BY NATALIE NELSON
San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods. There are over 100 neighborhoods and each one has a distinct personality. When you first enter the Tenderloin you can become overwhelmed by the needs of the people all around you. If you only walk through the neighborhood and don’t see beyond the needs of poverty, homelessness, lack of family, or medical/spiritual/emotional care, you will miss out on the treasures in each person here.
I joined Restorations Initiatives at YWAM San Francisco 2 years ago. It took me time to learn to see beyond the obvious needs of each individual that came through our door. They would come through to find respite from the street, find a listening ear, get a cup of coffee, play pool, get prayer and just relax in a clean and safe environment. I learned that to see beneath the obvious needs is to see a beautiful human being with a story to tell and a heart to give, even in their poverty. Here are some of their stories.
A very kind elderly man named Dan, would come and visit me in the Ellis Room. His life and heart changed my whole perspective. He would bring me snacks or candy faithfully every week, and at first, I continually rejected his gifts thinking he needs to save his money because he is homeless or he needs his money more than me needing the snacks. I totally misunderstood his desire to be kind and generous and by rejecting his gifts I was robbing him of his heart's desire to express gratitude by giving back and blessing me.
Not so long ago Pete bought a colleague and me hot chocolate from Starbucks – he felt he wanted to do that for us because we hand out hot chocolate or coffee to everyone else. Then, Sarah knocked on our door and gave us a hammer she found – she thought we would need it as we were going to start renovations for our bathrooms. I have so many stories similar to this of our friends and neighbors who are in great need but still want to give and express kindness.
I have learned and experienced that true relationship is always two ways. The Ellis room and Tenderloin is a place of hospitality, generosity and where acts of kindness are on display. We, as the Ellis room staff, look out for and care for the people that come through our doors, but we are also experiencing how neighbors and friends look out for us. They remind and teach us daily that sincere generosity and kindness do not just flow from a place of abundance only.