Spotlight on Homelessness in San Francisco

By Kelly Salance

Published June 29, 2016
Last modified June 29, 2016

Today in San Francisco, media outlets everywhere are staging a media take-over to put a 'spotlight' on the homelessness crisis in San Francisco. By organizing as a group, the hope is to both inspire people to find innovative solutions as well as push city and civic leaders to tackle homelessness head-on. In support of this effort, we’re bringing attention to the amazing community partners we work with through Zendesk.

Defining the problem
Homelessness is everyone’s issue. The last official city count in 2015 estimated the adult homeless population to be 6,686, but many advocates say the number of people living on the street is higher. Despite the fact that we know there’s a problem, there isn’t one clear and coordinated solution. Many compounding factors work together to cause homelessness including lack of mental health services, supportive housing cuts in the 1980s, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, and the increased cost of living in San Francisco.

Episcopal Community Services, one of our community partners, articulates a major contributor to the problem: “The city needs more long-term mental health facilities and permanent supportive housing sites for the chronically homeless in our community. It’s the only option that can really move people off the streets, out of shelters, hospitals, and jail cells.” - Mallory Burke, Corporate & Community Relations Manager at ECS

Another partner, GLIDE, adds that the problem is also about education: “In terms of addressing the conditions that create or exacerbate homelessness, we are not seeing enough hiring locally from workforce development programs. There is clearly room for much more education around homelessness. The growing wealth divide has exacerbated social divides as well, raising tensions and fears between ordinary people on different ends of the economic spectrum, or between people with and without serious mental and physical disabilities that come with, have contributed to, or are the result of extreme poverty.”

3 ways you can help
It can be overwhelming to think about a large-scale solution to such a nuanced problem. Sometimes we can only do what we, as individuals, can do. Fortunately, small actions like volunteering and donating can make big impacts in the fight for a solution. If you’d like to get involved, our community partners recommend these three ways to get started:

Volunteer: Donating your time is sometimes more valuable than cash donations. You get to know the people who are in need and develop real relationships with your community neighbors. A volunteer relationship can be short term or ongoing. Shop around for a service provider dedicated to making a difference, and find out about their volunteer opportunities. Also, you don’t have to go it alone. Get your friends and colleagues at work organized and involved.

Advocate: It’s important to talk about the people who are extremely marginalized such as the mentally ill, substance abusers (especially IV drug users), and women. We must be advocating for programs that help these subpopulations who are homeless. “It is also important to remember that the crisis of widespread homelessness requires systemic change. So it is also important to read up and vote. Getting information from multiple sources so you can talk to your friends is a real contribution. Don’t be satisfied with just the surface arguments, go deeper and find people you trust whose primary focus is on housing as a basic right. Pay attention to how your tax dollars are spent. Budgets are moral documents. Be sure your local, state, and federal spending priorities align with your values,” Nicole C. Brown, Director of Institutional Giving, GLIDE.

Donate: It’s no secret that living in San Francisco is expensive. These service providers are in constant need of money for supplies, employee salaries, emergency funds, and more. Donating to organizations that work on housing as a basic human right is a powerful and necessary thing for change to happen.

While Zendesk is certainly no expert in the complexity of homelessness, we work with people who are bravely fighting every day for a solution. These amazing groups dedicate their entire existence to easing the lives of our homeless citizens in San Francisco. As part of the media takeover, we’re shining on a spotlight on these groups.

GLIDE: GLIDE works successfully on several fronts in its commitment to providing holistic services that address the diverse needs of its target population through the Housing First Model. It’s worth noting that, in addition to being the right thing to do, supportive housing is also the most fiscally sensible approach to the crisis of widespread homelessness.

Episcopal Community Services: ECS serves more than 7,000 homeless and very low-income people each year and operate two round-the-clock shelters which serves 534 homeless adults every night. Other outreach includes Senior Service Job training, counseling and education through their culinary training program CHEFS (Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Services) (LINK), and the Adult Education Center.

St. Anthony’s Foundation: Many people who are first experiencing homelessness or on the brink of it rely on social services to help them get by including finding food services. The Dining Room at St. Anthony’s meets guests where they are in their situation, offers support and referrals. In fact, many guests continue to come to the Dining Room after their crisis because of the strong support system his proven to help provide stability. Additionally, with the cost of living rising in San Francisco, guests may still rely on our services regularly even after obtaining health care, housing, and income.

Curry Senior Center: Curry Senior Center is a comprehensive care center for seniors to easily access a wide range of essential services, from healthcare to housing and everything in between. They have one building that house 13 seniors, as well as a residential manager. The resident manager and a transitional case manager assure that formerly homeless senior residents achieve stability and acquire the skills needed to re-enter the community.

Compass Family Services: Compass Family Services creates a strong safety net for homeless and at-risk families by providing a broad continuum of services that help their clients find and maintain stable housing and build strong families. Compass Connecting Point gives any San Francisco family experiencing a housing crisis quick access to the services that they need most, including eviction prevention, emergency shelter, health care, child care and educational programs.

Finding an end to homelessness is going to require coordinated common sense solutions where homelessness is not politicized, and where homeless people are treated with empathy. We can all be part of the change. Get involved at Episcopal Community Services, GLIDE, St. Anthony’s Foundation, Curry Senior Center or Compass Family Services.

Visit the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation site for more information about Zendesk's community partnerships