A Champion for SRO Tenants
Gail Packwood Seagraves, who joined every fight for a better Tenderloin over the past decade, died of esophageal cancer on September 11. Seagraves was a longtime tenant leader for the Central City SRO Collaborative (CCSROC), a tour guide for the Tenderloin Museum, a volunteer in former D6 Supervisor Jane Kim’s office and an activist in many social justice and progressive campaigns. Gail was also a Board member for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head, and a personal friend.
Gail personified how SRO tenants build community in the Tenderloin, and have long led efforts for neighborhood improvement. She will be terribly missed.
A Fighter for the Tenderloin
Whenever a new challenge emerged in the Tenderloin—an ill-conceived housing project, delays on installing new street lighting, poor pedestrian safety, the need to improve neighborhood play spaces, open drug dealing, and the like—-Gail and her fellow tenant leaders would be engaged from the start. I’m not giving away trade secrets when I say that whenever CCSROC Director Pratibha Tekkey and I talked about a new challenge one of us would say “we need to first talk to Gail about it and get her take.”
If it seems that Gail’s photo is included in all of THC’s Tenderloin campaigns it is because she was involved in them all. Gail Seagraves didn’t talk about working for social change, she dedicated her life to doing it.
Gail was the chief inspiration for THC’s push for “step up” housing for longterm tenants like her who needed private bathrooms. Thanks to Mayor Breed and Marc Benioff of Salesforce (Benioff funded the first four years of the lease and both are pictured below), Gail’s hopes became reality as she moved into the Bristol Hotel. When it came time to select a tenant to speak at the media event with the mayor and the Salesforce leader, Gail was the obvious choice.
She and the mayor really hit it off. The mayor gave Gail a housewarming present and twice visited her room. I have never seen Gail happier than when she got settled in at the Bristol.
Gail’s warm personality led me to connect her to the Tenderloin Museum as a neighborhood tour guide. She was great! The tours increased her income and she loved promoting the Tenderloin. Gail showed how people’s lives can improve while living in the Tenderloin.
Pratibha Tekkey, Director of the CCSROC and a close friend of Gail’s, spent a lot of time in recent weeks visiting Gail and letting people know about her condition. Tekkey noted, “Gail’s determination, her willingness to fight till last standing and her commitment to the Tenderloin community was strong. Even when she was at her sick bed in the hospital a few weeks ago she insisted on participating in a CCSROC Land Use committee meeting zoom call to discuss the 450 O’Farrell development which we are appealing to the Board of Supervisors. I and the CCSRO family will miss her energy, warmth and forceful nature.”
Fellow Tenderloin activist David Elliott Lewis, among the many close friends of Gail’s who visited her in hospice, described Gail as “a vibrant and enthusiastic person with much compassion, life force, love and energy. She cared deeply about her community and actively tried to make a difference. She was loved by many.”
Gail worked on Matt Haney’s 2018 supervisor campaign and Haney and Aaron Peskin will honor Gail at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Haney told me, “It’s hard to imagine anyone who loved the Tenderloin and its people quite like Gail. She embodied its spirit, compassion and joy. She greeted everybody with a big smile and hug, and with kindness warmth and curiosity. And if it had something to do with making our neighborhood better or supporting its people she was there.”
The Building Inspection Commission will also adjourn in Gail’s honor on Wednesday. Gail did outreach to private SRO hotels for habitability, vaccination and rent relief.
I could go on praising Gail but nothing I could say would express the community’s feelings better than the words of her friend and colleague Kevin Stull, a fellow tenant leader at the CCSROC. It’s a long quote but it captures why many of us have spent our lives working for the Tenderloin and the sense of community that exists in the neighborhood:
Gail Seagraves came to the Central City SRO Collaborative over 8 years ago with a hunger and a desire to make some positive and lasting changes for her building, the Elk Hotel, and for the Tenderloin as well. That passion for wanting to be a part of our organization helped us to become a stronger force for much needed change for the residents of both her hotel and for this neighborhood for so many years. Her enthusiasm and vibrancy for life made her such an integral presence in not only the work we have been doing as a nonprofit, but for each of us individually who felt such a connection to what made her unique that I shudder to think what life would have been like without her stepping through the door and into our lives. I know for a fact that every time we are marching through the streets for a cause that is just, that she is walking right beside us. Whenever we shout out to the powers that be for the rights and the needs of the people who can’t speak for themselves, her voice will resonate out with all of ours as we shout out to the Heavens. And for all the times when we feel worn out and struggling to make the lives of its underappreciated citizens a bit better, she will be there encouraging us to never stop fighting and to not lose hope. Gail Seagraves might be gone in the physical sense, but her spirit and the memories of her and who she is are all a part of us now and forever. It’s now up to us to continue to make sure the positive changes that are needed to make all the lives of every sentient person be as clean, happy, and as safe as possible fall to all of us to make sure Gail’s legacy and impact will live on in perpetuity.
Gail Packwood Seagraves, Rest in Power!Filed under: San Francisco News