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Rent hike means San Francisco nuns may lose home, soup kitchen

Nuns who serve this city’s homeless population are in danger of getting kicked out of their home after a rent hike of more than 50%, another example of the struggle to balance soaring living costs in a booming economy.

The sisters of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen said Tuesday that they can't afford the rent increase from $3,465 to $5,500 a month and have asked their landlord for more time to find a cheaper place to feed the hungry.

“Everywhere the rent is very high, and many places don't want a soup kitchen in their place,” said Sister Mary Benedicte, her English accented in French.

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“It's very, very hard to find a place for a soup kitchen where people can feel welcome and where we can set up a kitchen for a reasonable price.”

The soup kitchen is in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods downtown, but even the grittiest addresses in San Francisco are demanding higher rent amid a tech job boom.

The sisters' modest kitchen sits on a derelict street in the Tenderloin neighborhood, long associated with homelessness and drug use. But it's also within walking distance of a revitalized mid-Market district led by the relocation of Twitter in 2012.

The still-seedy neighborhood, in other words, is trending up.

The sisters sleep in the back of the storefront and survive on donated cash and food. In the evenings, they bake pastries — French tarts and cookies — to sell at a local farmer's market to supplement their income.

Sister Mary Benedicte and Sister Mary of the Angels, with help from a small number of volunteers, served a lunch of vegetables and sausage, creole rice and cake on Tuesday for about 300 people.

“We not only feed them, we try to love them,” Sister Mary Benedicte said. “Poor people, what's very hard for them is to be alone on the street. Some of them say the hardest part of living on the street is that nobody wants to speak with them.”

A lawyer for the landlord said by email that “no eviction is going forward” and that the owner will meet with the nuns when he returns from India on Thursday.

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