Blog | Keep up with the latest at St. Anthony’s

Optimizely Connects with Community at St. Anthony’s

Optimizely at St. Anthony's-2“Sometimes in our busy lives we can forget how lucky and fortunate we are. St. Anthony’s education around the Tenderloin and the challenges of the people living here in our neighborhood were especially eye-opening.”
—Holger, volunteer

Holger and his teammates from Optimizely joined us for a day of service that kicked off with our homegrown justice education workshop, which provides volunteers with a deeper understanding of the Tenderloin neighborhood and the guests we serve. Thanks to the whole crew for a wonderful day!

Click here to learn more about our corporate volunteer opportunities.

All You Can’t Eat: The Tenderloin Dinner Experience

 All You Can't Eat BlogSan Francisco is known as a culinary capital. At the same time, 28% of San Franciscans suffer from food insecurity.

This is the reality faced by many residents of the Tenderloin—limited or no access to a supermarket and a fixed income can leave healthy eating out of reach.

Join St. Anthony’s Thursday, September 24th for “All You Can’t Eat: The Tenderloin Dinner Experience” to learn more about what a Tenderloin resident has to experience to purchase food in the neighborhood.

Tenderloin Tech Lab Says Goodbye to Julia Cowan

Tech Lab Julia Cowan Goodbye BlogThe Tenderloin Tech Lab benefits each year from the contributions of a Jesuit Volunteer, who along with hundreds of others across the country, volunteer for a year in a service organization.  Julia Cowan joined the Tech Lab team in August 2014 as the volunteer Instructional Coordinator.  She taught classes and workshops, coordinated our teachers and teaching assistants, welcomed and got to know Tech Lab guests at the front desk and helped many of our guests feel more comfortable with computers and build their skills.  Leo Stillinger, a 5-week volunteer Guest Associate, Tutor and Teacher Assistant, sat down to interview Julia about her year.

What will you remember most about your year at St. Anthony’s?

I will remember the guests most, and also the community of St Anthony’s, which is very unique; it’s as close to a classless society as I can imagine with the staff, guests, volunteers, guys in the job training program. I’ll remember that most.

What did you learn this past year?

I’ve learned that just the littlest bit of interaction, smiles, willingness to help and be open to anyone and everybody is so important, whether it’s in the classroom or just for the guests who are coming in, just smiling and saying hello. Having that respect and dignity for each member of our community is something that you can think about and prepare for, but actually being here and witnessing it is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life.

What made you choose San Francisco for your year of service?

I actually didn’t have a choice of city, but rather the placement of program in the city, and St. Anthony’s stood out to me for many reasons: access to technology is really an important need for all people and the Tenderloin, which I had heard, you know, a lot of things about, and is very densely populated with homeless and low income people, has an interesting dynamic in the city that has been the center of the tech boom – so that dynamic was something I was interested in and wanted to learn more about.

What was your favorite part of volunteering at the Tech Lab?

My favorite part was teaching, because I got to know the groups of individuals on a deeper level. An interesting part of St. Anthony’s is this sense of community, and how learning is reciprocal: we all learn together, I enjoy sharing my knowledge of computer skills, but the class was not limited to just my knowledge: I also enjoyed learn from students and guests about their own experience with technology, and also just their lives.

Would you do it all again?

A hundred percent! And I hope to reconnect with the Tech Lab someday, or carry on its mission elsewhere.

Advocacy update – California anti-hunger legislation


***Update on California anti-hunger bills***

Friday September 11 was the last day for bills to make it out of the legislature and on to the Governor’s desk.  Three of the bills mentioned below, AB 515, AB 1321, and SB 708 made it out of the legislature and are now on the Governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.  Click here to send an email to Governor Brown in support of these bills.


September is Hunger Action Month,  when we join with food banks and anti-hunger organizations from around the country in raising awareness about hunger in our communities and talking about solutions that can help ensure that everyone has enough to eat.  Look for us on social media in September – we’ll be wearing orange and sharing information about hunger in our community and about how to get involved in anti-hunger advocacy. read more…

Going Back to School in Style

In the far corner of a bustling room, chock full of parents, kids, and a handful of stroller-riding toddlers, Benny – a soon-to-be eleventh grade student at Balboa High School – was heading out the door, arms full of new clothes, a new backpack, new shoes, and a $50 gift certificate to Old Navy.  He had an unassuming yet confident tenor in his voice, especially after securing a plethora of much needed school supplies.  He was eager to explain how this upcoming year was a pivotal one for him.  Benny

“We have these things called Pathways at Balboa.  I just got into the Law Pathway.”

If you fast forward a decade or so, you could imagine Benny cramming for his Bar exam, ready to launch a career as a budding, young attorney.  But today, he shyly and graciously received his new back-to-school digs.  “The winter coat is my favorite.”  He went on to explain, “This was more than I thought it would be.  I was planning on getting some new clothes for school, so this helps out a lot.” read more…

Cruel and Usual Punishment – Criminalizing Sleeping Outside

homeless sleeping blog

What do San Francisco and Boise, Idaho have in common?  Both cities ban sleeping or camping in public places.  Both cities have more homeless people than shelter beds.

In 2009, homeless people in Boise took legal action against the Boise Police Department for citing homeless people for sleeping outside when the city does not have adequate homeless shelter space.  Their argument: criminalizing homeless people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go is a violation of the 8th Amendment of the constitution barring cruel and unusual punishment.

Last week, attorneys for the US Department of Justice argued, in a Statement of Interest for the Boise case, that Boise’s anti-camping and sleeping laws are unconstitutional because:

When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.

In San Francisco, our single adult shelter system has the capacity to shelter approximately 1,100 people.  There are currently 721 people on the city-administered wait list for a shelter bed.  Sleeping, camping, sitting, and lying down outside are illegal in San Francisco, too.

We’re not sure how the Department of Justice’s statement in the Boise case will affect court rulings in other cities (like Los Angeles, which is currently fighting a court battle for its right to cite homeless people who sleep outside) or how it may affect cities that are considering introducing bans on sleeping outside.  What is clear, though, is that it is not just radical advocates who are arguing against criminalizing homeless people for engaging in innocent acts like sleeping or sitting in public space.  The fact that the Federal government is also asserting that criminalization is a costly and ineffective non-solution to the problem of homelessness will hopefully mean that  our local governments will soon have to end their harmful practices of punishing people who have no other choice but to sleep or sit on the streets.

To learn more about how laws that target homeless people’s presence in public space have affected homeless San Franciscans, check out this report from the Coalition on Homelessness and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center.

“From a grain of sand . . .

Marie O'Connor August 2015. . . a mountain is built!” Chuck first heard these words a few years back from Fr. Dan Lackie, OFM, who was then serving as a St. Anthony’s Chaplain. Chuck met Fr. Dan when he attended the 1999 “Penny Pitch” fundraiser for St. Anthony’s (SAF). Chuck’s father had passed away the previous Christmas, and Chuck was still reeling with grief. Chuck describes encountering Fr. Dan as “. . . serendipitous: I connected with Fr. Dan. He saw my grief, and he helped me through it—for months! He helped my Mother too. He introduced me to St. Anthony’s back when the Dining Room was still underground, and I started volunteering in the Dining Room and in the Learning Center & Employment Program (LCEP).”

Chuck’s demanding job in Human Relations (HR) required him to stop volunteering for a while—but those ‘’grains of sand” continued to build. Part of Chuck’s work was in enhancing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for a major corporation. David Smith, MD, founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic and a leader in Addiction Medicine was also involved: “I learned from the best of the best!”

Not long after Chuck retired, he heard Karl Robillard (our Communications & Public Relations Manager) talking about St. Anthony’s on the radio. “I remembered Karl from the Dining Room, when he was then the Volunteer Coordinator. I still had his card in my wallet!” Chuck reconnected with Karl in 2013, and put his apron back on to serve in the temporary Dining Room at 150 Golden Gate. He also connected with St. Anthony’s Tenderloin Technology Lab (TTL). Karl had served as manager of the LCEP, shepherding its exciting transition into the Tech Lab. The grains of sand were really gaining ground! Chuck met with TTL’s Frank Woodeshick, Vocational Counselor and by early 2014, Chuck was volunteering in the Father Alfred Center (FAC) Job Preparation Program. Another skilled volunteer has since joined in as well to support this crucial effort for the men in SAF’s residential recovery program. And Chuck is the first to tell you that he is just one person in a wonderful team of staff and volunteers, both in the Dining Room and in the Technology Lab!

Chuck’s background in HR, his experience developing enlightened EAP programs for Recovery, and his “serendipitous” relationship with the Franciscans and St. Anthony’s made him a perfect fit for this role. In about 9 sessions, the men from FAC are given a comprehensive skills assessment, guided in job search, coached through developing resumes that will rise above the competition, and drilled in very realistic, rigorous mock job interviews with insightful peer review. By the time the gentlemen are in the actual interview situation, they are PREPARED!

Chuck continues to volunteer several days each week, both in the new Dining Room and in the newly expanded Technology Lab. His retirement appears more like a renewed vocation than a time to kick back. What keeps him so dedicated?   “When you volunteer at St. Anthony’s, you really feel needed and utilized. There’s a kind of ‘instant gratification’ where you feel you really are making a difference,” Chuck says. And I might add—a difference that supports others whose ‘grains of sand’ may have been scattered, to begin anew, climbing their own paths of being and purpose. Bless you, Chuck for “being at the right place at the right time”—and for continuing the caring and meaningful journey, uplifting those you meet along the way.

Back-to-School Day!

Back-to-school 2The first day of school is fast approaching and for many families this means a shopping trip to get a new backpack, school supplies and a fresh new set of clothing. However for many families in San Francisco, especially those that visit St. Anthony’s Free Clothing Program, these shopping trips are simply not a financial reality. 81 percent of the families that utilize the services at our Free Clothing Program live at or below the federal poverty line, and the average monthly income for families that utilize these services is $1,441.20. When a family has to pay for rent, medical costs, food, and other bills, it doesn’t leave much behind in the budget to spend on getting the essentials for school. Therefore, we see a lot of families using our Free Clothing Program during this time of year. read more…

San Francisco’s 2015 Homeless Count & Survey

small mdtimecount15On January 29, 2015, San Francisco conducted its biennial point-in-time homeless count, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of all localities receiving federal funding for homelessness services.
There are three components to San Francisco’s homeless count:

  1. The general street count, conducted between 8pm – midnight on January 29.
  2. The youth street count (of youth under age 25), conducted between 5pm – 9pm on the same night, by homeless youth themselves.
  3. The shelter count (homeless people in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hospital, jail, etc.) for the night of the street count.

For the street count, groups of volunteers either walk or drive around an area of the City and count the number of people who appear to be homeless.  Obviously, this methodology is prone to human error and the results should not be regarded as a “true” measure of street homelessness since people who may be homeless and on the streets but not in plain sight will be missed by volunteers.  People who are couch surfing, doubled up, living in their vehicles, or living on private property that isn’t fit for habitation are also unlikely to be included in the count.

read more…

A Sister to 1,000 Brothers

Sr. Mary + Harld

Sister Mary (left, as if that isn’t obvious) with Harld, a Danish volunteer from the UPS company.

Sister Mary Rogers officially retired on June 30, 2015 after a distinguished 15 year career as a drug and alcohol counselor at Fr. Alfred Center.  For thousands of people, she was the first face they saw when making the life-changing decision to seek treatment for their addiction.  For many more, she was a critical link in their journey to remain clean and sober.

“If you told me 25 years ago I’d be doing THIS, I’d say you were crazy,” she chuckled.  ‘THIS’ describes the experience of being an 80 year old nun and the only female counselor in a drug and alcohol recovery program for 60 homeless and low-income men.

Nearly 39 years ago, Sr. Mary took her last sip of alcohol and never looked back.  At the time, she and her husband Jack checked into a recovery program for alcoholics in Santa Barbara, determined to find their own sobriety.  Two years later, in 1978, Jack died, leaving Sr. Mary widowed, newly sober, and searching for a way forward in life.

read more…