This is an open letter addressed and sent to Randy Shaw over one year ago on January 4, 2011. It was written by one of his own front desk staff and details very well how Shaw’s own policies are affecting the Tenderloin, mid Market and Mission neighborhoods. This letter specifically talks about the Seneca Hotel, which is at 34 6th Street, and is literally next door to the new Dotties True Blue Cafe at 28 6th Street
Randy Shaw has never publicly acknowledged any such issues within his own Tenderloin Housing Clinic, and in the year since receiving the letter, has instead written articles on his own THC funded Beyondchron publicly blaming everything from redevelopment to labor unions for the crime and drugs in the area. This letter was completely ignored by Randy Shaw. There was no acknowledgment, no reply, nothing from anyone at Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the largest city funded housing non profit in San Francisco
Since this letter was sent, there has been no change in any of the policies within Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the situation has gotten steadily worse as it affects the surrounding communities. Nearly every one of Crackheads of the Day originates from in front of this same building described in the letter, with some being THC’s own residents
Antoinetta W. Stadlman
OmbudsLady The Baldwin House# 234 74 Sixth street
San Francisco, Calif., 94103 Phone 1415-552-4803 Fax 1415-552-2629 email firstname.lastname@example.org
January 4, 2011
To: Randy Shaw
Safety Issues at the Seneca
Inner Security gate:
Years ago there was an inner iron gate located right near the Front Desk through which people had to be buzzed through. This is a necessity to maintain building security, but unfortunately it was removed sometime after THC took over operation of the Seneca. I recall pointing out the security risks to Drennen (remember her?) of not having the inner gate, and her response was along the lines of “But we don’t want that, it makes the place look like a jail.” And just this last month I was discussing this matter with Dave, the Seneca’s current manager, and he said re-installing the Inner gate wouldn’t happen, “because THC thinks it looks like a jail.” This rationale is so utterly lame that it would be laughable if it were not allowed to trump the basic safety realities we face. Whether an Inner gate makes the place look like a jail is true or not is irrelevant, the reality is that the inner gate is essential for Hotel security. Unfortunately, it is this sort of feelings-based “fuzzy thinking” that seems to prevail and leads to the perpetuation of this and all the other problems discussed in this letter. At any rate, regardless of how people feel about it, its lack is a huge hole in our security, and it needs to be replaced. And I hear that Housing wants to get rid of the security gate at the Mission Hotel even though this was installed at the command of Karen Carrera, the City Attorney who was dealing with the swamp that the Mission was in the months preceeding THC’s takeover of the place back in ’97. Completely wrong direction to go.
II. Distraction issues
As should be well know to anyone involved with SRO hotel management, the general scene of drugs and overall misbehavior which is part of Sixth Street, will easily come in off the street and into the Hotel unless strong vigilance is raised to keep it out. For this reason, the primary purpose of the Front Desk is to keep those involved in this activity OUT of the Hotel. To be aware of who is coming and going, the Front Desk needs to generally be in an undistracted state, and this is quite impossible at the Seneca. In addition, to our regular sign in visitors in and out, we also have to deal with a morass of trivia, represented in part by the following list of forms that we have to deal with.
Television Sign up Sheet
Service Providors Tracking Sheet
Seneca Hotel Package log
Kitchen Station Sign up sheet
Hotel Contractor/Inspector log
Fire Watch Sheet
Spare Key Sign-Out Sheet
In addition, there are four classifications of visitors.
Regular Daytime Visitors
Extended Overnight Visitors
Consecutive Overnight Visitors
Each of these needs to be tracked somewhat differently, and, adding to the cunfusion, the Consecutive Overnights do not need to sign in and out; they can come and go as if they live there. And many do essentially live there, if one has both Extended as well as Consecutive Overnights, people are “visiting” for twenty days and nights a month. This is likely a safety issue in its own right, as of course none of these visitors get the background check that tenants do. So all this requires organizing out of an often endless flow of in and out traffic, who lives here and who doesnt,(there’s always a few new tenants, new faces to further confuse things) which visitors need to sign in and out and which don’t, etc. All the above, combined with the lack of a back-up gate make it impossible to effectively keep people from sneaking past the Front Desk and into the Hotel.
III. Enabling Drug and Prostitution Activity:
The removal of any practical downside to a tenant’s violation of the visitor rules has led to a situation where it is even more impossible to control who comes into he Hotel, When such violations happen, tenants get “written up” and at some point put on a 30 Day No-Visit list. However, this has recently had any effectiveness removed. As you can see in the attached meeting notes, we cannot refuse to sign in someone, even if we know that they do not intend to visit the person who is signing them in, but are going to the room of someone who is officially on the 30-Days No-Visit list. In addition, this having to sign people into room we know they really aren’t going to also extends into visitors seeking to stay overnight with a tenant who has exhausted their monthly allocation of overnights. Along with this, I see would-be visitors come to the Front Desk, not knowing the room number or last name of who it is they wish to visit. Again, these have been signing in with willing tenants, who sometimes clearly do not know them,(sometimes a dollar or two is exchanged for the favour) once signed in they head upstairs and are free to roam the halls, knocking on doors, etc. Finally, tenants can come down and sign their visitors out, without the visitor being present, for all we know the visitor is still up somewhere in the building. The cumulative effect of all this is that it has become impossible to consistently be aware of who is actually in the building and to ensure a reasonable degree of physical safety.
When Management becomes aware that drug dealing or prostitution is going on in a particular room, it may take months to evict that individual. So that their activities do not add further disruption in the Hotel during his time, it is imperative to disrupt their “business activity” to the maximum extent possible. This means a flat “‘No Visitors” for such parties. Not just for 30 days but for the remainder of the time they are resident in the Hotel. And if they say this is against the Uniform Visitor policy, all Management needs to do is to tell the offending tenant that they are welcome to contest your decision at the Rent Board-if, of course they are willing to defend their drug or prostitution activity. 1 can guarantee you, none will want to confront you at the Rent Board, and Management’s decision will remain in force. Failure to take action like this while knowingly allowing people to engage these activities is enabling and facilitating it, pure and simple, and we need to stop this.
If you go down to the Seneca, at virtually any time, from first light to well after midnight, you will see half a dozen or so people hanging out on the street in front of the Hotel. At times camp chairs have even been brought in and appear to be just sitting around. Most of these people are former residents or visitors of the Seneca who have been Evicted or 86d. They are also part of the Sixth Street drug scene, as they were of the Seneca’s back before they were Evicted or 86d. Of course she reason they are continually out in Front is the presence of their drug buddies still resident in the Hotel. This arrangement needs to be broken up. the Seneca needs to get Stay-Away orders on these people, to shut down this drug-link between the street and various residents of the Seneca.
Another issue that facilitates this activity is that we now accept virtually any type of ID. The worst of this is that we now have to accept jail. prison, and jail “hospital bracelet” IDS. A lot of the jail issues on Sixth Street are behind drug activity; it should be abundantly clear that allowing someone in the building that is just out of jail is probably NOT a good idea for the overall safety and well-being of the Hotel, Yet another issue is the fact that earlier restrictions on requesting overnight visitors are all now gone.
Originally, a tenant wanting an overnight would have to inform the Front Desk of his fact by Noon of the day in question, and would have to supply the name of the intended guest. Now, Noon has been moved up to 900 P.M., and, worse, no name need be furnished, the tenant merely needs to “reserve an overnight.”
Quality of Tenants + Worthlessness of Screening:
The following experience I had at Seneca pretty much speaks for itself.
I was working alone at the Seneca and around 6:OO P.M., Tamara, the Manager called. She asked me to “keep an eye” on a new tenant, someone who had just moved in that day. I asked what the issue was, why this heads up? Tamara said that when they were doing the background check the tenant’s previous landlord informed her that the reason she evicted this person was because the individual had set fire to their unit. I asked Tamara what possessed THC to rent to this person in light of this information, and Tamara said that since the previous landlord wouldn’t write this on paper, she couldn’t prove it, and they couldn’t refuse rental.
Renting to someone you know has a recent history of Arson? This is bat shit crazy. Since when do you have to have a reason for not renting to a particular individual, let alone have to prove anything. Why does Housing consistently adopt the responsibility of justifying every negative decision they have to make? They are Management and that alone is sufficient justification. This perceived need to self-justify everything is a substantial overall hindrance to operations anyway, but when it permits a kmown Arsonist to home a tenant, well, this is just scary.
V. Self-Defence Issues:
Unfortunately, part of the reality that any of us working in the SRO Hotels has to deal with is the occasional aggressive or violent tenant or visitor. Several times in the past year we have had irate individuals jump over/come behind the Front Desk, one of these incidents happened while I was alone on duty However, there is a “zero-tolerance’ regarding making any physical contact with tenants / visitors. Just how much this actually would be applied to someone defending their self has never been made clear, but there is certainly real doubt; when the tenant jumped over the Front Desk and hit me with the roll of paper; I was told “You’re lucky you didn’t have to hit him.” If this zero tolerance policy extends people coming behind the desk or assaulting staff, we are essentially being denied the right to defend ourselves. Certainly, I could see a staff person injured in such an incident claiming in the inevitable personal injury lawsuit that would ensue that they felt inhibited from defending themselves as they would get disciplined for this by THC, and that this contributed to the extent of whatever injuries they sustained.
V Loss of Institutional Memory:
These problems have been worsening and metastasizing for years. Seeing the degree of turnover at various levels of management during this time, it appears that a lot of this problem involves the lack of any real institutional memory. As new people come to work in the policy-making levels of the housing operation, each wants to “do” something “‘for the tenants”; the latest policy-makers are unaware that they are adding more on top of what their predecessors have done, and the cumulative effect over the years of this process goes unrecognized, until the operation devolves into the dysfunctional morass it is today.
What needs to be done:
Not all this can be done immediately, some things will require changes to the Uniform Visitor Policy, others may require changes in tenant leases, for others a 30-Day Notice should suffice, but at the minimum:
A. Reinstall the Inner Gate in the Seneca over by where the old safe is currently located. The layout needs to be so that someone coming aboard talks to the Front Desk, signs in or whatever first, THEN is buzzed in through the Gate.
B. Quit accepting any ID not specifically mention& in the Uniform Visitor Policy, especially jail, prison and hospital bracelet IDs, or xeroxes of any IDs.
C. Get rid of the Extended and Consecutive Overnights. It is impossible to keep any track of visitors when some are essentially living here for twenty days a month, where some need to sign In and out and others don’t.
D. Plug up all the loopholes in the visitor situation, as described in Section 111 above.
E. Get some Stay-Away orders and eject the crowd of druggies (former Seneca residents and visitors) from in front of the Hotel.
F. Get rid of the plethora of sign-in and tracking sheets listed in Section I.
G. End the practice of allowing tenants to sign out their visitors when we have no idea if the person has actually left or is still hiding out in the Hotel.
H. Make tenants requesting Overnight Visitors do so by 12:Noon, and supply the intended visitor’s name, the practice of reserving” an unidentified Overnight has to be ended.
I. Institute a permanent visitor ban on tenants you have reason to believe are engaging in drug or prostitution activity.
J. Get rid of the appeal process for visitor and other purely personal issues. Visitor issues must be resolved quickly and on site. The highest level of appeal should be the site Manager of the relevant building. They are the only ones who will know the people and the situation involved,and who have the ability to make a reality-based decision. The problem with the appeals is that those hearing the appeal don’t how those involved or the situation, but they DO know that they have fundamental philosophical problems with the simple fact that there are visitor rules and restrictions at all ,and this leads to distorted decision-making.
K. Work with our new Supervisor, Jane Kim, to hit a sort of re-set button on the Uniform Visitor Policy and end the annual circus where the Policy is amended every year at the Rent Board. This is an entirely rigged game, and has allowed the original policy, bad as that was, to be constantly watered down, further hampering Management’s ability to control the situation while at the same time mandating things such as the Consecutive Overnights, which are a serious problem.
As you may recall, back in the Fall of 1998, when the Seneca was still under private control. the management was so atrocious that some basic improvements had to be made before THC could Master-Lease the place. For this purpose, you had introduced me to Dr. Mahendra Dave so that he could bring me aboard the Seneca to try to get a handle on the worst of the problems there. This was done; I worked at the Seneca for some months, during which the key troublemaking tenants were identified and evicted. Other problems were sufficiently addressed, and so THC was able to take over the operations of the Hotel. You also set me up with the owners of the Mission HoteI for a like purpose back in the Spring of 97. All this worked out well, but if 1 restricted my options in dealing with these basic issues as THC Housing restricts theirs. none of this would have been possible, nor would I have been able to dean up Baldwin House as 1 did back in ’95 and 96. Altogether too many policies and practices actively enable precisely those activities that it is the primary responsibility of Management to abate, For some reason, Housing seems completely infected with a world-view and values system that is entirely incompatible with the safe and functional operation of an SRO Hotel. Certainly any Management that has serious moral and ethical problems with doing things like telling someone they can’t have a visitor, something that is really SRO Management I01 level stuff, is going to be severely compromised in carrying out even routine functions. And since it is THC-wide policies that are to blame for all this, it is logical to assume that these problems are present in all the hotels. not just the Seneca. As it is to-day, the Seneca at least is a textbook example of how NOT to run an SRO Hotel. It also should be noted that the on site Managers, Dave, and Tamara before him, and the onsite Managers of the other hotels are not ta blame for any of this, the problem originates from higher up in the organisation.
Since all these problems are self-imposed, here should, other than some procedural issues, be nothing tangible blocking any of the recommendations above. The real problem is that wing to discuss this stuff with Housing is like trying to argue about religion, logic will get you nowhere as the rationale underlying this has long since become doma, from which Housing seems unwilling to remove its focus.
At any rate, I can formally attest: That under the current conditions, it is impossible to operate Be Seneca with an^ assurance of aenerrtl safetv. It is physically impossible to control who gets in the building, and until we rid ourselves of all the extraneous agendas that have being piggy-backed onto the basic one of running the Hotel, nothing will change. Finally, it has to be accepted that an SRO is NOT a “regular apartment”, and that attempting to treat it like one will only lead to a bad end.