By Lindsay Rogers
At UniversalGiving, we believe in creating a world where “Giving and Volunteering are a Natural Part of Everyday Life.” Through our Community Outreach Program, team members perform hands-on service by working with organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that are addressing social issues present in our local community.
This month, UniversalGiving had the opportunity to work with Dinner with Grace, a long-standing initiative of Grace Cathedral. This program cooks and serves dinner to residents of the Crosby Hotel in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.
The Crosby Hotel is part of San Francisco’s Housing First Program and has provided permanent supportive housing for 124 tenants since 2006. This facility helps residents to end the vicious cycle of homelessness and upheaval in their lives. In addition to a safe place to live, they also provide on-site social, health, and employment services. Individuals contribute a limited percentage of their income, from jobs and social service benefits, towards rent.
In San Francisco and around the world, there is a stigma associated with homelessness. It is all too easy to walk by people you see on the street and forget that everyone has a story. There is the woman who graduated from Harvard and worked as an assistant at a prestigious law firm but got the short end of a bad divorce and had no where else to go. There is the Vietnam veteran suffering form PTSD who can’t hold down a job. There is the 80 year old man who worked his entire life to stay above the poverty line but social security checks aren’t enough to keep him off the streets.
Most of these individuals share a commonality. Unlike many of us, they don’t have a safety net of family and friends to lend them a hand when they’re in a difficult position. They don’t have a friend’s couch to sleep on or a parent’s fridge to raid. Perhaps we both have access to the same opportunities, but their starting line is far behind our own.
When people must resort to living on the streets, they increase their risk significantly for negative health outcomes and criminal activity. Numerous studies show that providing permanent housing to chronically homeless individuals actually reduces the annual government costs associated with poverty, from emergency care, court visits, and other social services.
Of equal importance, individuals with a secure place to live are able to restore their dignity and establish a sense of self and a sense of community.
This is why programs like The Crosby Hotel have been so successful. The 77 men and women we met at the Crosby Hotel were kind and considerate to their hosts and to one another. They engaged in personal conversations with one another. They complimented the quality of the food and expressed their thanks. They utilize the services available to them to help them get back on their feet.
In San Francisco, skyrocketing housing costs in the last three years have made it only more costly for the city to expand on their subsidized housing facilities. Of 7,350 homeless identified in 2014, 4,315 did not have access to even a temporary bed.
This is a very contentious issue. Oftentimes our analytical minds look at this challenge and we’re overwhelmed by a sense that nothing can be done. Our empathy and human understanding are overpowered by the vastness of these complex social problems. That’s when it becomes important to take the time to shake someone’s hand and to ask how they’re doing; to remember that we are all human. Everyone has a story.