BENEFITING: Tides Center
The Homeless Youth Alliance, a San Francisco non-profit in the Haight-Ashbury District, services homeless youth who come to the Haight from all over the country to try and build the life they weren’t able to have at home.
There are more than 5,000 homeless youth on the streets of San Francisco, almost half of whom are LGBT. More than half of that number struggle with mental health issues; many come from histories of abuse, addiction and neglect.
Since 1992, HYA has run a drop in center out of a storefront on Haight Street, providing therapy, counseling, case management, and medical care to San Francisco’s runaway youth, making over 15,000 contacts a year. HYA services the most “hard core” component of San Francisco’s homeless youth population, teaching harm reduction methods and providing services free of judgment or dogma. As a result, they are universally beloved by street kids in SF.
But in 2014, like many San Francisco non-profits, HYA lost their lease — even after offering to pay three times the amount of their original rent. Since then, they've applied to over thirty-three other spaces in the Haight and been denied. The rising cost of rent in San Francisco isn’t news, and now, because of it, HYA itself is homeless.
Even without a brick and mortar space, HYA hasn’t stopped helping San Francisco's runaway youth. They continue to operate from a van parked in front of their old location, providing all of their services in nearby parks, cafes, donated spaces and, when there’s no other option, on the street itself.
A few years ago I met a woman named Mary – we never spoke much, but I always had the feeling that she did something important . She had the look of someone who spends most of their time helping others. Eventually — around the time HYA lost their lease — I found out that she was the director of the program, and that she herself had once been homeless teenager. Through the services of grassroots non-profits like HYA, Mary was able to rebuild her life and create a career in service for others. Most of HYA’s outreach staff has personal experience with homelessness and addiction – many received HYA’s services to get on their feet – and so are able to connect more deeply and honestly with Haight Ashbury’s homeless youth.
As one participant says about the program:
“I know I’m not the only one to say this, but this place saved my life. There’s really not another place like this in the city. I’ve been to other drop-ins, I’ve been to other needle exchanges, and it’s just always felt really institutional, and sometimes like they were doing it out of a combination of pity and resentment…I think it’s amazing that this place makes homeless kids feel like people. And I think that’s important.”
HYA is currently running a capital campaign to raise $5 million so they can purcahse a building in the Haight and never face the threat of homelessness again. The campagin’s name is: Go Big or Stay Homeless. So I’ve challenged myself to raise $10,000 for HYA in 30 days, to demonstrate that big change can happen quickly.
HYA's motto is: "Help us be the home they never had."
Go big with me. Let's help them. Show the homeless youth of San Francisco — and around the country — that their lives matter.