Nuns who help homeless face eviction in costly San Francisco

San Francisco's booming economy threatens to force out an order of nuns who serve the homeless.

The sisters of Fraternite Notre Dame's Mary of Nazareth House said Tuesday that they can't afford a monthly rent increase of more than 50 per cent, from $3,465 to $5,500, and they have asked their landlord for more time to find a cheaper place to serve the poor.

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"Everywhere the rent is very high, and many places don't want a soup kitchen in their place," Sister Mary Benedicte said.

Since 2008, the nuns' soup kitchen has sat on a derelict street in the Tenderloin neighbourhood, long associated with homelessness and drug use. But it's also within walking distance of a revitalizing Market Street area, led by the relocation of Twitter in 2012.

Brad Lagomarsino, an executive vice-president with commercial real estate company Colliers International, said that since 2010 there's been a "dramatic increase" in residential and retail rents in the area, leading to spillover increases in the Tenderloin.

Sister Mary Benedicte and Sister Mary of the Angels feed lunch to about 300 people three times a week. They offer dinner twice a week, using donated food and cash.

A lawyer for the landlord said by email Tuesday that "no eviction is going forward" and the owner will meet with the nuns this week. The nuns also have a lawyer, who is working their case for free.

Faith-based organizations throughout the city are struggling to pay rent while providing social services to the needy, said Michael Pappas, executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

"We were always looked upon as the pioneers in philanthropy," he said, "and I just think the forces of the economy are challenging us right now."


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