Academic journal article Health and Social Work

The Making of a Resource Center for Homeless People in San Francisco's Mission District: A Community Collaboration

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

The Making of a Resource Center for Homeless People in San Francisco's Mission District: A Community Collaboration

Article excerpt

The Mission District of San Francisco is a diverse neighborhood with substantial populations of immigrant families from Mexico and Central America; artists, activists, and other people living alternative lifestyles; young dot-com professionals; and a high concentration of homeless people (Little & Murray, 2005). The community has a similarly diverse population of poor and socially vulnerable individuals, including homeless people, people with a mental illness, drug users, undocumented immigrants, and sex workers. Historically, there has been a severe shortage of publicly funded social, mental health, and medical services in the Mission District. In 1999 a group of community nonprofit service providers, advocacy groups, and concerned neighbors called for a drop-in center to serve the Mission District's poor and vulnerable population. With such diverse populations coexisting in one neighborhood, the best approach to starting a resource center was a coalition of agencies representing the needs and concerns of various constituencies. Such a coalition was formed in 1999, consisting of representatives from community-based organizations, including Mission Mental Health, Mission Council for Outpatient Substance Abuse, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, Mission Housing Development Corporation, Mission Agenda, the Mayor's Office on Homelessness, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Public Health.

GENESIS OF THE MISSION NEIGHBORHOOD RESOURCE CENTER

There were many hurdles to overcome before the opening of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center (MNRC), including start-up funding, developing a model that could be sustained over time, finding a mutually agreeable location, and meeting the concerns of the diverse neighborhood. At the time, Mayor Willie Brown's office was supportive of creating drop-in centers for homeless individuals throughout San Francisco and committed a grant of $711,000 (renewed every three years), administered by the San Francisco Human Services Agency (SFHSA), to pay for the core drop-in services. Furthermore, the San Francisco Community Clinics Consortium Health Care for the Homeless Program committed $280,000 a year to support medical and dental services at the MNRC. Given ever-changing budgetary priorities in San Francisco, coalition members felt it was important to establish a service model that could weather potential budget cuts. The result was that existing service agencies, with their own funding, agreed to provide services on-site at the MNRC. This gave agencies easy access to a client base and made multiple services available at MNRC, without necessitating a separate funding stream. Nearly a half-million dollars worth of in-kind social services are provided at MNRC each year. Given the difficulty of coordinating services in a population with multiple needs, this was a beneficial model for the MNRC, the participating service agencies, and the homeless population (see Table 1 for a complete list of collaborators and services provided).

Securing Space

Once a plan to create the MNRC coalesced and funding was secured, finding an appropriate location for the MNRC was a challenge. The coalition went through a three-year process of negotiation with concerned neighbors, parent groups, and a local school around each potential site. The primary concern of individuals and business owners was that the neighborhood homeless population would increase as a direct result of the establishment of the resource center. The coalition worked tirelessly, reaching out to neighbors who opposed the project. Community events, at which there were opportunities for questions to be answered and concerns to be addressed, were critical in leveraging support and addressing fears of those opposed to the center. In early 2001 the city of San Francisco acquired a 10-year lease on what was previously a two-story sewing shop, and construction began.

Funds from the SFHSA grant paid to completely gut and renovate the building according to the vision of the program. …

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