an oasis of opportunity for the Tenderloin residents. Originally named Central City Park in 1985, the Park served as an extended backyard to the 2,500 residents, mostly seniors and Southeast Asian families of that time. The Park was designed to survive the prevailing gang and drug activities with its 2.5 acre shared space, 6-foot fence with spiked tips, and iron benches. Mayor Dianne Feinstein envisioned such a park to drive negative activities, and to develop a shared sense of community safety. However, it did the opposite.

During its first year, the Mayor received complaints from park-goers that Boeddeker became a hub for drug-dealing. It developed into the place for dealers to meet, or even shoot up drugs. This reality made it difficult for residents to see the Park as a safe space. The evolving negative perception and activities in Boeddeker Park led to decades of “renovation” and “reclaiming”. It wasn’t until 29 years later, in 2014, that the Park fully opened to the public again.

Note: You can find out more about Boeddeker Park's history here.

Transforming Boeddeker Park

When identifying opportunities in the Tenderloin to activate, TLHIP found Boeddeker Park as the perfect bright spot that met all three community priorities. “It had the right balance of promise and challenge,” Jennifer reflected, “that we can put our collaborative efforts behind and help move it forward.” 

A range of city agencies and civic and philanthropic partners like the Trust for Public Land and invested close to $9 million for the Park’s renovations, which reopened in December 2014.

The $9 million capital investment went into designing and building a new clubhouse, a basketball court, and a community garden. However, there was no budget or a concrete plan for its everyday operations. Identifying the need for a plan for staffing and activation is just as essential as the renovation of the park, so TLHIP worked with San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SF Rec & Park) and community advocates to identify and provide funding to the master tenant. Together, they identified Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco as the master tenant of Boeddeker Park.

Boeddeker Park, before 2014 renovation

Boeddeker Park, after 2014 renovation

Creating a Healthy Environment

From the very opening, TLHIP has invested in the success of Boeddeker. The Boys & Girls Club have received a TLHIP grant for three years -- from the beginning -- to serve as a daily presence and support park operations. They work with YMCA and other community partners to provide activities and programs year-round. During the weekdays, Boeddeker Park is opened from 9 AM - 7 PM. The mornings start off with complimentary coffee with YMCA. Depending on the day, coffee is followed by yoga, support group meetings or lunch preparation with a YMCA staff. In the afternoon, more intense workouts are offered like core conditioning and boot camp. From 3 - 7 PM, the Park is filled with Boys and Girls Club members and YMCA members. Together, they end the day with afternoon snacks/dinner.

Boeddeker Park does not only provide holistic health & wellness programming for Tenderloin residents, but it also provides a meeting space for community leaders. Betty Traynor, the Coordinator of the Friends of Boeddeker Park, holds their weekly community meetings in the Park's clubhouse. Outside of the Tenderloin, the SF Rec & Park, the Trust for Public Land and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development have all used this space for meetings and forums. "Boeddeker Park is considered as the treasure of the Tenderloin," said Betty as she reflected on the long history of the Park's activation. 

While funding is necessary, it's not the only critical ingredient in activating Boeddeker Park. The other piece is community support. “When it comes to enacting change in the Tenderloin, what is most important is a community buy-in,” said Brent Nier. Involving the residents, organizations and key stakeholders in the redevelopment of the Park was a key part of its present success. Not only did the renovation create a state-of-the-art facility, but through persistence and commitment, TLHIP and partners also had to transform the residents’ negative perception of the Park into a more positive perspective by including the residents in the conversation.

Ensuring the Park's Safety

When reactivating Boeddeker Park, TLHIP along with other community leaders recognized the necessity for park security. All of this effort towards renovating and operating the park would be taking a step backwards if they couldn’t ensure the safety of all the park-goers. “When you’re inside the park, you’re going to be safe, and you’re going to be engaged,” said Jennifer Kiss.

With an additional safety grant by TLHIP, the Park was able to station a police officer to maintain safety. “My main concern for the most part is ensuring the safety that live in the community,” reflected Officer Ha, a police officer that has served the Tenderloin for the past 9 years, “and that goes to the families that have young children that are exposed with everything that goes on here.” The strong presence of police officers have not just made the Park crime-free, but it also opened doors for the residents to build community with the residents. Not only do these officers participate in community meetings, but they also play in basketball pickup games. This example of community policing has bridged the gap between the residents and law enforcement, and opened doors in developing strong relationships.

Looking ahead

Present-day Boedekker Park is far from an overnight success. The collective impact model of TLHIP has brought together various organizations under the unifying goal of improving residents’ health outcomes. Seeing the success of this model, TLHIP is working with community stakeholders to renovate and program Sergeant Macaulay Park and Turk & Hyde Mini Park by 2019.  These 3 parks are part of the Tenderloin Wellness Trail, a community initiative focused on safely connecting people to Tenderloin parks. Together, they believe that all 35,000 Tenderloin residents deserve safe, beautiful and active public spaces and plan to work with city agencies and other philanthropic partners to make improvements along the trail .

“The Tenderloin is like a beautiful, rich vibrant tapestry. It’s got so many diverse elements that together,” said Jennifer, “makes a beautiful patchwork quilt of people, extraordinary stories, relationships and overall contribute to the richness of the community.” This diversity is exactly what Boedekker Park is capturing and preserving every single day as it continues to bring residents, community leaders, and the youth together.

The Saint Francis Foundation developed a video to highlight the success at Boeddeker and show the opportunity for a deeper investment in two new parks that will serve the community in new and exciting ways through additional programming and support!

For more information contact:

Jennifer Kiss
Saint Francis Foundation

Will Douglas
Saint Francis Foundation


Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership (TLHIP) is a multi-sector collective impact partnership committed to improving health and well-being in the Tenderloin by aligning priorities, resources and activities to create pathways to health for residents.

Led by the Saint Francis Foundation and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, TLHIP provides a framework to better coordinate between institutions, co-create solutions and deliver a deeper impact. Since 2014, TLHIP has organized a strong, multi-sector partnership and funded innovative, community-based solutions to create a healthy, vibrant, and safe neighborhood and end the cycle of poor health.