Maria Cortez, a corner captain for Safe Passage, holds up a sign that says ‘Safe Walking’ to stop incoming traffic to give pedestrians more time to cross the street on Monday. (Rashik Adhikari / Golden Gate Xpress) (Rashik Adhikari)
Bay Area local Jalil Turner supports community program
Safe Passage has benefited from Turner's commitment and passion for helping others
Jalil Turner grew up in Oakland. seeing the struggles and difficulties of the people in his community.
“I’m really, really familiar with the unfortunate struggles that a lot of people here deal with – homelessness being one,” said Turner.
After these experiences, he knew he would be working alongside community organizations to help those in need.
His growing concern for the Bay Area community and his passion for working with others led to his new role as assistant director of operations for the Tenderloin Community Benefit District.
“I’m doing it from my heart, I really appreciate the ability that I have to not only connect with people from the areas like this, but also have a little bit of influence,” said Turner.
After attending Kansas Wesleyan University, Turner worked for a variety of non-profit organizations, as well as in athletics, health and wellness, workforce development and recruiting.
“Growing up, I was always the kid who was comfortable, just kind of owned what I did, I never felt the need to join, you know, groups that were doing negative things just to remain cool,” said Turner.
Turner’s passion for working with youth and training led him to become Safe Passage’s new manager in 2018.
Tuner began to oversee logistics as well as contributed to the growth and evolution of the program.
The Safe Passage Program has ramped up efforts to provide solutions to problems in the community starting with engagement to all, after Mayor Breed declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin in December 2021.
Turner says the program’s engagement with the community is key in providing resources to those who may be in need.
There are multiple involvement opportunities in the program for those willing to participate in bettering the community space.
Safe Passage is a program that is trying to build a community of safety under the direction of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District.
The organization began in 2008 with a group of mothers concerned for the safety and well-being of their own children walking to and from school.
Safe Passage corner captains are lead volunteers that stand on each corner of the Tenderloin supporting kids going to and from school on weekdays.
On Mondays, the program sets up a food pantry on Ellis street. Corner captains assist community members by bagging groceries.
The district has more families with children per capita than any neighborhood in San Francisco, making the Tenderloin a home to approximately 3,500 children.
The Safe Passage program has worked harder during the past two years to build a community of safety for those walking through the Tenderloin under the guidance of Turner.
“The pandemic definitely gave us some opportunities to embrace other things,” said Turner.
The Camera Network was established to secure the well-being of those walking the streets and business owners in the area. The network is intended for safety-related and criminal incidents only.
Pedestrian and traffic safety is a primary goal of the Pedestrian Safety Program. They provide safe street crossings in the Tenderloin and provide education to those in the area.
Safe Passage has expanded the needs of the community by including the senior program within the past year. In collaboration with the Salvation Army, the organization has been able to assist the senior population.
Groups of two push shopping carts with pre-packaged groceries to dozens of addresses and centers in the area to provide meals to those who were in need and fearful of their environment.
“A lot of them were afraid to walk the streets, so Safe Passage would gather a group of seniors and would walk them to farmers markets and things of that sort and then back to their senior center,” said Turner. “Then the park network started and a lot more people started to come out and utilize the parks.”
Safe Passage has made environmental changes a priority. It has implemented the Safe Passage Park program which is a community beautification program. According to SF State alumnus and Safe Passage manager Eric Rozell, “The Safe Passage Park program is designed to transition or transform street space into community space.”
In addition to street space, the program is working to improve the whole landscape. The plan of action “utilizes old buildings, hotels and creates a much-needed space for the community,” said Rozell.
Turner noted that upon his arrival, the program needed a lot of operational help and that it was difficult for people to volunteer because they needed to earn a wage.
“When I arrived, a lot of people were here looking to make a difference and support the program but at the same time it was not livable,” Turner said.
At the start of the program, some volunteers received a nominal stipend, a total of $300 per month. Turner fought to provide hourly wages to the corner captains.
“Getting new corner captains or staff was tough being that there were just so many other resources available in the Tenderloin with larger amounts of money available to people,’’ Turner said.
Under Turner’s management, the program now provides ongoing quarterly training for safety and awareness.
“We pride ourselves on being a group that even with being present, we continue to remain professional, we don’t escalate situations, our number one rule is our safety, we can’t help the community be safe if we are unsafe,” said Turner.
Because the district is identified as one of the unsafest in San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Police Department dashboard, safety and level-headedness are paramount.
“Doing this kind of work it is really important that you really remain level-headed. Frequently, we encounter people who might be in a crisis situation where they need some specific attention and they’re not getting it,” said Turner.