The Tenderloin has long struggled with chronic homelessness, addiction and crime. But Rev. Paul Trudeau, the executive director of City Hope Community Center (45 Olive St.), has made it his personal mission to help turn things around.
"We are about the development of a healthy community," Trudeau said of his volunteer-run organization, which is aimed at helping residents recover from addiction and reducing recidivism in the criminal justice system. "We are about bringing a polarized city together and creating caring, loving relationships."
Trudeau grew up in Portland and New Orleans. He holds a degree in art from San Jose State and a graduate degree in biblical studies from Reform Theological Seminary. He's also a chaplain for the San Francisco County Jail, where he holds a weekly worship service for inmates, and a pastor at City Church — where the seeds were planted for City Hope.
"City Hope began through the increased service of members of City Church San Francisco over ten years ago," Trudeau explained. "It started with serving meals to men and women in different hospices and shelters. It really started to take off as we began worship services within SF County Jail. We now have five different worship services within county jail, and have developed one-on-one mentorship programs for men and women as they prepare to leave jail or rehabilitation centers."
Rev. Trudeau (center) and staff with Sheriff Vicki Hennessy following the county jail's religious services meeting this week.
One major problem for the Tenderloin, Trudeau says, is that many people return to the neighborhood right after getting out of jail. They don't have the support system and access to resources they need to rebuild their lives, often causing them to return to addiction and crime.
"You have to ask them what's causing them the most pain and suffering," he said. "People here might have any combination of five problems: severe addiction, mental illness, physical illness, returning citizens who are overcoming incarceration, or just poverty itself."
One way City Hope works with individuals is mentorship. "We give people an opportunity to go deeper with us," Trudeau explained. He shared the story of one City Hope client whose dream was to be on the radio — with the organization's help, he now has his own weekly show on Mutiny Radio.
"This is part of his sobriety," Trudeau said. "Now he has this commitment, and it's captivating his mind. We were able to point him to his dream. We didn't do anything except hold him accountable to his dream."
But to help people, Trudeau and his staff have to find ways to get them in the door. To that end, City Hope hosts a variety of social activities, including bingo, free meals and movie nights, in its spacious community room on Olive, a small side street wedged between O'Farrell and Ellis and Polk and Larkin streets.
Participating in the knitting group at City Hope. (Photo: City Church/Facebook)
"It's not the quantity of the food we serve but the quality of the conversation around the table," said Trudeau. "We get to know them, and they get a voice as soon as they walk in the door."
City Hope prides itself on never making attendees stand in line waiting for their food. "It's a sit-down dinner with a menu and multiple options," he said. "We are building trust. We showed the Super Bowl because we wanted to watch the Super Bowl. We fed a lot of people that day. We gave them a chance to shower and charge their phones in an environment where they feel like regular people."
For those struggling with addiction, "we host an AA meeting every Friday at 6pm," Trudeau added. "We’ve also hosted other nonprofits who are looking for space and need to find somewhere to meet. Last Tuesday, we hosted a meeting for County Jail Religious Services, which Sheriff Vicki Hennessy attended."
Trudeau told us he's in it for the long haul; City Hope recently signed a ten-year lease on the community center, which they remodeled and opened last summer.
"Having this place changes what we are able to do and what we offer," he said. "Our core values are about building healthy relationships. From that, we help people launch their dreams. It's gotta be their dream — its gotta be what they hunger for."
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