Margarita Mina, a senior resident of the Tenderloin, began actively volunteering to improve pedestrian safety in her neighborhood 8 years ago. For the past 1½ years she has been paid to do so as a Corner Captain with Safe Passage, the safety initiative of the Tenderloin Community Benefits District (TL CBD). While most of her time to date has been focused on ensuring safe afterschool commutes for children, Margarita’s efforts have recently expanded to include the safety of older adults as well. In June, Safe Passage launched Safe Passage Senior activities as a result of receiving a Department of Public Health Vision Zero “Safe Streets for Seniors” grant.
Safe Passage began 9 years ago as a grassroots effort of neighborhood residents and organizations concerned about community safety issues such as drugs, violence, and pedestrian safety. In 2008, La Voz Latina, Boys and Girls Club, and the TL CBD agreed to combine their efforts with Margarita and other neighborhood mothers and form what came to be Safe Passage. Over the next several years, efforts grew to include Corner Captains on corners of routes that school children traveled from their schools to various afterschool programs, free community safety trainings, and even the painting of a sidewalk mural on an 11 block “safe route.”
Two years ago, funding from both the Saint Francis Foundation’s Tenderloin Health and Improvement Partnership (TL HIP) and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development enabled Safe Passage to increase the number of volunteers and to pay a core cadre of Corner Captains to receive stipends for their service. Volunteers are recruited from local businesses, organizations and the neighborhood. Currently there are 11 regular Corner Captains and a volunteer base of 70 individuals, with a target of doubling the number of Captains by next summer. This model of neighborhood workforce development is a crucial element of the Safe Passage mission to “create a culture of safety” by engaging residents to be proactive in their own safety and the safety of their peers. The modest stipend that Margarita and the Corner Captains receive, along with gratification for helping to improve the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others, serves as an additional reward for their efforts.
In May of 2015, a committee began monthly meetings to develop Safe Passage program activities for seniors. This group includes staff from the San Francisco Senior Center, Curry Senior Center, Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly, and the St. Francis Living Room. After a year of planning and an extensive research collaboration with UCSF, a Vision Zero grant enabled the committee to formally launch Safe Passage efforts for seniors in June.
Teams of Corner Captains, including Margarita, began “mapping” senior pedestrian traffic, counting how many seniors navigated each intersection in a given time period. Though a children’s safe afterschool route was determined by Safe Passage years ago, the flow of senior pedestrians was unknown. During most mornings this summer, Corner Captains in bright neon vests have been counting senior and children pedestrian traffic, assisting seniors with street crossings, monitoring environmental safety conditions such as damaged sidewalks, excess trash and debris, and dog excrement. Well established in the area during their afternoon shifts, the Captains began making their visible safety presence known to seniors in the a.m. hours. It is no secret that many seniors tend to be more active earlier in the day—running errands, going to doctor appointments, etc.—so morning shifts of Corner Captains will be required to best serve the neighborhoods older adults.
Another resource Safe Passage is looking to debut this fall is Safe Escorting—providing individuals with assistance in navigating sidewalk and street conditions, which can be perceived as challenging or even threatening to seniors in many ways. This resource will enable a senior to request a Corner Captain escort traveling within the Tenderloin. Inspired by the City’s OCEIA Community Ambassadors safe escort service, talks are underway to explore possibly partnering with the Community Ambassadors in offering this resource.
The workforce development model of Safe Passage cannot be overemphasized. With one of the highest, if not the highest, costs of living in the U.S., most San Franciscans can relate to the struggle of living in such an expensive locale. An opportunity to have additional income combined with a commitment of service to improving neighborhood safety provides seniors serving as Corner Captains with some extra money, but, just as important, a sense of purpose, of making a difference, and hope. Recruitment of additional seniors for Corner Captain positions is now under way.
As Brian Ruddock, Tech Volunteer, said: “You might think that putting 10–12 people in safety vests on the corners for two hours a day wouldn’t really accomplish anything, but doing this in person has shown me that it really does make a difference. You see people’s attitudes change. You see the corners clear of bad activity. Troublemakers come up to us, greet us and give us high fives. I’m floored by how effective this small time is. It really does make a difference.”
For more information on Safe Passage: firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Moore is the Executive Director of the St. Francis Living Room and an Advisory Committee Member for TL CBD Safe Passage.
Dr. Marcy Adelman oversees the Aging in Community column. For her summary
of current LGBT senior challenges and opportunities, please go to: sfbaytimes.com/challenges-