Tenant Focus: Curtis Bradford (& Maggie Mae)
Maggie Mae doesn’t bat an eyelash.
She lies on the floor in her tiny, but immaculate unit in the TNDC Alexander Residences on Eddy Street in the Tenderloin.
The tranquil 4 1/2-year-old lap dog — black as the inside of a coal mine — takes a cue from her owner, Curtis Bradford, who has lived at the Alexander for the past six years.
Bradford’s own serenity comes courtesy of TNDC, he’ll tell you. The 51-year-old’s rebirth — it has been nothing short of that — now overwhelms a former life of intravenous drug use and exacerbated health problems, constant SRO shuffling, and the drug-overdose death of his closest friend that finally prompted him to confront his demons.
“I didn’t really facilitate any change until I got involved with TNDC and found a permanent place to live,” said Bradford, who is a member of the TNDC Board of Directors and president of the East TNDC Residents Association, which oversees 15 TNDC buildings housing some 1,500 residents. “I was struggling with clinical depression, addiction, and I wasn’t yet on disability. This (TNDC) provided me the stability to make substantive changes to my lifestyle.”
Bradford, who has lived with HIV for the past 30 years and receives disability insurance to make ends meet, is no stranger to adversity — even now. In the past four years he has been hospitalized 14 times, primarily for HIV-related illnesses such as pneumocystis pneumonia.
“I’m trying to maintain, but my immune system is not functioning like it used to,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of scares over the past few years.”
But he doesn’t dwell on his own life, or at least doesn’t seem to. He’s way too busy trying to improve the lives of others in the Tenderloin.
The person he was, who for years undermined an already compromised existence by mainlining methamphetamine and periodically offering his body to pay for it, takes nothing for granted any more. His second chance also happens to be the vehicle for others to turn their lives around, too.
“I understand the pain and frustration, the despair, poverty and addiction that other people experience,” he said.
He stops for a few seconds, his eyes filling with tears, and then resumes …
“My life now is an absolute miracle, and I want to give back to the community. It’s a debt I owe big time.”
His affiliation with the TNDC Residents Association and other local social service groups in the area — including Glide Memorial Church — affords him just that opportunity.
“I was given back a sense of empowerment/self determination to advocate for myself, and it allowed me to begin advocating for others,” he said.
After a long-term relationship ended, Bradford moved to San Francisco 11 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va., where he had co-owned a gay bar. He figured the Bay Area might be his safe haven, but little did he know his life would so quickly spin out of control.
But in his darkest hour, he looked up and found TNDC.
“It was a life changer, a life saver,” he said. “That’s why I feel so much gratitude for TNDC.”
Snuggled in her man’s lap, Maggie Mae slowly lifts an eyelid, closes it again and falls asleep. She doesn’t know it, but she has TNDC to thank, too.
Organizing and working on issues, such as land-use, that make a difference in the community. Social justice, also; being a voice for those who are most marginalized in our society.
Advice to others in similar situation:
Don’t give up. Know that you still have worth, but you must be willing to reach out and accept help and navigate the social services system.
“That it took my friend’s death for me to see how things really were. My earlier experiences, though, shaped who I am now and made me a much better person.”