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With a new mobile testing and outreach van, GLIDE joins the OPT-IN effort to connect the most vulnerable to services

On a remote stretch of road just west on the Third Street artery that runs through San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood, a young man is about to receive life-saving treatment.

The setting is anything but residential and yet full of makeshift housing—weathered campers, trailers and other vehicles, tents and lean-tos, all situated in an abandoned industrial landscape decorated over in graffiti and sectioned by torn chainlink fencing topped with razor-wire.

GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Community Outreach van makes a bright addition to these surroundings, the iconic orange heart on the front acting as a beacon of support to the neighborhood.

Frank Castro, GLIDE case manager and the van’s driver, has just pulled up in front of a slightly run-down mobile home with covered windows. Alix Strough, a nurse with the Department of Public Health’s Street Medicine unit, hops out of the GLIDE van and looks around. A moment later, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) outreach team pulls up, too, just in front of GLIDE. Roy and Damon step out of SFAF’s white cargo van, which sports a random assortment of stickers promoting harm reduction and decrying the war on drugs.

Greetings exchanged, the crew scans the area. The mid-September day is cloudless and unusually hot, already into the low 90s, and at first no one seems to be around. “Normally there would be more foot traffic,” says Frank, “lots more.”

On site in the Bayview, September 2019 (photo by Robert Avila)

This is the team’s usual Friday stop. For the past several months, they have been spending several hours here each week, and been well received for the services and support they offer the homeless people living in the area. GLIDE and SFAF typically divide up the services to maximize their time here, with SFAF offering syringe access, Narcan training and distribution, and other harm reduction services while GLIDE’s specially equipped van allows the GLIDE team to concentrate on testing and linkages to care.

Frank, in cargo shorts and a black GLIDE tee, opens the van’s sliding door. He has decided to keep the engine on today in order to keep the air-conditioning running. Inside the van, GLIDE Health Systems Navigator Khaiya Croom is arranging equipment by the phlebotomy chair, preparing the space for testing.

The van is equipped to test for HIV, Hepatitis C and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). HIV and Hep C test results can be had on-site in a matter of minutes. With Alix onboard, the van can also offer rapid testing for syphilis, which alarmingly has been on the rise among women of childbearing years. As a nurse, Alix can treat STIs on-site as well.

Today, Frank has test results for someone he has been engaging with in this area. “When we see this person, I’ll let him know. At that point I’ll ask him if he wants to be in the OPT-IN program,” he explains, referring to the collaborative street outreach effort managed by the City’s Department of Public Health. “At that point, I’m his case manager.”

Alix decides to venture around the area and let people know there are harm reduction and testing services available. She and Damon load up a backpack with bottles of water and head down the nearby railroad track, respectfully pausing by the tents and camps scattered along either side to offer water (gratefully accepted on this scorching day) and let people know the vans have arrived with services for those who want them.

Across the street from the GLIDE van, beside a camper with a boat on a trailer, two men and a woman express their appreciation for the outreach, not only for the material support but for the judgment-free way in which it is offered.

“It’s amazing how looked down upon you are just because you live on the street,” the young woman tells Roy. “You guys all talk to us just like we’re anyone else.”

Back at the van, meanwhile, Frank is speaking with a young man with a neatly cropped beard who has ridden over on a bicycle. Alix has returned from the railroad track and joins the interaction. Afterward, she takes her laptop into a patch of shade as Frank relates the successful result: The young man has learned his status, and has agreed to sign up for treatment for Hep C.

Alix registers him with the Department of Public Health and will ultimately be able to administer his medication here on-site. Frank, as his case manager, will coordinate regular contact, offer emotional support, help with related challenges, and generally work to mitigate factors that could impede successful treatment.

In a matter of months, the young man can expect to receive treatment and eradicate the virus, all without ever having to enter a clinic or hospital.

“This is what our hope was,” says Frank, referring to the days of outreach before OPT-IN, “but this is the piece we needed. We needed a nurse.”

 

Project OPT-IN

OPT-IN arose to meet the challenge of reaching the most marginalized populations with successful health interventions and services for addressing the HIV and Hep C epidemics and other harms among the city’s homeless residents.

Funded by a five-year grant to the city’s Department of Public Health (DPH) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program joins DPH’s Street Medicine unit with two social service agencies with extensive experience working with the populations concerned: San Francisco AIDS Foundation and GLIDE.

It was GLIDE’s Director of Harm Reduction Services, Paul Harkin, who offered the name, which stands for “outreach, prevention, treatment and integration.” But the name also points to a fundamental approach, grounded in the harm reduction principle that health interventions must be invited and not coerced.

“We see our approach as meeting trauma-informed criteria with cultural competency and humility,” says Paul.

“Our staff genuinely get what’s going on in these populations and are respected by them for the way that they treat everyone. Any approach to the most vulnerable populations has to come with that perspective. The notion of using coercion or threats is a failing approach. It’s totally counterproductive. It scares people away from care. It adds to their trauma and it actually makes them more vulnerable and more at risk.”

For Paul, OPT-IN is the logical extension of the outreach GLIDE has long done in the Tenderloin and South of Market, and more recently in monthly visits to encampments across the city. Now, with the van, that citywide relationship-building runs five days a week in places like the Bayview, the Western Addition, and Haight Ashbury. This consistency, showing up regularly and reliably to build trust, is crucial.

“One of GLIDE’s strengths is our presence on the streets,” he explains. “That’s how you build up cred. You get to know people. We’ve only added to that with OPT-IN, by adding more outreaches, and increasing that engagement.”

OPT-IN Outreach Worker Daniela Wotke and Health Systems Navigator Khaiya Croom. (photo by Alain McLaughlin)

Going where the need is

On the way back to GLIDE, Frank confers with Khaiya and Alix about an idea he has for maximizing floor space in the van to further improve the care they provide. Alix, in turn, updates Frank on the status of a pregnant young woman they know who had been living in a small RV. She’s at San Francisco General now, says Alix, and doing well.

The day invariably includes many such conversations, as well as the sharing of information with the public, distribution of harm reduction supplies, and other social interactions that increase trust, knowledge, solidarity and options between the outreach team and the people they serve. The hard stats for the afternoon: two people were tested, one person learned their health status, and one person was connected to treatment.

Treatment is a process, however. Increasing access for people on the margins to the range of available services, from clinics to pharmacies, is also a daily effort.

“That’s the other part of this job,” says Frank, “going to service providers, talking to the staff, letting them know the feedback I’ve gotten and seeing how receptive they are to a conversation about how we can make this situation better for our clients—how we can widen the margins for getting services.”

“We have a lot of resources in this city,” he says. “Our job here is being the grout between the tiles.”

Monday the van will be at another populated area in the Bayview, but each weekday the team makes a different regular stop across the city. These stops change only as populations move around. As that happens, the OPT-IN team adjusts its schedule accordingly.

That’s the mission, as Frank explains. “Paul told me: Go wherever our people are.”

 

Lisa Pelletier-Ross is a beloved staff member at GLIDE, serving as a trusted Community Safety Team Shift Lead. She, along with several other members of Community Safety and the Meals Program, have been collaborating with our Adult Education Specialist Stephanie McNally to record and share their experiences on the front lines of GLIDE’s work in the community. We are grateful to Lisa for providing the first post of Women’s History Month, and demonstrating the strength, patience and compassion required from the staff at GLIDE who work directly with our program participants.

Lisa (far right) with her colleagues Tanya, Ray and Iris.

Working at Glide has given me the opportunity to meet and befriend lots of people. Being homeless once myself, this is what I know and have learned: Homeless people are people too, but most of the time they are treated as not. They get treated badly all day long. Most of them just want to be treated like a normal human being, for someone to just lend an ear and listen to them. They just want to be heard, but most people don’t have the time or patience to do so.

I witness this desire to be heard with the clients we serve every day at GLIDE. When a client comes to me, whether they want to complain about something or  just say hello and have a friendly conversation, I lend them my ear.

Lisa with her Community Safety Team colleague, Dereik.

One Sunday, a senior citizen came in and told me he didn’t want to live anymore. He was tired. I knew what he meant about being tired, living in the vicious circle.  So I took him into Freedom Hall and asked if he wanted to talk about it. I just let him speak. He told me he wanted to end his life by throwing himself in front of a bus. I sat there with him for a while, and even had someone go and get a pastor for me so I had some support in this situation. I let the man know that we love him and that we would be sad if we didn’t see him around here anymore. The man cried and was still feeling down. I sat there with him for a while and listened to him share how he felt. When they came to take him to the hospital, the man gave me a hug and told me, “Thank you. I love you for listening to me.” That made me feel very grateful and thankful that I was able to change that man’s decision of wanting to take his life.

GLIDE staff celebrating a successful 2018 Grocery Bag Giveaway in December.

Most people just want someone to listen, and if I can do that for them and it makes them happy, then that makes me feel good inside, to give an act of kindness. If I can make another person happy or make their day, then I feel good about myself for doing so. If you lend an ear, that means more to the person you are listening to than, let’s say, buying them a hamburger. They will remember it because listening is a heartfelt act of caring. So if you can find it in your heart, give an act of kindness, show some love, and give an ear.

GLIDE’s blend of meals, celebration and social justice adds up to a delicious holiday feast for the community

When Rabbi Michael Lezak joined GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice last year, one of his main goals was to connect broader Bay Area Jewish communities to GLIDE’s dynamic work. And what a year it’s been! Michael has brought in hundreds of community members from local synagogues and schools to serve meals, engage in proximate justice training courses, and, with the help of a steady volunteer group and our Daily Free Meals team, bake challah to give out to GLIDE staff every Friday morning on the principle that “you need to feed the people who feed the people.”

Continue reading “Challah for Christmas!”

Eric Tatum is a beloved long-time staff and community member at GLIDE. He has seen many changes over the decades, and has recently been collaborating with our Adult Education Specialist Stephanie McNally to record and archive his invaluable memories. We are grateful to Eric for recognizing the historical significance of his perspectives and experiences, and for sharing his personal truth with our community.

How did you end up knowing so many people?

Cecil gave me a job the first day he met me. Cecil asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him I don’t know. He told me there was a position open at GLIDE because someone was leaving the stockroom. I worked in the stockroom until December. There was many events coming up and Cecil asked me if I wanted to participate in the company events that were coming up.

So I went with him as a security guard and bodyguard. He liked how I worked and I became his bodyguard and security guard for 10 years. So everybody who he knew I met; anybody who met Cecil, I met, you know, being his top security guard.

Eric, Ricky and Ivan with Rev. Cecil Williams.

So that’s how I ended up meeting everybody—going to the games, going different places, going to the state capitol, going to the White House. I was right there with him. President Clinton came. I got to meet him, Hillary and their daughter. I went to the inauguration. I went to Washington for the first day that Clinton got in office.

What did it mean to you, that Cecil asked you to play this role in his work?

It changed my life dramatically because I had just got out of the penitentiary. I had never heard of GLIDE. The only place I heard of Cecil was on the news—the man with the Afro, the man who married gay couples. That’s all I knew of him. I’d never seen GLIDE.

Some homeless people told me about GLIDE, told me to come here on a Sunday for the pork chops—and that’s what I really came for, to eat the pork chops!

I didn’t know nothing about the volunteering. I didn’t know nothing about the activities here, you know. Only thing I knew about San Francisco was Powell Street. And the beach, because they had the museum back then.

That was the only thing I knew about San Francisco. I came here and started volunteering and everything started growing on me, you know. All the events, all the people started growing on me.

And people start treating me differently because I was with Cecil. People thought I was a big-time person now when I wasn’t. I was homeless at the time.

It was a big step for me because I learned a lot about diversity. I actually got in a lot of trouble back then because the gay guys would call me heterosexual. And I didn’t know what heterosexual meant and I would get mad at them and tell them, ‘Don’t call me that because I’m not gay!’

So one of the heterosexual guys pulled me to the side and told me what heterosexual meant, that you straight, and that’s what they were saying, that I was straight.

Eric Tatum at Grocery Bag Giveaway 2017.

I wasn’t into the gay population until Cecil put me in ‘Man Alive’. It was called ‘Man in Motion’ back then. I went to the ‘Man in Motion’ and learned the diversity of gay people and straight people. That taught me how to love and accept everybody. I learned that diversity.

Do you think in learning to love and accept everyone you also found more love for yourself?

Yes, I found a lot of love for myself because I seen a lot of people loving me. I didn’t love myself back then because I was on a lot of drugs back then, I was out of the penitentiary – and this was all stuff that was new to me, being on drugs and I had never been to the penitentiary a day in my life. They told me they were going to make an example out of me because I was a college student. They gave me 10 years, but I did five.

Coming to GLIDE really changed my life. Like I said, it gave me stability. It taught me who I was and it taught me how to love and accept other people, you know. It taught me that I’m powerless over people, places and things, so it brought me out of a dark closet.

So now I have light.

The book No Hiding Place really taught me, you know, because you can’t hide from yourself.

Back then, Cecil’s motto was, “Take your mask off.” You can walk around without a mask at GLIDE. You don’t need to wear a mask at GLIDE. You could be yourself, you know. People can accept you or reject you. I just learned how to have exceptions and those who didn’t want me I just learned how to deal with that. Basically that’s how I learned to have exceptions for myself, you know.

How to love and treat people as they are.

Building social justice mindsets in law enforcement communities

With the arrival of Rabbi Michael Lezak last year, GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) has been able to expand and deepen the ways we emphasize truth and reconciliation in our efforts around advocacy, staff development, and community building. In April, CSJ welcomed police departments and district attorneys’ offices from around the western United States for our first “An Officer and a Mensch” training. This curriculum seeks to instill greater understanding and care between law enforcement and the people of historically oppressed communities like the Tenderloin.

Rabbi Michael leads the initiative in partnership with Chief Matt Carmichael from the University of Oregon Police Department, and Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

“I look at GLIDE as a lifeboat in a sea of need,” says Matt. “It’s a simple idea, to come where the need is and teach our criminal justice professionals that to be a good leader you have to know your community and who you serve. What better way to learn who you serve than spending time at GLIDE.”

Matt and Jeff along with about 25 law enforcement professionals spent three days at GLIDE, discussing everything from racism in the criminal justice system to the causes of the opioid crisis to what truly compassionate human interactions should look like. They also volunteered as a group in our Meals Program and met with GLIDE staff from across the organization to learn about our values-based approach towards serving our Tenderloin community.

“The vision was to create an opportunity to change the paradigm, to bring law enforcement leaders into this experience of opening our minds and broadening our perspectives, even if it’s just a little bit, to a different way of approaching the issues that affect us all: homelessness, poverty, addiction, mental illness,” says Jeff. “The goal and the prayer is for law enforcement leaders to develop more hope, more understanding and maybe change the way we do the job a little bit.”

GLIDE Senior Director of Programs Kyriell Noon speaking to the group about GLIDE services and community engagement. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin

The training left a positive and lasting impression on the participants, so much so that Rabbi Michael and GLIDE are already prepared to welcome another group after Thanksgiving this year. Michael, along with Director of the CSJ Miguel Bustos, are in the process of refining the curriculum and in conversation with various law enforcement professionals about instituting it as part of the core training for officers in departments across the west coast.

“This partnership at GLIDE is the only one of its kind in the country,” says Matt. “What’s wonderful about what you did for us is that it’s a re-connection, a reminder of our responsibility to leave no one behind. We have to serve everyone.”

Chief Matt Carmichael speaking during the final session of the training. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin

 

Angela Coleman has worked at GLIDE in various roles for 13 years, and is currently a much-loved Case Manager with our Walk-In Center. GLIDE recognizes the need to work closely with formerly incarcerated women and their families. New research shows that formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, with Black women experiencing the highest rate of sheltered homelessness – nearly four times the rate of white men, and twice as high as the rate of Black men. As a Case Manager with GLIDE’s Walk-In Center, Angela has been doing this important work for years. Angela took some time recently to discuss why she works with imprisoned and formerly incarcerated people, and what societal and systemic changes she wants to see. Continue reading “Lending Hope”

In August, 2017 GLIDE introduced two full-time Meals Navigators to the Daily Free Meals program, which is GLIDE’s largest and longest running program, offering meals three times daily to all in need or some 750,000 meals a year. Pamela Brown and Diane Truong help connect people in our community to other services at and beyond GLIDE. Pamela specializes in assisting people with disabilities, while Diane offers English-Cantonese translation to our many Cantonese-speaking community members.
Continue reading “Meet Diane and Pamela: GLIDE’s Meals Navigators”

Eddie is a Meals Program Team Member who first walked in the doors at 330 Ellis looking to volunteer. Two and a half years later, Eddie can do just about everything in the Meals Program – coffee house, prep room, main dining hall, opening shifts, closing shifts and everything in between. He does it all with a big smile and a heart of gold! And because he speaks FIVE languages, including three dialects spoken in China, he’s adept in communicating with our guests who come from other cultures and countries, particularly our senior community.

We are grateful to him for sitting down to talk about volunteerism and daily life in Meals and for sharing some stories from his time working alongside clients and volunteers. Eddie, we’re lucky to have you around! 
Continue reading “Giving Back to San Francisco with Eddie”

Kent first came to GLIDE as a homeless teenager in search of a hot meal and assistance navigating San Francisco’s affordable housing system. Today, he returns every Monday and Thursday morning to volunteer in the kitchen, which comes easy to him – he has years of experience in the restaurant industry! He believes little things, like a smile or a warm greeting, can make a big difference – two things he provides plenty of each week during his breakfast shifts. Thank you for getting up early and making breakfast a wonderful experience for our community, Kent!
Continue reading “It's Never Too Late (Or Too Early!) to Make a Difference”

Welcome to our Volunteer and Staff Highlight Series! Throughout the next five weeks we will be shining the spotlight on a few of our amazing volunteers and staff members in the GLIDE Daily Free Meals program. These people pull off something miraculous every day — three times a day. If you’ve ever joined us for mealtime you know it’s a major operation, requiring nearly 100 people a day to get right. But the real mark of success is when our guests don’t have to think about anything except enjoying their food, a welcoming atmosphere, some friendly and familiar faces, and a sense that they belong.
James Sampaga is a Meals Program Shift Lead in his 13th year at GLIDE. Everybody knows James. Recently we caught up with him in the middle of closing a lunch time shift. Amid the clamor of clanking dishes and soul music over the dining room speakers, James offered his thoughts on the importance of the Daily Free Meals program as well as the incalculable value of volunteering.  
Continue reading “Serving Lunch (and Love) with James Sampaga”