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San Francisco struggles to serve the homeless in the Bay Area

By Melissa Domingo and Mytrisha Sarmiento

Staff Writers

The Homeless Youth Alliance is built on a bigger focus on empathy and care and their vans roam the streets of the Bay Area with one goal in mind: hand out needed items to the homeless, including food, hygiene products and more. These volunteers listen to the stories people share and create lasting bonds.

At LifeMoves, families are given a chance to overcome the challenges of being homeless. The residence’s workers help families by sharing services and advice until they are able to get back on their feet. Goal making and commitment is a big focus at LifeMoves.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the local homeless population has been slowly decreasing, but there were still nearly 7,500 homeless people in San Francisco according to a 2017 one-night count. Is the Bay Area doing a sufficient job at keeping these numbers at bay?

The main causes of homelessness are insufficient funds for housing, unemployment, poverty and low wages.

According to the California Association of Realtors, the median housing price in San Francisco in the first quarter of 2018 was around $1.6 million. To qualify for a house in San Francisco, the association estimates that the minimum annual income needed would be approximately $333,000. These numbers conflict with the average annual income of approximately $97,000, as stated by Business Insider.

There are many organizations in the Bay Area that are trying to help homeless people.

What is the Homeless Youth Alliance doing for the homeless?

The Homeless Youth Alliance is a mobile outreach van fighting for a good cause and trying to help end the cycle of homelessness.

As a mobile outreach service, the Homeless Youth Alliance hands out hygiene products, snacks and other basic supplies needed by homeless people. Other than handing out supplies to homeless people, the Homeless Youth Alliance supports people by providing emotional support.

Kenn Sutto, an outreach program manager for Homeless Youth Alliance, believes that the most rewarding thing about his job is the interactions with participants. Learning about people and their lives is what Mr. Sutto finds the most inspiring.

Mr. Sutto found that their approach was a little unique; he found that there is a lot of focus on empathy and having a good work environment.

When asked what interested him in working with an organization like the Homeless Youth Alliance, Mr. Sutto replied, “I personally have always been interested in the aspects of what poverty is like in our country.” He also shared that hanging out with the homeless not only educates him but is rewarding.

Collaboration between shelters and organizations was also mentioned by Mr. Sutto. The organization collaborates with many centers, such as therapy centers and LGBTQ+ centers.

The pacing of work at this organization could be described as “really fast” and “often super busy.” As Mr. Sutto put it: “It’s a generally pretty busy job.”

When asked about how the organization deals with people who are apprehensive to accept help, Mr. Sutto explained that some people aren’t ready to accept help. “We offer people [help] – if they’re not ready for it, it’s cool.”

Mr. Sutto also found that the main causes of homelessness are complex. “There’s never really one thing … Everyone’s story is important and different … Everyone ends up where they are for a reason … It’s different for a lot of people.”

What is LifeMoves doing for the homeless?

LifeMoves is trying to break the cycle of homelessness. At LifeMoves, homeless families are given the opportunity to get back on their feet with the help of interim housing and services.

This shelter is specifically for families who are homeless; they have services across San Mateo county and Santa Clara county, with 17 shelters in total. Though LifeMoves is only based in California, they plan on expanding and becoming nationwide. There are other shelters in the works; in the next year, there will be a shelter open to LGBTQ+ youth in San Jose. There will also be a parking lot for individuals and families who live in cars and RVs.

The residents and clients of LifeMoves have access to mental health services and financial literacy that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

When asked what the shelter is trying to achieve, Jocelyne Arriaga, a Children’s Service Coordinator, explained they are “trying to get residents that are homeless into permanent housing where they’re safe.”

Ms. Arriaga found that “trying to get clients and residents into permanent housing” was one of the most rewarding things about her job. “[Finding] housing where they can be financially stable” was one of the many things she found fulfilling about her job.

When asked what interested her about working in a shelter, Ms. Arriaga replied, “For me, I just enjoy helping other people … finding them childcare. That’s one of the reasons why.”

Kate Hannon, a case manager intern and a student at San Jose State University working on a master’s in social work, helps families get back on their feet by keeping the residents accountable and by helping residents create goals. They create goals such as searching for apartments and budgeting 50 percent of their income.

She said that as a case manager “you’re committed to their success in the program.”

Ms. Hannon said that residents have to follow a set of rules when residing in the shelter. Clients have to sign agreements; they also do chores. A sober environment is also a requirement. The families have to commit to the program as soon as they enter the shelter. 

Both Ms. Hannon and Ms. Arriaga mentioned the importance of collaboration between shelters and centers. “That’s pretty much how we thrive,” Ms. Arriaga said. They mentioned that food drives and centers help with sustaining the residents and that residents receive free counseling.

Ms. Arriaga and Ms. Hannon would like people to know there are volunteer opportunities. “People can help; it’s not just up to agencies like us … We can all do something.”

One of the volunteering opportunities available is being a camp adviser or camp director; these opportunities are available to high school students. There are also internship opportunities for college students.

LifeMoves is also in need of clothes for teenage children, girls especially. Clothing drives and such would be helpful for the teenagers in the shelter.

How aware are people about the homelessness problem?

When asked about the awareness of the homeless problem in the Bay Area, Ms. Arriaga answered by saying, “There’s definitely a lot of awareness.”

Mr. Sutto said that there is a lot of awareness of the homelessness epidemic.

“Everyone’s talking about it: if you’re on the BART, if you’re on the bus, or if you read the paper. Everyone’s always talking about homelessness. It’s like, everyone knows how housing is really expensive here and that most people have a hard time paying rent now. I think that everyone is concerned about it and everyone’s talking about it, and people are like ‘Woah! … This is a really big problem, we have folks living in the streets, what’s the solution here?’ So, I think there’s a lot of people talking about it, and I think a lot of people really care, it’s just kind of a question of how it’s gonna translate into results, you know?”

How can we improve the homelessness problem in the Bay Area?

Mr. Sutto found that there are a number of things people can do, such as voting for propositions and elected officials who aim to improve the situation and pushing for funding.

He mentioned, “It means a lot to say hello to someone and acknowledge their presence,” which could be done by simply talking to them and understanding their situation. He added, “If you have the time or the means to volunteer, that’s also really good.”

He said that, if for some reason there’s an altercation, think before calling the cops; think of other options. “At the end of the day, everyone living on the streets is a person,” he said, adding that “living on the street is criminalized; the homeless are often ticketed and arrested,” which often becomes a “never-ending cycle of law.”

Bringing more attention to the growing problem, contributing to different causes and providing simple solutions can help in gradually improving the conditions on the streets of San Francisco.

Economic development is important, but focusing solely on innovation causes ignorance in a problem that will continue to grow.

What are the factors that have contributed to this problem?

According to CITYLAB, the former mayor of San Francisco left a legacy of economic development, but his legacy of liberalism included “fraught compromises with the tech industry.”

Though the former mayor Ed Lee did plan to spend $300 million on the homeless before the 2017 winter, he passed away during the process of working toward improving conditions on the streets. The mayor who is currently in office, Landon Breed, took over this mission by making space in homeless shelters in order to create stable and safe living conditions. As stated by the San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Breed is currently making efforts to decrease homeless rates in the Bay Area. 

CITYLAB article mentions that enforcing the tax exemption on tech companies such as Twitter and Facebook, in order to persuade them to grow their businesses in San Francisco, has greatly impacted the Bay Area. The Payroll Expense Tax Exclusion helped increase the number of jobs in San Francisco to over 600,000, growing by 25,000 a year during Mayor Lee’s tenure, and decrease unemployment to 3.6 percent. However, some argue that the amount of money that could have been collected from taxes might have benefited efforts to stop the growing rate of homelessness in the Bay Area.

There are a multitude of the causes for homelessness. Homelessness cannot be categorized as a whole; there are many factors that contribute to problem. Throughout the years, there has been more awareness about the growing epidemic.

As an ending thought, Mr. Sutto said, “Personally, I think that those who have the most in our society have a kind of responsibility to give back.”

Featured image (at the top of this post): “Our evening syringe exchange always includes lots of hugs.” PHOTO CREDIT: Homeless Youth Alliance Twitter account


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