Del Seymour and Code Tenderloin: Addressing San Francisco’s homeless crisis

Del Seymour, founder of Code Tenderloin, overcame 18 years of homelessness and a horrible drug addiction to become one of the most respected advocates and service providers for homeless people in San Francisco. Code Tenderloin deserves our support.

by Malik Washington 

I remember the day when I arrived in San Francisco. It was the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2020, and a group of comrades and close friends had congregated in front of the Geo Group-operated Taylor Center Halfway House on Taylor Street in the historic Tenderloin neighborhood. 

My fiancé Nube Brown and I took a walk around the corner to get her car and leaning against the building of the Taylor Center was a person sitting on a piece of cardboard and smoking crack on what looked like a new crack pipe. I was immediately confronted by old demons – but that wasn’t what I focused on. I was taken aback by the large number of human beings who were living on the streets and just trying to survive during one of the darkest times the United States has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Every day on my way to work here at the San Francisco Bay View I pass the offices of an organization known as Code Tenderloin. In the early morning hours, it’s hard to miss the many homeless people who attempt to get help. I immediately became curious as to what type of business Code Tenderloin was, so one day I went in and met an employee by the name of Roy Tidwell. I introduced myself, and within a couple weeks we scheduled an interview with the organization’s founder, Mr. Del Seymour, and executive director, Ms. Donna Hilliard.

During our interview I found out that Del Seymour and I had many things in common: Del was a veteran of the U.S. Army and for many years battled with a horrible drug addiction. Del is a decorated veteran – a few years ago, he was given a service award from the then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The plaque is hung on the wall of Del’s office. 

Del spent 18 years on the streets of San Francisco as a homeless person. He is intimately aware of the daily struggle to find shelter and food in a city that has one of the highest costs of living in the United States.

Both Del Seymour and Malik, our assistant editor are U.S. Army Veterans.  A couple years ago Del received an award for his service directly from the then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.  Del and Malik are a living testimony to those who want to change and serve their communities.

I found both Del and Donna Hilliard to be sincere, passionate and dedicated servants of the people. Del described some of the deeper nuances of providing services and care for human beings that some find “hard to love” – people with drug problems, mental health issues or people who might not smell very good. Regardless of any of those things, Del and Donna both stated that all people are still deserving of love and compassion, and that is what they will find at Code Tenderloin.

When Nube and I arrived at their offices for our interview with Del and Donna, we saw employees and volunteers packing bags full of groceries: Food that could be picked up or delivered immediately to those on the streets who are in need. 

Del discussed how everything isn’t always “black and white” when you provide services to people who are in crisis. There are times when people come in and say: “My sister wants to throw me out because I broke the TV last night and I need $75 to replace it so I can have a place to stay.” Del described how at times he reaches into his own pocket in order to help those who come through the doors of Code Tenderloin.

The system fails to realize that this young woman can’t be delayed or kept from receiving funds! She needs help now! The system must come with real life solutions.

Donna Hilliard described how Code Tenderloin’s understanding of the human condition might not fit nicely into the proverbial “box” that those who provide grants and donations have visualized. Donna spoke about how many times money donated to organizations like hers comes with strings attached as well as unrealistic expectations of how the money should or should not be spent.

Donna relayed the story of her own experience with being threatened with homelessness because she chose to pay the tuition of her daughter who was in college rather than pay the monthly rent that was due. Donna is intimately familiar with the struggle of being a single mom and woman of color desperately trying to provide better opportunities for her children within a system that has proven unsympathetic to the real life struggles women like her face in Donald Trump’s new Amerika. 

The topic that kept recurring was that Code Tenderloin and other organizations like them need the authority to distribute funds as needed. Donna gave an example that she sees frequently: “A young woman comes into my office, and many places want this woman to fill out a 25-page report or application for help. The system fails to realize that this young woman has to take time off from work or pay for childcare. The young woman can’t be delayed or kept from receiving funds! She needs help now! So the system must come with real life solutions.”

Donna Hilliard is executive director of Code Tenderloin and Nube Brown is managing editor of the Bay View. Donna and Nube are intimately familiar with the struggles single women of color encounter when trying to put their children through college. Donna and Nube are advocates and supporters of our sisters who don’t always get the help they need from city, state and federal governments.

Donna finished by saying: “What we need is a better process. We need the flexibility to spend the funds in the way we see fit. We are here dealing with the community and we know exactly what this community needs. We need to meet the people where they are at in order to meet their needs.”

Del Seymour is originally from Chicago but has made San Francisco his home. Code Tenderloin is made of very good stewards of the money they do receive, and I encourage all philanthropists and potential donors to give generously to Code Tenderloin. The organization has been in the neighborhood for approximately seven years. Employees actually go into the field – the streets – and deal directly with the city’s homeless population. 

One thing that struck me as remarkable and shocking was that right across the street from Code Tenderloin was a multi-million-dollar construction project erecting condominiums. I keep thinking to myself, “Where are the homeless people going to live?”

My passion is to give them the same help that people gave me.

I was also struck by how few Blacks were working on the project – only two out of large crews of construction workers – while the proportion of Black homeless people on that block and throughout the city is overwhelming.

I asked Del Seymour why he is so passionate about helping homeless people and his answer was so profound that I wanted to share it verbatim with all of our readers:

Del said: “I spent 18 years right outside these doors being one of those people. I spent 18 years heavily addicted, sleeping in tents, sleeping in dumpsters – the worst drug addiction of anyone on the streets. However, through my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I was able to get my life back together. The Lord dictated that I return the same help that I received to the people I left on the streets. 

“There are other Del Seymours right outside my door right now. There are other Sonya Seymours right outside our doors right now. (Sonya Seymour is Dell’s longtime friend.) My passion is to give them the same help that people gave me. I would not be here if the people who I was giving bullshit gave up on me. I am just returning what was given to me.”

Del Seymour is a survivor. I highly recommend that all of you who are able please visit our website www.sfbayview.comand view the entire interview that we conducted with Del Seymour and Donna Hilliard. One last thing that I would like to mention is that a recent federal court ruling says that the police cannot destroy or disturb the living space of the homeless if they do not have a better place to house them – and jail is not a better place! Defund the police and build housing for the homeless and those who can’t afford these astronomical rents in San Francisco. 

Del Seymour advocates for creating jobs for the homeless, and I agree with him. It is important that we decriminalize the plight of being homeless in San Francisco. The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper will continue to champion organizations like Code Tenderloin and Mother Brown’s that truly embody the spirit of the original Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Let us support those who support us! 

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! All Power to the People!

Bay View Assistant Editor Malik Washington is a co-founder of the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons and Liberate the Caged Voices Campaigns, a comrade of Oakland Abolition and Solidarity (ABOSOL) and a fellow worker in the fight to abolish prisons. Contact him at malik@sfbayview.com and if you see news happening call him at 669-216-6104.