Just ten blocks east from USF lies Ella Hill Hutchins Community Center, a recreation area for the Western Addition neighborhood where basketball games, town hall gatherings, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings often occur. This past weekend, USF graduate students and staff members descended on the rec center for a day-long health and wellness fair for the residents of the area. Activities included acupuncture and massage sessions, rapid HIV testing, a Zumba class, and cooking demos, among others, which were all part of the first ever public health pop-up that focuses on Western Addition families.
The event was conceived by USF’s Engage San Francisco program, in collaboration with San Francisco’s Department of Public Health (among others), in order to respond to the neighborhood’s need to have health and wellness services that are affordable, accessible, and consistent.
“Through Engage San Francisco, USF worked in partnership with the Western Addition community to address fundamental and systemic issues of inequity such as health care access,” said Karin Cotterman, director of Engage San Francisco.
The Engage San Francisco program is exclusively hosted by USF under the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and Common Good. USF’s website said the program looks to “achieve community-identified outcomes supporting children, youth and families in the Western Addition through student learning, research and teaching consistent with University of San Francisco’s mission and vision 2028,” according to the initiative’s mission statement.
“Perhaps the most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood in San Francisco, the Western Addition feels more like several neighborhoods,” says SF Gate, adding that “you can experience several distinct vibes in the space of a few blocks.”
Hayes-Valley, NoPa, and Japantown are some of the smaller districts that have sprung out from the Western Addition that offer a contrasting feel to the neighborhood. Hayes-Valley is supported by high-end clothing stores such as Acrimony and AETHER Apparel. Japantown offers a variety of unique eating experiences such as cooking your own meat at Yakini Q Korean BBQ or shabu shabu hot spot Shabu-Sen. NoPa, short for North of the Panhandle, is home to residents of Divisadero St. who like their ice-cream from Bi-Rite, their concerts at The Independent, and their breakfasts at Eddie’s Café. The area around Jefferson Square Park and the Fillmore district, on the other hand, has seen very little commercial, growth in recent years due to what many consider a city planning mistake made decades ago.
That’s why the term Western Addition is can be used in two ways: to denote the district’s total geographic area, or to indicate the eastern portion of the neighborhood, also referred to as the Fillmore District, that was redeveloped in the 1950s.
In June 1943 the extreme overcrowding of the Western Addition led a city commission to investigate conditions of the homes in and around the area. Since the neighborhood was a designated area for poor Japanese migrants and the influx of African-Americans after World War II, the Western Addition soon became San Francisco’s “slum area,” according to writer Gary Kamiya.
Kamiya is the author of “Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco,” in which each of its 49 chapters explores a specific site or intersection in the city. Chapter 41 of the book, The Haunted House, focuses on the history of the Western Addition.
Kamiya believes an effort to declare the Western Addition a blighted area and designate it for redevelopment was simply a cover-up for the eviction of people of color, citing Jordan Klein whose study of the Western Addition debacle correctly argued that “in the Western Addition ‘urban renewal’ was ‘Negro Removal’ by design.”
In 1948, with help from the federal government who would pay two-thirds of the costs of “renewing blighted areas,” San Francisco Board of Supervisors designated the Western Addition for redevelopment. What followed were unforeseen consequences to the neighborhood that left the residents rebuilding the community to this day.
“By the time the bulldozers fell silent, 883 businesses had been closed, 20,000 to 30,000 residents displaced, and 2,500 Victorian houses demolished. Most of the displaced people left the neighborhood for good,” said Kamiya.
“Our initiative is Western Addition focused, and I think a lot of [what we do] has to do with the history of the community, what it has gone through, a lot of oppression when you think of the history of this city,” said Nolizwe Nondabula who serves as youth health alliance program coordinator for Engage San Francisco.
Some of the youth Nondabula recruited for the informational tablings included urban gardeners from the nearby Koshland Community Park Garden, who grew chard, kale, thyme, and oregano for the fair.
Last year, during the NFL’s month long encampment of the city in support of the Super Bowl L, the league announced that it would be awarding grants, from a $2 million fund, to help improve surrounding communities of the Super Bowl host city. Nondabula was part of a team that won a $200,000 grant from the NFL to “deliver more coordinated care to kids and teenagers in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood who suffer from conditions such as depression and PTSD,” reads the proposal.
Nondabula said that it was important to recognize “that there is a lot of magic and a lot of potential [in the Western Addition] so part of the initiative’s goal is to create spaces like this,” highlighting on one of Engage San Francisco’s main goals for the community.
USF graduate students from the Clinical Psychology program were on hand to offer a free consultation service that focused on toddlers and infants of three years of age or younger. “We help with emotional things that come up in those first three years of life,” said Lindsay Rodgers who was tabling for The Parentline service. The Parentline is a free phone counseling service, with members who can help guide expectant parents on such specializations such as: sleeping and feeding concerns, fussiness and tantrums, parenting stress, and relationship conflict among others.
Lekesha Howard works for one of the community groups that helped organize the wellness fair, Western Addition Wellness Coalition, and said she’s been advocating for better health services for mothers and children in the neighborhood for 17 years now. “We always try to take advantage of the resources that are out there, the more help that you can provide for a family is all the better, but you never know when [those services] might stop,” said Howard.
If interested in volunteering for the coalition, please contact Lekesha Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jerry Trotter email@example.com
Photos: Brian Healy/ Foghorn