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A Brief But Spectacular take on restoring dignity
Geoff Bennett: Del Seymour works to secure long-term employment for underserved communities in San Francisco. He's lived there for more than 30 years and is also co-chair of San Francisco's Local Homeless Coordinating Board.
Here, he shares his Brief But Spectacular take on restoring people's dignity.
Del Seymour, Founder, Code Tenderloin: You know, the number one thing in getting clean is the desire to be clean.
Now, you can -- you can make the mechanics of being clean. Any of those people could stop using drugs at any moment. But do they want to stop using drugs? Those are two completely different things.
I arrived in the Tenderloin 35 years ago. I never even knew what that name meant, probably never even heard that name. But I just wanted to come visit San Francisco.
And when I got out of my car, it looked like a movie set. I said, this can't be real. This has got to be propped-up houses, storefronts, and all the people walking around in all these delirious situations with needles in their arms and halfway naked or fully naked got to be extras in a movie.
You will see people walking around in all kinds of states of delusion, addiction, mental illness.
Life took a left turn on me. I didn't take a left turn on life. There's 9,000 unhoused people in San Francisco that a lot of them had life take a left turn on them. What I mean by that is, lose your job, get kicked out your house as a youth, come out of the closet as LGBT, just get out of the service and haven't got your benefits established, having cancer, having any kind of medical disease.
Walter Hughes, 14 years ago, he met me in a park in the Tenderloin where he invited me to church, they embraced a crackhead in the middle of the church. And we prayed together, we cried together. He wasn't pushing me. He just started showing me the way to a better life.
The reason I developed and founded the Code Tenderloin tours was to give people a different version of what they see. So, I'm able to walk you through and tell you why this guy is laying in the middle of street, why this woman is blocking the sidewalk. Why is this guy stashing all of his stuff in a shopping cart?
The biggest myth or assumption of a neighborhood like the Tenderloin is that everyone wants to be out here in the street. And that's not the case. That's for someone that don't understand addiction. Addiction is a disease. Who in the hell wants to have cancer? Who in the hell wants to be an addict?
I wish I could answer the question of how to solve homelessness and what we're doing wrong. You got to go to cities that do it right to get those answers. They don't go out and tell the homeless, you need to do this and this and this. They go out and tell the homeless, what do you need to get off the streets? What do you need to make your life better? And let's try to do that.
Once a person finds their dignity, you better get out of the way.
My name is Del Seymour, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on restoring dignity.
Geoff Bennett: And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.