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GLIDE Voices is highlighting Asian American & Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander Month. We asked Clinical Director Roderick Penalosa what GLIDE values resonate with you this month and why?

My family and I migrated from the Philippines to the United States in search of equitable opportunities. The benchmark of success for many immigrants like myself is to thrive in America unscathed and to earn the privilege of American citizenship. The journey towards achieving the American dream comes with social, environmental, and political values that can stifle and oppress our voices and visibility in this country

My race has always been the most prominent marker of my identity, and for an Asian-American who came here as an adolescent, I was incessantly entrenched in the model minority myth – stereotypes that perpetuate the characterization of all Asians as the ideal persons of color to emulate because of our perceived natural capacity to comply, obey, excel, and succeed. This mythical belief is detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing because it takes away our right to be included, counted, and supported, particularly in times of crisis, due to the assumption that we are not susceptible to socio-economic and psychological stress. Many of us in the AAPI community suffer in silence because of the social stigma and shame that comes with help-seeking behaviors.

As an Asian-American, I resonate deeply with the GLIDE values of truth-telling and unconditional compassion. I’m a strong proponent of social justice advocacy that starts with self-responsibility. The courage to show up every day in our most authentic selves, in all circumstances, is a healing form of conveying our truth and an unconditional expression of self-compassion.

Revealing my true nature, even in my helplessness and most vulnerable moments, is an affirmation of my identity as a proud gay Filipino American immigrant man who belongs and deserves to be heard, seen, and recognized in America. Owning my authenticity and capacity to love myself and others is the truth that I share deeply with GLIDE and with humanity. In my role as GLIDE’s Clinical Director, I aspire to redefine the meaning and value of trauma-informed service that is healing-centered and culturally compassionate.”

Roderick Penalosa, PhD, LMFT
GLIDE Clinical Director

By Sarah Wunning and Satanjeev “Bano” Banerjee

Since the 1960s, GLIDE has relied on direct service volunteers to help provide safety net services (such as daily free meals) to the most vulnerable people in our community. Recently, we have been experimenting with a Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV) model, in which we use the specialized skills of volunteers to build capacity in different parts of the organization. At the same time, over the last decade, there has been an increase in San Francisco–based technology companies looking to engage with the local community, with employees eager to volunteer their skills to make an impact. 

Twitter is one such company. Located only a few blocks from GLIDE, the company organizes a volunteer day for all of its staff twice a year called Twitter For Good Day (TFG). Traditionally, most TFG Day volunteering projects have been direct service in nature, such as serving meals at GLIDE and other similar nonprofits, cleaning parks, or assembling hygiene kits. In addition to these worthy projects, Twitter and GLIDE’s Data, Strategy and Evaluation team have partnered over the last couple of years to develop data projects that utilize volunteers with data skills.

The Challenges and Our Approach

Using the typical short-term volunteer model for data analysis comes with some unique challenges. Unlike many direct service volunteering projects, data volunteers need more context about the task, the data, and what kind of analysis will most benefit the organization.

Enabling short-term volunteers to do data analysis within three hours means doing a lot of prep work beforehand. Unfortunately, just as GLIDE staff often does not have adequate time for the actual analysis, there is also a shortage of bandwidth for the prep work. Our approach to tackling this challenge is to rely on one or two long-term volunteers to help with the data prep, including time-consuming tasks like data cleaning, anonymizing, setting up the logistics for the day, and recruiting volunteers from Twitter.

Coming up with the right type of project or question is also an important part of preparing for skills-based volunteers. The right balance of a project—one that is important but not urgent, impactful for volunteers to work on, and can be accomplished in three hours—can be difficult to find. Over the years, we have found that asking open-ended questions and mixing in questions that are not purely related to data analysis has created the most value for both GLIDE and the volunteers working on the projects.

Data for Good team hard at work at GLIDE in 2018.

“Data for Good” — some highlights

Over the last three years, dozens of skills-based volunteers have worked on various projects at GLIDE. We call these joint efforts Data for Good. Below, we showcase just two of our several collaborative projects:

Analyzing demographics and who exactly GLIDE serves

GLIDE program staff have noticed GLIDE’s participant population demographics change over the years, and they wanted to know what the data shows—in particular, if there are certain population groups within the Tenderloin that are underserved by GLIDE’s programs. Volunteers received anonymized GLIDE program data, which they then sliced and diced by demographic information, such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. They then compared that information to similar San Francisco below-poverty census data and Tenderloin census data, and found that, overall, there were not any major gaps between GLIDE’s program participant data and the census data, and that trends were consistent between GLIDE and the Tenderloin neighborhood. This useful information has inspired GLIDE to redo this analysis on an ongoing basis, in order to identify any potential future gaps in service to the community.

Getting at an Unduplicated Client Count for the Daily Free Meals Program 

GLIDE serves three meals a day, 364 days a year. In order to remove barriers to food security, participants don’t sign in or fill out forms and clients can receive as many meals as they want in a day or mealtime. The only data we do have is the total number of plates served. A question that GLIDE has always been interested in answering accurately is: How many unique participants come to GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals in a year? We presented volunteers with this open-ended question to have them brainstorm possible solutions. GLIDE staff showed volunteers how a meal shift is run and how participants flow through the dining hall. The volunteers proposed using a lightweight survey coupled with statistical modeling to arrive at an accurate answer to this question. We are now following up by piloting these lightweight surveys, conducted while participants wait in line.

What We Learned

Data for Good has had six iterations so far. Across these sessions, we have learned various lessons that have helped us improve the program. We list them below in the hope that these learnings will be useful to other nonprofits.

  1. Champions Needed: Skills-Based Volunteering isn’t a common volunteering model for either nonprofits or for-profits, partly because it is difficult to do well. In order for SBV to be successful, it’s necessary to have people on both sides that are committed to its success over a long period of time. 
  1. Patience: With direct service volunteering, you often see immediate impact, whereas with SBV, it takes time to build up impact. For example, in the demographics analysis project described above, the first round of Data for Good activity answered some questions and laid the groundwork for future analysis. By doing more follow up analyses, we have built on this work over the course of several years and deepened our understanding of GLIDE’s program participants.
  1. Think Beyond Data: In the beginning, we thought narrowly about the types of projects that are suitable for Data for Good—mostly pure data analysis. Over the years, however, we have expanded to other kinds of SBV, such as creating slide decks from data reports, performing simple data clean ups, and conducting internet research. These kinds of projects are as impactful as data analysis, and volunteers enjoy getting to use skills outside of data analysis.

Skills-based volunteering or SBV has been an impactful addition to GLIDE’s volunteering program. It has allowed GLIDE to not only answer some longstanding questions but has also deepened our relationship with Twitter. Through this relationship, we have started working on other long-term projects, such as running our first in-house randomized controlled trial on the number of mail solicitations sent to donors. In the future, we hope to expand this model to other departments across GLIDE—and we hope that other nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies will also join us on this journey!


Sarah Wunning (center) is GLIDE’s Data Systems Manager and Satanjeev “Bano” Banerjee (left) is Machine Learning Engineer at Twitter. They would like to thank the following colleagues for their generous support of the work detailed above. At GLIDE: Kate Purdy and Caitlin Jolicoeur. At Twitter: Kania Azrina, JP Wong, Bhargav Manjipudi, London Lee, and Karl Robillard.

And, not least, thank you to all the Twitter volunteers who’ve participated in Data for Good over the last several years, we appreciate you!

A lifeline in a landscape stalked by poverty and the coronavirus

As most of San Francisco remains at a relative standstill to slow the spread of the coronavirus, GLIDE Harm Reduction Case Manager Felanie Castro is behind the wheel, crisscrossing the city seven hours a day.

Piloting GLIDE’s community outreach van, and accompanied by a rotating roster of GLIDE health systems navigators and other Harm Reduction staff (Rita Bagnulo, Ali Lazarus, Jason Norelli, Amy Rodriguez, Amber Sheldon, Mike Thompson), Felanie makes between 20 and 35 stops a day, supporting unhoused San Franciscans for whom social isolation and resource scarcity have only deepened in the context of the current public health emergency.

“Everybody I’m seeing is getting a meal and water, and if they have any SAS [Syringe Access Services] needs, they’re getting that,” explains Felanie during a recent phone conversation.

“I’m also screening people—asking them if they’re having a new cough, experiencing a fever, having shortness of breath. I have a non-contact thermometer that DPH [San Francisco Department of Public Health] gave me. And I’m passing out tents. I think I’ve passed out over 400 tents since the 25th of March. I’m passing out hand sanitizer and hygiene kits. Masks when I get them.”

In practice, mobile outreach is nothing new to Felanie and her Harm Reduction colleagues. GLIDE introduced its customized community outreach van—complete with a phlebotomy chair and other equipment for on-site testing—last year as part of a new program called OPT-IN.

OPT-IN, part of a five-year grant operated in partnership with DPH, is designed to further the reach of GLIDE’s Harm Reduction program in serving the most marginalized populations across San Francisco with successful health interventions for addressing the HIV and Hep C epidemics and other harms among the city’s unhoused residents.

But in the context of a global pandemic—and the necessary scaling back or shuttering of restaurants and most other businesses, all in-person cultural events and many city services—priorities have shifted. More than ever, Felanie and crew act as a literal lifeline to people living an increasingly precarious existence in makeshift encampments and enclaves that fan out from the city center—from SoMa and the Mission to Excelsior, Potrero Hill, Bayshore, Bayview Hunters Point, all the way to the far side of Candlestick Park and beyond to the water’s edge.

“I’ve seen over 2,400 people since the end of March. Distributed over 2,000 meals,” recounts Felanie.

“There are 10 to 15 locations a day that I visit all the time. I’ve been to certain places where they’re saying, ‘Thank you, because you’re the only person coming out here. You’re the only person to ever come out here. And you’re repeatedly coming out here.’”

“The distribution of water and hygiene kits is a critical intervention to prevent disease transmission among persons with no access to running water, such as in the Warehouse district,” adds Harm Reduction Program Manager Daniela Wotke.

In addition to basic necessities and harm reduction services, information has been another valuable offering to help guard the health of people living unhoused.

“I’ve been passing out some literature, too. Little half-page booklets. Dispelling some of the myths that they have,” says Felanie of the people living outside.

“It’s still abstract for a lot of people who are already kind of remote. I’m also giving them the information about MSC South. There are a lot of people who tested positive at MSC South. There are probably people who are positive who were at MSC South and who are out in the community. So physical distancing and having a mask are really things to pay attention to.

“I’m really good with boundaries,” continues Felanie. “I’m wearing my mask; I ask people to keep their distance. So, I lead by example in that respect. Different pockets have different levels of anxiety and stress over this—all coupled with their stress about, ‘Hey, how am I going to get food and water, and basic things to clean myself with, if you don’t come out?’”

To date, no one Felanie has screened for symptoms presented signs that would necessitate further evaluation at SF General. “I haven’t had anybody yet,” notes Felanie, “and I’ve screened maybe 350 people.”

GLIDE Harm Reduction team members Felanie, Amy and Jason with the OPT-IN van on February 6, 2020. (photo: Rob Avila)

Fortunately, regular services like the ones offered from the OPT-IN van, including the basics of food and water and modest shelter, mean many unhoused city residents have the ability to shelter where they are without having to risk venturing into the more congested centers of town.

And, as Felanie makes clear, the outreach is a community effort:

In addition to logistical support from DPH, and the regular SAS outreach conducted by San Francisco AIDS Foundation (another member of the OPT-IN program), GLIDE’s OPT-IN team relies on a network of allies for sourcing such critical supplies as tents (Coalition on Homelessness), hand sanitizer (via homeless rights activist Christin Evans), meals (GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals team, with donations from Gate Gourmet and others), hygiene kits (The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), and masks (some homemade ones, some from a local drive instigated by District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, to which many generous individuals contributed).

For now, the OPT-IN mobile outreach remains a vital and, for many, a unique line of support as unhoused people across the city weather a season of increased deprivation, uncertainty and risk.

“When you talk about Market Street all the way to the water on the East side, I can’t think of a street that I have not been on,” says Felanie. “There was one or two days when I was between Bayshore and the water all day. I put 50 miles on the van, just in that area. That’s going every single block.”

https://youtu.be/WdwjJV8Gwuw

Saundra Haggerty on GLIDE’s Men In Progress violence-intervention program

Saundra Haggerty is the lead facilitator and case manager for GLIDE’s Men In Progress (MIP) program, a 52-week court-mandated Batterer’s Intervention program that supports men in acquiring the skills they need to work through their anger and change their violent behavior. GLIDE’s MIP is one of the few free programs of its kind in California, and the only free program in the Bay Area. In her reflections, Saundra shares what it is like being a woman in a space aimed at supporting men in unlearning violence, which in many cases has previously been targeted towards women.  

The following is the third installment in our series honoring the vital work of case managers by examining the complexity and compassion that goes into supporting participants in accessing the resources they need in order to improve their relationship with their partners, children, family, friends, community and themselves.

Being a woman in charge of running the Men In Progress program is hard. I facilitate three group sessions every week for men that have been court ordered to attend because of their violence. Each class is about two hours long and has at least 24 men.

As a facilitator I spend a lot of time working on communication. I help men manage real life conflicts and learn how to communicate with their partners. I have a guy in the program right now who is having problems with the mother of his kids. He comes to group and presents a situation and asks, “What could I have done better, Saundra? You are a female so you must understand where she is coming from.”

As a case manager I spend most of my time making sure that the men successfully complete their mandate. This entails identifying any barriers to their completion. I am in frequent contact with parole and probation officers. The court requires a written assessment once a month to report on each participant’s attendance, how they are doing in class and whether we see them taking accountability for their behavior. I spend a lot of time assessing the men on what they are learning and what they feel they need to learn.

We have quite a few men in the program that are homeless, which makes everything so difficult. Many of the men have to bring all their belongings with them to each group multiple times a week. Those who are staying in shelters have a strict timeframe when they have to be back at the shelter location or else they lose their bed for the night, so I write letters to verify that they were in class so that they can get a late pass. In addition to group sessions, I do one-on-one meetings with men who need additional support, whether that is resources or someone to listen to them.

Before this, I worked in GLIDE’s Women’s Center, which dealt with the other side—providing a safe haven for women who have survived domestic violence. Initially, after the experience of supporting women on their road to recovery from violence, working with men who had perpetrated violence was difficult. Just the language used during group can be violent and offensive. I often have to correct participants by saying, “We don’t call women that,” and explain why. Many of the movies that are part of the curriculum, aimed at showing men how damaging their behaviors can be, can really get me in the gut sometimes. Some of them portray women getting beat up and killed. It can be very graphic.

Nevertheless, I believe it is important for everybody to understand that all behavior is learned behavior. These men did not come into this world being violent. Yes, they have done some bad things, but it doesn’t mean that they are bad people.

Many of the men I work with came from abusive childhoods. They learned violence in their homes and were never taught how to manage the rage or anger that followed. Many of the African American men in the program come from single parent households where their mothers were struggling to provide for their families. Their definition of what a man should be is taught in these environments that are far too often violent.

What our program seeks to do is help these men unlearn this type of behavior by understanding where this behavior comes from, where it was learned. We call this “unpacking.” And as we go through this curriculum, at some point the lightbulb goes off. I have heard countless men say, “You’re right, Saundra. I wasn’t born like this.”

I feel honored that this program gives me insight into how men think and why they think the way they do. What I have learned is that these men are also victims in many ways. It feels good working with these men, knowing that by helping them I am also helping those women I used to serve. This work is about healing—healing the family, healing the community and healing themselves. Somebody has to do this work, and who better than a woman?

By Erin Gaede

Isoke Femi on the spiritual roots of African American music and the power of harmony

Music has always played an essential role in resisting oppression and advancing social justice, including at GLIDE. In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Isoke Femi, Maven of Transformative Learning in GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, to discuss the foundation of music in her life, spirituality, and justice work. Isoke encourages us to listen to Black music with new ears, as a “medicinal power” that got people through the intense trauma of oppression in all its forms. “It is no accident,” says Isoke, “that such music had  potent power to influence and profoundly shape the world.” 

What many people fail to understand is that all Black music is spiritual music. It comes out of an ethos that says you have to be able to create a mood instantly. It is about bringing down the spirit. The questions is: What is the spirit you are trying to bring down? Even if it is love or blues, it is still recognized as spiritual. Love is a spiritual thing. Sex is a spiritual thing. Romance is a spiritual thing. These are experiences that you treat spiritually — music is that spiritual treatment. It’s a remedy. It is naming the problem, it is addressing the problem and it is identifying the energetic field.

I call the music that Africans brought to America, and later evolved, “soul force.” The sorrow of the Negro Spiritual is the sorrow of being enslaved. Music not only names that but elevates the experience of enslavement to something else, to something that is more ethereal, more transcendent. Music can take you deeper into an experience and it can lift you out of it. Black music is masterful at doing both those things.

This is the music I grew up with. Music was central to everyday life. We were members of Church of Christ, so there were no musical instruments. Everything was vocal. The only music was to be brought through the voice. All those sounds. All those swaying bodies. Music was an invitation to be fully present in the body and let the body do what it wanted to do.

 

In my professional life, I use music as a cathartic medicine. Music can say things that words can’t because it bypasses the mental structures that get in the way of certain kinds of communication. We are not all solo performers or commercial musicians, but we realize that music is inextricable to a spiritual experience. The best way to do that is congregational singing, where there is not necessarily any instrument, just voices. Anybody can do that. You don’t have to be able to harmonize, and you don’t have to have a perfect pitch. You can bring your whole soulfulness to it but not need to be super polished.

Every now and then it feels like the universe will drop a few lines into my consciousness that become almost like a mantra or a chant. I use this in facilitating workshops. I use it in rallies. Anytime there is a gathering or a moment in a gathering when something is called for and you feel a little unsure. When there is a need for catharsis, I break out into song.

By Erin Gaede

Reflections of a powerful young voice from the global movement for justice

Bee Ling recently came to GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice as part of the International Research & Exchanges Fellowship (IREX) on tolerance and conflict resolution. Having Bee here with us was a rare and very special opportunity. We learned from her, and we shared with her, as we came to see the Tenderloin and San Francisco through her eyes—and in a global context. Astute, compassionate, kind and courageously dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable members of society, Bee is now a friend and ally for whom we are deeply grateful. Before returning home to Kuala  Lumpur, Bee spoke with us about her perspective on global practices of social exclusion, discussing her plans to set up inclusive initiatives to involve people experiencing homelessness in policy processes and local service responses.

I am from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where gentrification has been forcing many residents out [onto the streets] and causing displacement. I call it banishment, because my neighbors on the street are being forced to move with nowhere to go.

The government calls this voluntary but the high rent prices and the foreign investment companies that are buying up real estate for wealthy people, many of whom don’t even live in Kuala Lumpur, are pushing people into poverty. These new apartments stay empty most of the year. Officials claim that Kuala Lumpur is empty, but what they mean is there are not a lot of middle-class people living there anymore. The hundreds of migrant workers and homeless people are never mentioned.

The Destitute Persons Act, which was legislated during the British Colonial period in 1872, has been at the core of federal and state strategies for dealing with poverty and homelessness in Malaysia. By this law, government officers have the power to conduct raids on ‘destitute persons’ and detain them in welfare homes.

The government narrative describes this as “rescuing” people but it is [actually] arresting [them]. If you dress well, they will leave you alone. But if you look poor or homeless, they take you to these welfare homes where you have no freedom to leave or access to legal counsel.

There is an economy behind all of this. Private contract companies are paid to clear the streets of poor people and their belongings, just like the sweeps here in San Francisco. The sweeps are costly and ineffective. Most people don’t understand that our tax money is being used to target the poor.

In 2014, officials claimed that the root cause of homelessness is soup kitchens, basically blaming poor people for being homeless. I knew that being poor should not be considered a crime, so it was then that I got involved in working on the issue of homelessness. For the last four years, we have been providing services to the people living on the street as a Coordinator for Kedai Jalanan [“Street Store,” a pop-up shop run by faculty and students from the University of Malaysia]. We provide the urban poor with daily necessities like hygiene supplies and clothing.

 

Volunteers from the University of Malaya help set up racks, organize clothes, and lend a listening ear at Kedai Jalanan’s pop-up free market for those people experiencing homelessness in Kuala Lumpur.

I was a student when I started this work and didn’t realize the complexity of the problem and power of institutionalized racism. We need research to persuade our local city council and statistics to repel the Destitute Persons Act, but they are not easy to attain because the government doesn’t produce these statistics. When I talk to city council members they tell me that we have to focus on the bigger picture. But poor people never become the bigger picture. Every day the homelessness problem grows bigger and bigger, but when will it be seen?

I joined the IREX fellowship in hopes of developing a tri-national plan. Before coming to San Francisco, I was in Japan at a conference brainstorming global movements. Rather than working alone, we must join forces together in a movement towards global justice. That is what I hope to accomplish as part of my fellowship at GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice. I want to connect and combine resources to better understand the global forces that are causing people to suffer.

Since starting my year-long fellowship at IREX, I have realized that the way authorities target the poor in the United States is the same as in Southeast Asia. We don’t have as much freedom and as many resources as people in the United States, but I hope to use everything I have learned to run campaigns that address what we can do together to push back against authoritarianism globally. My goal is to activate a community of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur to be part of organizing and standing up for themselves rather than advocates like me speaking for them.

I think it is time we talk about transitional justice, because we can’t move forward until we heal the historical wounds. For example, in Malaysia, we still can’t talk about communism. There is no narrative from the bottom. I want to record the powerful narratives of the poor to inform middle-class conceptions. Poor people have dreams, too.

By Erin Gaede

Reflections on Client Advocacy, or What Is a Case Manager? (Part 2)

Walk-In Center client advocate Nikki Dove says her role at GLIDE is a constant reminder of how hard life can be. “Working here isn’t easy,” Nikki explains. “It’s not for the faint of heart or cold of heart. You’ve got to have humility. And you’ve got to recognize that not everyone knows how to help themselves, which is why spaces like the Walk-In Center are so important. We help anybody and everybody figure out how to navigate systems for themselves.”

The following reflections from Nikki (lightly edited for publication here) comprise the second installment in our series on the vital but little understood work of case managers. (You can read our first installment here.) What does a case manager do? In this series, we examine and honor the complexity and compassion of case management and client advocacy, here on the front lines of  GLIDE’s efforts to support the wellbeing and self-determination of our community.

We have all been there, navigating a system that we aren’t familiar with. It is irritating and frustrating. Now think about how stressful that would be if your needs were immediate–like shelter.

As a Client Advocate in the Walk-In Center, I spend a lot of time trying to support people in communicating their needs. I hand out tokens for transportation, deliver hygiene kits, and support people with their housing applications.

Because access to housing is so scarce now, I am constantly having conversations with folks who are struggling to adjust to how difficult things are. A lot of people I work with are unhoused for the first time in their life. So I help them with their DMV vouchers and support people in navigating the complicated process towards permanent housing, transitional housing, getting into treatment and finding shelter in the city.

The Walk-In Center is the real starting point for many folks.

Sometimes, in other programs, it feels like the goal is just to push people through or move you on to the next department so that you are not in my face anymore, so you are not my problem anymore. There is a different connection that you get when you meet folks at GLIDE.

I try support each person individually in determining what resources they need to move forward. An important part of this process is figuring out what questions clients need to be asking to avoid being pushed off or running around in circles. I am always trying to make sure that their next step is the right step for each person’s unique circumstances.

But mostly I view my role as seeing people. Folks need to be looked at in a way that their presence is acknowledged. We all go through our lives wanting to make sure that we are leaving some type of stamp or legacy, so someone knows that we were here in the future. Everyone here wants that, too. So making eye contact, asking if they need help with anything, and then listening without judgment is the most important part of my job.

This job has taught me that it is not the people at the bottom that are the problem. Sometimes things just happen. It is not always your fault and your reality is not always chosen. We forget that with this community. I haven’t met anybody that grew up thinking that they want to be unhoused on the streets of San Francisco. There is a lot of trauma [involved] that effects all of us. It is really sad to me the way the finger is often pointed at folks who are experiencing homelessness. There are ways to address this multilevel problem without having to blame the people who are experiencing the problem.

Instead of calling this, “The Homelessness Crisis,” we have to question what is happening with our social services and within our government that is allowing things like this to happen to our neighbors. What is happening within our education system, our homes, our communities? We need to ask, “What happened to you?” in order to create compassionate solutions.

That’s why GLIDE is such an important community, a place where anyone can find connection.

GLIDE offers people the opportunity to be connected through various avenues like Harm Reduction, Recovery services, the Women’s Center, volunteer opportunities, the Meals program, senior social events, Sunday Celebration for spiritual support, holistic support at the Wellness Center. And it doesn’t end there!

People always come back when they are doing well to say thank you and show their appreciation. It can be hard for me to take responsibility and accept their praises because it is work they did. I always remind people that we are here to support but you did the work, you took the necessary steps to move in this direction.

I consider GLIDE to be a supportive space where it is okay for whatever you decide. No matter what, we will be here for you if you need us. So come back and let us know how you are doing. Come back and bring someone else in need of help. Come back if you need support figuring out your next steps. That is why we are here. That is why I am here.

 

By Erin Gaede

Nancy Goh is among GLIDE’s most dedicated volunteers, a loving soul and an inspiring member of this community. Not only is she a regular in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program, but she has incorporated raising awareness and support for GLIDE into her passion for running. Below, Nancy reflects on the reciprocal nature of volunteering and the power of community-building through service. 

My first volunteer shift was a Sunday lunch service.

I had just moved from New York City and was looking for something more than just a network in San Francisco, I was looking for community. I had volunteered at soup kitchens before but trying to find a high-impact volunteer opportunity in a big city was always tough when you only had a couple hours a week to contribute. Usually you had to fill out applications and commit to a certain amount of hours per week.

What instantly stood out to me about GLIDE was how easy it was to sign up for a volunteer shift via the online portal, and that you could dedicate one or two hours of your time in the Meals program and serve hundreds of people.

I come from a programs management and operations background, so I appreciate effective processes and good leadership. I was instantly impressed by the lead kitchen staff at GLIDE. They were so engaged and not only made sure everyone knew their role in the cafeteria but that everyone felt that their contributions were of equal importance. When you work in the corporate world for as long as I have, you see a lot of people who don’t love their job because they don’t find purpose in it. GLIDE was the opposite experience. I remember leaving my first volunteer shift heartened and humbled.

The second time I volunteered, Curtis assigned me the position of greeting people at the door and handing them utensils when they first enter the kitchen. It was very impactful for me. I admit that coming into this experience I, like many, had preconceived notions about people experiencing homelessness. But being in that kitchen, in a setting where everyone is considered equal and everyone deserves a delicious meal, deconstructed my prejudices. It was shocking to see the range of people in the meals line. It was then that I became an instant advocate for GLIDE.

I had been running for over ten years when I decided I wanted to run to raise awareness and support for GLIDE. I created a Go Fund Me page in 2019 with a list of all races I would run on behalf of GLIDE. In 2019, I completed two half-marathons and wore my GLIDE hat for each of them.

The more I volunteered at GLIDE, the more I felt a sense of community. It was the highlight of my weekends, walking into GLIDE and saying hello to the staff and volunteers. It brought a new regularity to my life that I didn’t have before. I met people with incredible stories working in the Meals program, many of whom were original recipients of these meals. I built beautiful connections with people I may have never had the pleasure of crossing paths with, like Lee. Lee had recently been released from San Quentin State Prison, where he was a runner in the 1,00 Mile Club. I had recently signed up to run the San Francisco Half Marathon and learned that Lee had too! In the weeks leading up to the marathon, Lee and I built a friendship based on our shared love of running, checking in with each other about how our training was coming along.

This is just one example of the sustainability model behind GLIDE’s Meals program. Access to a good meal can be the foundation for changing one’s livelihood. You start with giving someone something as basic as a meal and, while the impact doesn’t happen over night, the long-term results are the building of a community that continues to serve each other.

Nancy and Lee serving lunch in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program.

 

By Erin Gaede

Reflections on the Complexity and Compassion of Case Management

Demarco McCall describes his occupation and its greatest challenge in the same breath: “a Housing Case Manager in a city without housing.” The reality is that case managers at GLIDE must meet the diverse and complex needs of the most vulnerable members of San Francisco’s unhoused community even in the midst of a seemingly intractable housing crisis.  If that seems like a thankless task, it nevertheless remains a critical one, which daily makes a profound difference in the health and wellbeing of many individuals and families across this city. And, as you’ll read below, it takes unusual reserves of heart, strength and creativity.

Demarco’s answer to our question–”What does a case manager do?”–is the first in a series examining and honoring the complexity and compassion of the case manager’s job– a profession that is often mentioned but not necessarily well understood in its details or scope, especially here on the front lines of GLIDE’s essential work in the community. 

Case management in this city is really hard and totally overwhelming. I am a Housing Case Manager but there is no housing. And let’s be honest, GLIDE is rough. I am exposed to so much trauma just walking to and from work–everything I see, everything that comes into my eyes, all the pain I bear witness to. When I first started working here, that was all that was on my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people I was working with. I’d go home from work still trying to figure out what I can do for this person and that person. I missed out on so much sleep.

I applied to work at GLIDE because I love the values. It’s what makes this organization unique, our ability to meet everybody and anybody where they are at and show them unconditional love. If you visit other organizations, you’ll notice that the building may be neater. But we allow anybody and everybody from the community to come in and feel free to use our bathrooms and feel free to roam our halls because we have an open-door policy.

Even with difficult participants we don’t use a hands-on policy. Instead, we say you can leave the building for one week and come back for a “restorative chat.” That is, a mutually respectful conversation re-establishing the basis for a cooperative relationship that can truly serve the client without taking away from or jeopardizing the help being offered to others. In the meantime, they can still access all our critical services. We will bring them bagged lunches and clean needles and any other supplies they may need.

Some people have a cap on how many participants they case manage, but I don’t. It’s hard but how do you say no? I just took on five new clients today for rental assistance. That puts my caseload at a total of around 30.

The needs of each client vary, but it is always about housing. Filling out housing applications, doing housing searches, knocking on the doors of landlords, signing people up for payee services, filling out rental applications and helping folks with their credit history.

Often clients don’t have the necessary documents to complete housing applications so I help them navigate the system to access social security cards and birth certificates. I am always making copies of all their important documents and keeping all their files organized and up-to-date.

Many of my clients don’t have cell phones, so I am calling property managers, returning calls about potential housing leads, and making appointments at the DMV.

I help folks with their interviewing skills by practicing the questions they might be asked, so that they feel less anxious and more prepared.

Everybody, from all walks of life, needs a case manager. Some people want a case manager because they have been in social services their whole life. Many grew up in juvenile hall or foster care. Now they are 55 and they feel the need for a case manager.

I spend a significant amount of time showing people how to set up an email account and how to use Google Docs to keep track of their rental applications and housing searches. If they are on probation, I collaborate with their probation officer to make sure we are utilizing all the resources available.

A lot of people in this city also have literacy challenges, which they don’t tell you about. I have never had a client tell me, “Hey, I can’t read or write.” Instead they will say, “I need help filling out applications,” or, “I need help looking for housing.” They are worried about saying they can’t read or write because they are afraid of being taken advantage of. They feel scared and vulnerable. So, they seek out a case manager.

Unfortunately, society doesn’t recognize the importance of this critical work. Civil servants, social workers, case managers, early education teachers and care givers are not given the respect they deserve. My job title is Housing Case Manager but I also see my role at GLIDE as smiling at everyone, to share a friendly hello with each person I pass, to cultivate hope in the community by letting people know that it is not as bad as it seems. I see myself in everybody. In the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. That’s me. And that’s why I am a Case Manager at GLIDE.

 

 

 

By Erin Gaede

GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic

When Gary woke up in a Daly City hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage, a hospital administrator informed him that his car had been towed. Unable to leave his hospital bed, Gary called the tow company to explain why he was unable to move his car. But despite explaining that he was not only hospitalized but homeless, and that his car was also his residency, Gary was told that his car would not be released until he paid $9,000 in fees.

This was in part due to San Francisco’s 72-hour law, which says that all vehicles parked on city streets can remain parked in the same spot for only three days in a row, at which point the city is permitted to tow the car without notice.

Gary spent the holidays hospitalized, trying to focus on recuperating, while his phone rang incessantly with demands to pay mounting tow costs—costs that were rapidly rising with exorbitant storage fees for every day his car remained impounded. By the time Gary was finally released from the hospital, the tow company had sold his only home at a lien sale, leaving him without any shelter or his belongings.

A civil justice gap

Across the United States, minor civil infractions like Gary’s are derailing the lives of low-income people who lack the savings necessary to cover an unanticipated expense. And few cities provide legal resources to support people who can’t afford a lawyer or other legal costs.

Legal resources are more readily available for some specific areas of the law, such as immigration; and in criminal cases, a defendant has a constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney. But what does a low-income person do in child custody cases, or evictions, or when they return to their parking place to find out their car has been impounded?

Founding the Unconditional Legal Clinic

James Lin, GLIDE’s senior director of mission and spirituality, recalls the day in September 2013 that “a preppy-looking white guy wearing a polo shirt” walked into GLIDE and introduced himself as Charlie.

At the time, Charlie Crompton worked as a lawyer at one the largest law firms in the city, Latham & Watkins. But Charlie was looking to help a clientele that rarely entered the privileged space of his office building. Charlie’s interest in public service led him to the Tenderloin, where he saw the need and the opportunity to integrate legal resources with the wide range of social services offered at GLIDE.

Word quickly spread that there was a trustworthy lawyer at GLIDE who got things done, for free. By leveraging his extensive legal network, Charlie was able to streamline the on-site, no-cost, drop-in legal services that would become the Unconditional Legal Clinic.

The free legal counsel and resources folded perfectly into GLIDE’s holistic approach to services, which provides loving non-judgmental support for people seeking to obtain and maintain the essentials of life—housing, jobs, benefits and family—amid the hardship of poverty and related challenges.

Like other services provided at GLIDE, the Unconditional Legal Clinic was born out of a need in the community, and it grew organically in its commitment to that need.

A new partnership

When, in 2014, Governor Jerry Brown tapped Charlie to be a superior court judge, the future of the Unconditional Legal Clinic seemed uncertain.

But Charlie is a creative problem-solver, and he once again turned to his network for possibilities. Having sat on the board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), Charlie went to them with a proposal and ultimately secured the collaboration of LCCR pro bono attorneys, supported in its administrative costs by two years of funding from his old firm of Latham & Watkins.

GLIDE was now a secure bridge for immigrants whose first language might not be English, for refugees who may not know their rights, and for low-income communities of color in need of legal guidance and support, all of whom could benefit from connecting with lawyers committed to protecting and advancing the civil rights of anyone and everyone in need.

Representation and dignity

“It has been very healing,” says Bréyon Austin, who studied Tribal and Criminal Law in Albuquerque before joining LCCR and who for the past year has been working at GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic. “I grew up homeless and will always feel that I am part of this community. I wanted to use my law degree to support people in the same situations I myself experienced.”

This is the uniquely reciprocal nature of GLIDE’s Legal Clinic: not only does it provide members of the community with the legal services they need, but it also offers lawyers an immersive experience into the reality of impoverished communities in San Francisco, people struggling to navigate through a confusing and often unjust maze of legal barriers.

For low-income people fighting to survive on the fragile footings of poverty, the results of minor violations can be devastating, especially considering how quickly they tend to snowball.

A vehicle tow, for instance, can mean the loss of transportation, or shelter, or both, which can lead to loss of employment as well as the loss of access to education and medical care. Not only is retrieving a car from a tow lot expensive, but it is also incredibly time-consuming. And for each day the car remains impounded, further fees accrue, as in Gary’s case.

In 2018, Gary visited GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic and connected with an attorney from LCCR, who provided him with the legal assistance and representation he needed to file a claim against the City and the tow company.

The result was justice: The judge ruled that the city should not have towed and sold his vehicle considering his inability to comply with the 72-hour parking law.

Of the more than 200 clients served per year by the clinic, more than half are experiencing homelessness and the majority are people of color over the age of 50.

Bréyon says the most common issues she hears about are City confiscation of personal belongings and housing-related matters. For housed clients, she deals with everything from eviction prevention to landlord harassment and uninhabitable living conditions in apartments infested with rodents and mold, and lacking running water, heat and electricity.

“The work is intense because it is bearing witness to injustice,” admits Bréyon. “But the healing comes from knowing I can help people achieve what they need with the representation and dignity they deserve.”  

Bréyon Austin, Clinic & Pro Bono Coordinator at LCCR

By Erin Gaede

The Unconditional Legal Clinic, a program of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, is open on a drop-in basis, Monday and Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00 pm, at GLIDE.