Nonprofits Aid Southside’s Homeless Youth and Families

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Southside nonprofit organizations are engaging in diverse efforts to help and house the area’s homeless population, especially youth and families. Their work includes assessing families for placement in permanent housing, distributing food, and working with landlords to accept homeless families as tenants. Catholic Charities, Homeless Prenatal Program, Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, YMCA, among others, collaborate with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) and public schools to offer services.

Bayview Access Point, located at 1641 LaSalle Avenue, is an “access point” for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. At access points, City-contracted nonprofits determine whether clients are eligible for shelter and make housing referrals.  Bayview Access Point, opened in 2017, is one of three that serve families, along with Mission Access Point and Central City Access Point in the Tenderloin. Unsheltered families that come to an access point are immediately offered temporary housing at a third-party shelter not run by Catholic Charities.

“Our goal is to help at least 70 percent of the families that come to us,” said Rob Strahan, program manager for Catholic Charities’ Bayview Access Point. 

Strahan explained that 70 percent of BAP’s clients are at risk of becoming homeless; Catholic Charities helps them stay in their home. The remaining 30 percent are homeless, living in vehicles, tents, and abandoned buildings, who are referred elsewhere for assistance to secure permanent housing, private room shelters, or temporary or permanent relocation outside the City.

HSH’s 2019 point-in-time count found that there are 8,011 people without housing in San Francisco. Catholic Charities estimates that there are currently 600 families at various stages of homelessness working with Access Points.

“The actual number is hard to determine. Parents are cautious. Some families are hesitant to come to the Access Point or disclose they have children during outreach due to their fear of legal repercussions. They think we are Child Protective Services, law enforcement, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said Strahan.

According to Strahan, some homeless families have at least one member who is undocumented.  “In order for families to (get into) congregate bed or individual room shelters, they need picture identification for all adults and birth certificates for children,” he said. “One of the challenges we face with undocumented families is adequate identification. We work with families to obtain passport or birth certificate information, often with the assistance of the appropriate consulate.”

A congregate shelter has several rooms with bunk beds – along with showers, provision of three daily meals, and a place to store belongs – where one to three families are housed together in a room for up to 60 days.  

BAP follows HSH’s Family Coordinated Entry guidelines, a process that assesses, prioritizes, and matches families experiencing homelessness to shelter and other services. The first step is triage, which “…starts with a conversation regarding the family’s geographic location, family composition, and current living situation…enables staff to determine whether the family resides in San Francisco or is coming from another jurisdiction. In that case, staff (refers) the family to the appropriate agency in their county or state,” said Strahan.

If a family prefers to stay in the City and needs immediate shelter they’re referred to an emergency placement, then transferred to a congregate or individual room shelter. “The stress of not knowing where they are going each night is alleviated,” said Strahan.

BAP staff work with San Francisco Unified School District social workers at Southside schools, including San Francisco International High School and Daniel Webster and Starr King elementary schools. 

Buena Vista Horace Mann, 3351 23rd Street, will offer family housing in its gymnasium until at least this fall.  The Stay Over Program, operated by Dolores Street Community Services, was initially setup to host up to 20 students and families, or 60 people, from the school. When the program attracted only seven families last year, the school principal recommended opening it to families throughout the District. HSH funds the program, which costs about $40,000 a month. 

According to Strahan, many BAP employees were once homeless themselves.  “Having staff who have experienced homelessness firsthand brings a unique perspective and compassion to a family…sitting across the desk from them…may not have a degree, but they have empathy and understanding. We find those qualities very helpful in assisting homeless families,” he said.

Bayview Access Point provides homeless families living in cars, campers, tents, and abandoned buildings with grocery gift cards, food, clothing, diapers, hygiene kits, and other items. BAP also makes referrals to food pantries, storage facilities and showers, as well as laundry, legal, credit repair, immigration, health care, and mental health services. In addition to its access point facility, BAP fields a Mobile Outreach Team Monday through Friday, which offers wellness checks and community education.

According to Malea Chavez, deputy director of the Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP), located at 2500 18th Street, HPP offers a leg up in the search for permanent housing. “We serve about 3,500 families with children under 18 a year. Our housing programs are accessible after they have gone to one of the City’s Coordinated Entry Access Points, such as the Bayview Access Point, Mission Access Point, or the Central City Access Point…completed the coordinated entry housing assessment. We have a contract with HSH to oversee two housing programs,” she said.

HSH funds SHARE, which requires a documented need to remain in the City, such as a medical necessity or restriction involving court-ordered probation, and Housing Plus, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development-funded program catering to families who have at least one member with a disability and who have experienced chronic homelessness. The City’s Human Services Agency pays for Bringing Families Home, which handles Child Protective Services referrals.

“When we are able to place a family with funding from one of these programs, we work on relationships with private market housing throughout the City. We get them work with and to accept homeless families. Landlords are more likely to be willing to rent to homeless families when the families are participants in one of the programs,” said Chavez.

Chavez said HPP informs homeless families about wellness services and helps them access care. “We’d like to do more. SHARE offers 40 subsidies annually. Housing Plus offers 10. Bringing Families Home offers 40. We’re advocating to the City to continue to increase the number of subsidies. We’ve seen a 25 percent increase this year in the number of unsheltered families that come to us for help,” said Chavez.

Edward Hatter, executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, located at 953 De Haro Street, said the Nabe helps prevent homelessness by counseling families of teenagers who are aging out of the Potrero Annex-Terrace housing complex, deploying a case manager funded by an $85,000 grant from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

“We have a case manager who assesses the needs of Transition Age Youth between the ages of 16 and 24 to determine what they will do next. We have helped a lot of young adults reconnect with their families so that they are added to the family’s lease. If the parents did not add them, they would be at risk of becoming homeless. The case manager also helps young adults who grew up in Potrero Hill public housing and who have or are expecting children get on the list for their own unit,” said Hatter.

According to Hatter, it’s challenging to convince parents to add young adults onto an existing lease.  “The San Francisco Housing Authority used to declare an individual ineligible for public housing if that person was involved in a criminal incident on public housing property. Now the incident could occur anywhere. If a young adult has an issue with the police, everyone in the family could be evicted from their unit,” said Hatter.

The Nabe offers two food pantries, one biweekly for people who are 65 and older or have disabilities, the other weekly that’s open to the public with no age or ability requirements. “The food comes from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Food Runners San Francisco. Food Runners is a nonprofit that picks up extra food from stores, restaurants, and catering venues. We get three Food Runner deliveries a week,” said Hatter.

Food is critical to helping prevent youth and family homelessness, said Ashley Wong, program coordinator at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, located at 900 Pennsylvania Avenue. “Our team of program coordinators works with several food pantries on the Southside, including the Nabe, St. Gregory’s, and the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, which is a closed pantry for public housing residents. We also supply food for weekly pantries at Starr King Elementary School, Daniel Webster Elementary School, and Bryant Elementary School In addition, we provide food for the Food Pharmacy at Zuckerberg-San Francisco General Hospital,” said Wong.

The Food Pharmacy features fresh, healthy food for people with specific medical needs, such as hypertension and pre-diabetes.

St. Gregory’s is the Hill’s largest food pantry, serving two groups of 400 on alternating weeks. The Potrero Hill Family Resource Center, run by Urban YMCA staff, helps between 50 and 60 people a week. The three school pantries, run by school employees and volunteers, aid 130 families between them.

Wong said the Food Bank provides healthy food to approximately 700 households in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill every week. “Participants in our food pantries can then use their income for other expenses, including housing,” said Wong. “The food pantry is a warm, welcoming environment. Volunteers who run the food pantries can also refer participants to other services like CalFresh and home-delivered groceries. Anyone who is in search
for a community pantry can use the Food Locator tool on our website
at to locate a pantry in their neighborhood.”

According to Chavez, all types of assistance – food, clothing, and social services – play a part in preventing youth and family homelessness. “Families do everything they can not to be visible. Parents do not want to lose their children. Everything we do to help makes a huge difference,” said Chavez.

Chavez said HPP and other nonprofits share the goal of preventing consecutive generations from becoming homeless. “Later in life, children of homeless parents often run a higher risk of becoming homeless themselves. Our mission is to break the cycle of childhood poverty,” said Chavez.

Hatter added that the City’s struggle to feed and house youth and families, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, suggests that San Francisco needs to decide on its priorities.  “We need to determine whether we want a rich metropolis or a community of families,” said Hatter.