Skip to main content

San Francisco is a city that you couldn’t dream up… or at least I couldn’t, coming from the conservative South. I don’t consider myself conservative in any fashion, but San Francisco makes my liberalism look weak. And I love it. This is a city that will challenge everything you believe. It will challenge every idea and construct that you’ve learned from society. It has challenged some of my strongest beliefs thus far. San Francisco is not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed.

Diversity of Community

Consider this: San Francisco has neighborhoods each dedicated to different communities. There’s the Castro, a vibrant neighborhood created for the Queer community. The people here are Queer and proud. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many people of this marginalized community support each other. I also saw some naked people riding bikes, which was pretty strange if I’m being honest.

There’s also the Haight, a neighborhood for people ready to tap into their third eye — the hippie community you could call it. Then there’s the Tenderloin, an old, run-down community where the homeless, drug dealers and users, and impoverished people are pushed.

The Tenderloin is where a few members of my group and I work. The streets smell strongly of marijuana or cigarettes. There are people sleeping on sidewalks. Today, I even saw a fight on the corner between two girls. This is the part of San Francisco that they tell you to avoid as a tourist. But, I am not a tourist (okay, I am, but only after 6pm and on the weekends). Remember I said San Francisco is not for the weak-willed? This is why. The issue of homelessness in San Francisco is massive. Before coming here, I saw homeless people holding signs on corners or in the soup kitchen to get a meal, I never saw the dingy shelters that they slept in or the cardboard boxes that became their beds on the sidewalk. I had never met youth my age that were homeless and alone.

The Challenge

These communities challenge you. The Castro challenges the idea of a “typical family” created by society as well as homophobia and transphobia. It encourages sexual diversity. The Haight challenges you to be yourself.  Look deep into your soul. Reject society’s norms (and capitalism if you’re into that). Realize your full potential. However, the Tenderloin challenges selfishness. It challenges your desire to chalk up homelessness to “someone else’s” problem instead of everybody’s problem.

I couldn’t find these challenges in Durham, on Duke’s campus, or in Little Rock, AR. I am grateful for the uncomfortable situations that these communities are placing me in, because no one has ever experienced growth through comfort.