Advocacy Groups Collaborate to Help Homeless Neighbors

By Janice Bressler

A broad coalition of community groups led by Richmond District Rising (RDR) has teamed up for a drive to collect and deliver clothing and supplies to the neighborhood’s homeless. The drive’s organizers also hope to raise awareness about the vulnerability of our unhoused neighbors, especially during the winter months.

“The homeless are among those hardest hit by the pandemic,” said RDR member Julie Pitta, a key organizer of the drive. Pitta said she sees the drive as a chance to educate people on homelessness.  

clothing drive photo page 1 RR 2-21Dee Rosado-Chan, CEO of Project Homeless Connect, stands in front of the group’s “Care Van” on Jan. 15. The van is stationed at the Park Presidio United Methodist Church on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Geary Boulevard for outreach visits every third Friday of the month, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Photos by Michael Durand.

“Most of the people on our streets previously lived in the neighborhood,” she said. “They have few options. The shelters are full and the City has moved slowly on providing them temporary housing. The recent homeless sweeps in our neighborhood were misguided. It makes it more difficult to support unhoused people.”

The Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR) is also supporting the drive. PAR is a membership-based neighborhood organization working on quality-of-life issues in the Richmond.  RDR is a grassroots organizing group which has focused on racial, economic and environmental justice since 2009.

The supplies and clothing collected in the drive are being distributed by Project Homeless Connect (PHC) in monthly outreach visits made by the organization’s Care Van.  The van comes to Park Presidio United Methodist Church, at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Geary Boulevard, on the third Friday of every month between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.   

Solange Bonilla-Leahy is the director of Everyday Connect Services at PHC and oversees the mobile services offered by the PHC Care Van.  

“The idea is to really talk to people, and to meet them where they are,” Leahy said. “It’s humbling work, especially with COVID causing so much unemployment. I’ve seen so many different ways that someone can end up homeless these days – job loss, divorce, death of a family member, domestic violence.”

clothing drive one richmond RR 2-21Naomi Hui (left) and Anna Ngo-Ongsitco at the One Richmond desk at a homeless outreach event at the Park Presidio Unitarian Church on Jan. 15. They were distributing hot breakfast sandwiches and were ready to answer a variety of questions about the services available in the neighborhood.

PHC does more than simply alert people to resources, Leahy explained. It helps people actually file benefits applications, makes appointments for people and secures connections with legal and tenant advocates.   

“We bring out our cell phones, our laptops, and we really help individuals make real connections and problem solve,” she said.

Leahy remembered one recent Richmond District homeless man served by PHC who was trying to reconnect with his son but could not find him.  

“We not only helped this man by tracking down his son, we were also able to buy him a bus ticket and actually make that reunion happen. He ended up getting off the street and living with his son,” she said. 

Dee Rosado-Chan, the newly appointed CEO of Project Homeless Connect, said she sees the collaboration with Richmond District Rising as a model that she hopes to pursue with other San Francisco neighborhoods. 

“One of the things we’re trying to do is educate neighbors as to why this is happening,” Rosado-Chan said. “Just doing sweeps of encampments is not an answer, and just saying ‘not in my backyard’ is not an answer. Addressing homelessness requires a community effort. This collaboration with Richmond District Rising is really an important start for this and future efforts. Collaborations like this are really needed to meet the swelling need to provide support for the homeless.”

Formed in 2004 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Department of Public Health to improve access to services for people experiencing homelessness, PHC  now serves more than 6,000 people each year. Its efforts include connecting unhoused people to a wide array of supportive services including medical care, mental health services, legal advocacy and job-seeking help. In 2020, PHC became a program of Community Initiatives, a non-profit organization.

The neighborhood’s One Richmond program also participates in the Care Van’s monthly outreach efforts by offering a table that serves hot meals.

clothing drive [hopto 3 ppl RR 2-21Leah, Patrick and Tiffany (L-R), representatives from Project Homeless Connect, staff the help desk on Friday, Jan. 15 at a monthly outreach event on Geary Boulevard at Seventh Avenue.

Newly elected District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan echoed the call for compassionate action and praised the drive being spearheaded by Richmond District Rising.  

“During these difficult times, I am thankful for our community coming together to help those who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic,” Chan said. “I’m so proud that our Richmond District neighbors and community groups are putting their compassion into action, stepping up and hosting monthly clothing donations for our neighbors in need.”

Anyone interested in donating items for the drive can arrange a drop off by emailing RDR at:  SFRichmondRising@gmail.com.    

The following is a list of needed items:

• Backpacks. Adult or campingsized, in new or gently used, and fully-functioning condition;

• Phone chargers. Compatible with Androids and iPhones, or for laptops and tablets in new or gently used, and fully functioning condition;

• Socks. Adult sizes in unused condition;

• Sleeping Bags. Gently used, clean and in fully-functioning condition;

• Personal hygiene items. Unused and unopened travel-sized containers. Soap, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, conditioner, razors, and wet wipes;

• Winter Gear. Blankets, beanies, gloves and hand warmers.  Rain ponchos, jackets and hoodies in adult sizes from medium to XL.

• T-shirts. Adult sizes from large to XX;.

Monetary donations to the drive can be made online or by mail. To make a donation online, go to https://projecthomelessconnect.wedid.it/ and note “RDR” or Richmond District Rising in the Donation Message. To contribute by mail, send checks payable to “Community Initiatives,”  with “Project Homeless Connect” in the memo line to  Community Initiatives, 1000 Broadway, Ste. #480, Oakland, CA 94607.

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