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San Francisco teen and GLIDE volunteer finds a creative way to support her community from home: cooking for a cause

With so much going on in the world right now, many of us wonder how we can step up to meet this moment, while keeping ourselves and our communities safe. One San Francisco teenager and longtime GLIDE volunteer creatively navigated these uncertain times and, in the process, raised much needed funds for GLIDE programs.

Ali Fishman, a San Francisco high school student, found herself tackling the art of cooking during the long days of shelter-in-place. She soon discovered her friends were doing the same thing. So Ali began requesting recipes from her fellow students. The responses delighted and surprised her—everything from “Tik Tok coffee” to “Mac and Cheese Balls.”

Cuisine can tell us a lot about a culture, and Ali found the collection of recipes to be a reflection of the times. “It was a funny depiction,” she admits, “of what is going in the world right now.”

Cooking for a Cause

As she passed the days at home with her family, Ali was acutely aware of those who did not have the privilege of staying safely at home, especially essential workers and people experiencing homelessness. “If I get to sit at home all day,” she reflected, “I might as well use it to do something good for the people who don’t get to be sitting at home.”

With this in mind, Ali decided to publish her newfound collection of recipes as a cookbook and to donate the proceeds to GLIDE.

Ali first visited GLIDE on a school field trip when she was in the fifth grade and has returned to volunteer through GLIDE’s volunteer program ever since. She still remembers what her tour guide told her class on that first trip: “GLIDE is a radically inclusive community. We serve anyone and everyone.” Ali says it’s an ethic that has informed her life ever since.

A recipe for action

For Ali, the best part of the fundraiser was engaging and collaborating with her broader community. Her social media followers sent in the recipes, her friend illustrated the book, her parents’ friend offered marketing support, and her school advisor mentored her along the way.

When the 70-page cookbook, entitled “A Book for When Postmates Is Not an Option,” was finished and posted online for sale, the response was another pleasant surprise. In a matter of weeks, she had sold well over 100 books and raised over $1,500 for GLIDE’s programs for individuals and families in dire need.

“Honestly, I was not expecting for people to love it so much,” says Ali. “When you are doing something in the moment, you’re thinking you are making something for a certain audience. But when friends share it with their networks, there is exponential reach.” 

Reflecting on her cookbook publication and fundraiser, Ali says, “the process has been fun and not a burden at all. We are all in the city together, we are all responsible for each other, and we are all supposed to be there for each other. I am making sure to be proactive.”

Cooking for a cause sound inspiring?

Ali’s tips for starting a fundraiser:

  1. Make it fun and exciting for you and the people that are going to be supporting you.  
  2. Make it community focused; get as many people involved as you can so that it’s a team effort, and there will be support for the final product.

While this is Ali’s first self-organized fundraiser, she sees now that when it comes to philanthropy, “young people need to take ownership.” She says this is especially true for teenagers.

“We are going to be adults soon enough, so the lesson that we are all supposed to be there for each other is vitally important.” 🧡

Ali seems to be at the forefront of a movement: Young people organizing fundraisers for GLIDE is trending! From holding virtual concerts to Instagram Live Yoga fundraisers, GLIDE’s youngest volunteers are stepping up and finding creative ways to contribute remotely during this physically distanced time. “A Book for When Postmates Is Not an Option” is available here.

While GLIDE hasn’t been able to host our in-person volunteer program during shelter-in-place, there are many ways to stay involved. If you have an idea for a fundraiser or donation drive of your own, please contact Lauren Bernstein, in GLIDE’s Fund Development department, at lbernstein@glide.org.

Banner image: Ali in the kitchen (left) and friend Natalie.

The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

What does the Beloved Community look like as it sits between the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systematic racism? Do we need to redraw the boundaries of Beloved Community to include more people awakening today to the moral injury they have caused or victimized them? At the center of it all, the aim is still to bring people together through this century’s pandemics and into liberation’s light. She has not dimmed. I want us to be in Beloved Community. And I want us to move towards freedom together. And I want us to know that freedom is not “over there,” but instead, freedom is at hand, in hand, and as close as your heart is to you. Freedom is at the center of it all, and at every step in this journey, we must recalibrate as often as the news brings us worse and worsening news.

I want you to know Beloved that this moment is the only one you get, so you must use your gifts now and not delay them. You must understand that if in whatever moment you find yourself in, if it doesn’t feel like you have a praise report today, a stockholder’s meeting with God, to share today the dividends with God on God’s investment, if you can’t say to those new on the road to freedom, the coordinates of your freedom road, then you are not present in this moment. But all is not lost. What is pleasing to God in the middle of twin pandemics is that you experience God’s peace today, experience God’s love today, and experience God’s justice today. This is pleasing to God. You must be the peace, the love, and the justice, and you must inspire other people to peace, love, and justice, for this is pleasing to God.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55:10-13

At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together in Beloved Community. My job is to help people to interpret this moment through both trauma-informed and joy informed lenses. We miss out on the promise if we unearth trauma and not unearth the joy that sits directly beneath it, ready to be excavated. And at the center of it all, your flight, or your fright response, God is walking with you through whatever moment whispers to you in the quiet hours.

For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Did you leave the sanctuary in joy? Has that joy carried you through these four months of the pandemic? At the center of it all, like everyone else, I just want to bring people together. And make sure that we are grounded in this moment. Make sure we are not romanticizing the past but being present and shaping a future. A New York Times article came out three days ago with the headline: Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases. It said, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans got back to normal.

I have known that the architecture of our church’s sanctuary, and the rituals we perform on Sundays, are the optimal conditions for the virus to spread. I’ve known that I have been grieving the loss of the congregation as I knew it, the pulpit as I knew it, the podium as I knew it, the microphone as I knew, the choir as I knew it and the band as I knew it. I have known that it will be hard to bring people to think that Facebook Live is what “bringing people together” means. I have known that “online” had to take on new meaning. I have known that I had to take on a new meaning. I have had to shapeshift before. I have had to call myself something else when I was called worthless and lucky that I could get any kind of love, let alone the one I desired. Then I realized that the charge has not changed. And that this moment was not wrong, church was not wrong for moving from unsafe to safe, and our rituals were not suddenly wrong or weakened because we are online. Being asked to believe in a God that “will punish us if don’t go back to worshipping as normal” or believing that a “God will protect us if we go back to worshipping as normal” is wrong.

God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater” and that means that you should not wait, water the earth beneath where you stand. Be the praise, and do not wait for the praise. Give the seed, which replicates your joy, to the one who is joyless and gives the bread of your efforts to a hungry world. And now, every time I hear someone say, “Let’s get back to normal.” I hear, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” I hear, “Who I am only fits who I was.” And I ask, “Who benefits from ‘normal’ and who benefits from that ‘greatness’?” You are not normal if you come to GLIDE.

The article said that the outbreak, “happened in churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.” One pastor said, “in his own church, congregants were social distancing and mostly wearing masks. And he had live-streamed services initially on Facebook, but some congregants begged to return to church, and others did not have reliable internet access.” Another pastor whose church was a virus ground zero, said, “…we had people who were away from fellowship for so long and in isolation. They were hurting. We just got to a point where we thought, we need to have normal church services.” They acquiesced, they gave-in, they broke, and the virus swept through their churches. There is a truth in begging.

People fear for their spiritual lives more than their physical lives, no matter how many times I tell them that, “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the lord.” No matter how many times I say, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” But the questions, “How do we learn to live with COVID?” And “How do we adapt?” But the questions, “How can we live in fear of the virus?” and “Is the virus bigger than God?” are interesting to me, because we are not saying “Under no condition, will I stop shining my light because of COVID.” I am a black man, which meant that my mother lived concerned, because of the expectations. I have always been aware that the dreams often end prematurely. These experiences make me feel deeply about the new national worry that COVID surfaces. I worry about your cancer. I worry about your AIDS. I worry about your age. I worry about your lack of sleep. I worry about you being alone. I worry about your financial state. I worry about COVID and how it could be a devastating last straw. What I realize at this moment is that church is a microcosm of the global conversation in these twin pandemics of COVID and Racism: The disparities in treatment between rich white churches and GLIDE.

The church’s COVID 19 conversation is about safety and what equity looks like. It is definitely and always a spiritual conversation because it is a conversation about culture and community care and the diminishing spirit and spirituality of our people. And it is about reimagining this moment. Yes, it is about the economy restarting, and it is so much more. It is about getting the hope going- that a spiritual economy restarted inspires. It is getting the cultural economy restarted. It is about getting our community’s community pride economy restarted. It is about the economy of black children’s dreams restarted. It is about getting the inspiration that comes uniquely through the creative economy restarted.

We need what religion and spirituality is offering in this moment. We need to point to our sacred text and lift the stories to let the world know how to persist, and how to get off the grind and have some leisure time, how to rally courage, and how to find the deepest wells of power (even when the well has run dry). We Need that! We Need the church! The news is getting worse, how do we reimagine what we need for these times? What negative messages do you think our families are receiving today? When everything we do and invite people to do has to be reimagined…

  1. Connection
  2. Handholding
  3. Hugging
  4. Singing and Shouting
  5. Moving
  6. Dancing
  7. Sweating
  8. Passing and sharing food, and printed matter

And now we know that “closed spaces are the virus’ favorite space to be.” 650 cases. So, “No, not yet. No in-person service.” I hear you begging for normalcy, and I know the hurt from being separated from the community you love, and that loves you. But no, not yet. One day. Okay, what is the center of my joy and my belief? Okay. Love. And do I believe that I still preach joy and love without a physical church? Okay. Yes. And is love bigger than our building? Yes. At the center of it all, I just want to bring people together. I just want to remind you that you are the Word of God, and that should animate you exactly where you stand, and you should kiss it up to God. God is expecting you to open your gifts. This completes God. So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Our love of what we do is exhibited in the church and arena, but the church and the arena do not generate the love. Our congregation and visitors bring it, and it is just more visible because of the numerosity, the number of folks that are gathered.

So, we are in our 5th month of our “Sunday Celebration Online.” We stream live twice every Sunday from the eight different remote locations of our participants, and we mix it together with historical clips of the choir singing. Love in the time of Corona says we have to be like the entrepreneurs in tech, because this is a season for reimagining. This is the part in the story where your multi-million-dollar start-up tanked, and you aren’t defeated, because the idea is still good, and how you do it, how you remember the lessons, and how you start again, just has to be imagined differently. God is still good. Your dreams are still valid. You are not off course, off base, too late, or too early. You are not behind on your payments. At the center of the church experience is the self’s transformation through an encounter with the spirit of love that gets exhibited when two or two hundred or more are gathered. And lastly, I know that we have to have a plan. We cannot just “open back up.” But I also know that we cannot allow ourselves to be “shut down,” creatively, emotionally, or spiritually either.

Amen

This weekend’s Pride celebrations will be unlike any other–they will mostly be virtual. Amid the global pandemic, the most profound social upheaval since the 1960s, we reflect on the origins of the LGBTQ liberation movement and GLIDE’s historical support of LGBTQ communities, including LGBTQ communities of color. Since the early 1960s, GLIDE has embraced the demand for and celebration of radical inclusivity.

GLIDE as a place for all people, whatever their experience or background or faith, goes back to 1963. In that year Reverend Cecil Williams joined a group of progressive pastors who together took an early stand for same sex couples, presiding over their weddings nearly four decades before the legalization of gay marriage in California.

At a time of intense criminalization of homosexuality, which included the practice of arrest and police violence leveled at LGBTQ communities, Rev. Williams and other GLIDE ministers were also among the founders of The Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964—along with the renowned LGBTQ rights pioneers and activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. The San Francisco-based community organization joined LGBTQ activists and religious leaders in an effort to educate religious communities about gay and lesbian people and to speak out against homophobia and discrimination through inclusive, collective dialogue. It was the first organization in the U.S. to use “homosexual” as part of its name.

On January 1, 1965, the Council famously sponsored the Mardi Gras Ball at California Hall, to celebrate both the founding of the organization and the inclusivity it aimed to cultivate. Although the SFPD had issued a permit, the evening celebration was interrupted by a forceful police raid. The event would later become known as “San Francisco’s Stonewall.”

The following year, one of the first LGBTQ uprisings against police brutality took place in the heart of the Tenderloin, marking the beginning of the transgender liberation movement in San Francisco. The pivotal revolutionary act—among a group whose members included young people who had found a safe space and support at GLIDE—came to be known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, which preceded by three years 1969’s famous Stonewall Riots in New York City. In her 2005 film, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, filmmaker, author and professor Susan Stryker called the uprising, “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history.”

GLIDE’s commitment to the self-expression and liberation of each member of our community continues to this day. On August 26 of last year, the 53rd anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, GLIDE held a Reflection and Reconciliation Session in which leadership from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) listened to the lived experience of LGBTQ residents and formally apologized for a history of violence and injustice against the community. The community conversation was facilitated by GLIDE’s Minister of Celebration, Marvin K. White; Pastor Megan Rohrer, a trailblazing transgender Lutheran pastor and SFPD chaplain; and Commander Teresa Ewins, the highest-ranking member of the LGTBQ community in SFPD. Reconciliation is a road we’re still on, and one that requires real structural change. Meanwhile the hopes, needs and critiques that were courageously shared at the gathering were only the first in a planned series of ongoing listening sessions.

While we are a long way from justice and reconciliation, particularly for LGBTQ folks at the intersections of racial and economic injustice, vital victories continue to be won in the struggle for love and equality as the basis for a better world. This month marked a historic achievement in that struggle. On June 15, 2020, in a decisive 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forbids discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex extends to protections for gay and transgender people.

Even with this historic step forward, one which will make a profound difference in the lives of millions of people, it is still legal under federal law for landlords, stores, restaurants and hotels to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

We proudly celebrate the steps toward the better world we have fought for together with unconditional love and solidarity, and we also recognize that there is more to be done. The struggle continues. But this year’s Pride celebrations, both online and in the street, send the message loud-and-clear: The time for radical inclusivity is now!

By Erin Gaede

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

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

Reflections on an African American role model

LeRon L. Barton has been an active GLIDE community member since 2014. He currently serves as the Co-Chair of the GLIDE Racial Justice Team that grew out of the Ferguson Rally held at GLIDE. The Racial Justice team has interviewed African American youth about race issues with the hope of creating a curriculum for the San Francisco Unified School District as a primer for conversation about racism among students. Below are his reflections on Black History Month and an African American leader that empowered and inspired him.

When I think of all the historical figures I have admired, Malcolm X stands in front. The man formerly know as Malcolm Little is such an important figure in my life. The way Malcolm X talked about racism and the treatment of the African American, how he lived, and the commitment he made to the liberation of his people was just amazing.

I remembered hearing about Malcolm in my household, but he was not heralded like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When the movie based on his life was released, I wasn’t interested in seeing it. I look back on that and laugh, because the film Malcolm X is one of my favorite movies of all time.

While in the 11th grade, a teacher introduced me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I can say without a doubt, it changed my life. I identified with Malcolm X because he came from the bottom. Malcolm grew up in poverty and was told that he could not be a lawyer because he was Black. Think about that – How many children are told they cannot be something by their teachers because of who they are? Malcolm got into crime and became a drug dealer, thief, and pimp, earning the name Detroit Red, running the streets of Harlem.

Later, Malcolm embraced the Nation of Islam and discarded that negative lifestyle, and dedicated his life to fighting racism/white supremacy and lifting the consciousness of the Black man and woman. In the ’60s, seeing a Black man stand tall, have confidence, and no fear as he talked about the challenges Black folks faced was incredible. Malcolm was in a time where Black folks still stepped to the side when white people were on the sidewalk, drank from different water fountains, and were killed for being “uppity.” He was fearless and I loved that. Malcolm loved Black people. He loved being Black. That is what shines through. He loved us so much that he was willing to hold a mirror up and say, “This is where we are.” Reading the Autobiography made me proud to be Black, in a world that says you shouldn’t.

Malcolm’s speeches are amazing. He is the greatest orator I have ever heard. There are times where I just listen to him, hear the way he talks, what words he uses, and how he responds to racist comments. It has helped me so much in talks and discussions.

There are many things that I admire about Malcolm X, but the one trait that I take to heart is his commitment to the truth. He was steeped in it. When Malcolm learned of Elijah Muhammad’s infidelity and the Nation’s indiscretions, he left, embraced traditional Islam, and formed his own organization. Malcolm always wanted the truth and to “stand on the side of right.” I try to live my life around that. If the information I have is not correct or what I believe is not true, I will discard it and find the truth.

When I write about race, I sometimes wonder, “Would Malcolm approve? What would he think of my essays?” Malcolm X flows through me. In my opinion, the man also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is the greatest intellectual of the 20th Century. In a discussion with my friend Jon Jeter about Malcolm X, he said, “Malcolm could see around the corner.”

 

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 Harm Reduction Services director Paul Harkin demystifies fentanyl and shares the known solutions to the opioid crisis

Given the recent news about the dramatic rise in fentanyl-related deaths in San Francisco last year, we’re reposting this interview with Paul Harkin from August. This day and everyday, it’s important to remember that there are things we can all do to reduce risks and harms in our community. The first step is educating ourselves on the facts about drugs and drug use, including the known health interventions out there. Current media attention on fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid helping to fuel overdoses in the Bay Area and across the country, is too often inclined to focus on the sensational or to even trade in misinformation. We know that sensationalistic stories only make matters worse. So to learn more about fentanyl and the proven health interventions that can reduce the risks it presents, we spoke with Paul Harkin, director of GLIDE’s HIV/Hep C and Harm Reduction Services. The following conversation has been shortened and lightly edited for clarity.

Can you give us some context for the current focus on fentanyl?

Paul Harkin: I came to San Francisco in 2000 to work at the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center. My first week at work I saw people who were using fentanyl. Even back then, there were people for whom that was their drug of choice, because it’s fast-acting and it doesn’t last as long. There was not the same hysteria around it then. I just saw it as another opioid among the many opioids that are available to people, whether it’s a pharmaceutical or street drug.

About three years ago, we saw a real uptick in fentanyl in the drug supply in San Francisco. One of the first things we saw was Xanax pills that were counterfeit and had fentanyl. So, you’ve got people that are taking a pill that they thought was a benzodiazepine and it’s full of fentanyl, and they died, or they overdosed.

It was very perplexing. You’re wondering, who would do that? We don’t know if some of this is cross-contamination. There’s been fentanyl traces in a lot of different substances.

And we’re still seeing a lot of opioid users dying from fentanyl overdosing because it’s very strong and the onset is so quick. If I were doing heroin, an overdose is probably about 30 minutes from the shot to the point where I have respiratory failure. There’s quite a decent window there to save me, if there’s anybody around. With fentanyl, that respiratory failure can happen within five minutes.

What’s the approach you and GLIDE take to this situation?

[Fentanyl] has been here for a long time. It’s given to pregnant mothers in maternity wards during childbirth. Any approach that’s hysterical is counterproductive. We just need to look at it rationally: It’s an opioid. It’s a strong opioid. It’s a fast-acting opioid. People have used it for years and not come to harm. Other people have used it once and died. Like with a lot of drugs. We can’t be shaming, stigmatizing, sensationalizing. We just have to educate people that overdoses are reversible. No matter how much somebody takes or how quickly they go into an overdose, if somebody there has Narcan they’re going to be able to reverse that overdose. That means we need to have Narcan distribution.

But we also have to create a climate where people are not using alone, because then nobody can reverse your overdose. It’s like having a designated driver, having somebody with you when you get high. For some folks that’s a challenge because they don’t want to be outed—they might be using drugs secretly. That’s an ongoing community intervention, trying to de-stigmatize use so that people can feel safe to have somebody with them.

Can you elaborate on the life-threatening consequences associated with stigma?

When we look at stigma, whether it’s drug use or sexual behaviors, it’s always been counterproductive. It makes people want to keep secrets; it pushes people further away. By de-stigmatizing substances and substance use you make it easier for someone to talk about it. You can check in with them. “Hey, I’ve noticed you’re getting high a lot more lately. What’s going on? Is everything OK?” You can have that conversation. That’s what we have to get to.

It’s just like with gay men and HIV. We saw that stigma helped promote the infection, because people were feeling unable to discuss their status or getting tested—there was shame, there was stigma, there was criminalization. All of these things are counterproductive. We need to move away from that model. People need the facts, told in a calm and composed way. And then we work with them, based on the facts, on how to reduce the harms.

What are the known health interventions that can reduce or eliminate the threat of overdose deaths?

When we talk about the shocking uptick in opioid overdoses, we should also be talking about the known solutions.

Number one is having overdose prevention available to you through Narcan. If everyone who used had somebody sitting there with Narcan there would be no more overdoses.

Another intervention would be having safe consumption sites where people are medically supervised, or they’re supervised by community members trained in overdose prevention. We have these all over the world. There’s never been a single overdose death in any of them.

Another intervention that we use at GLIDE is giving people fentanyl test strips. It’s not sufficiently adequate because it’s just saying, yes, there is fentanyl in this drug. It’s not telling you the degree of contamination, the percentage of the drug that is fentanyl. However, if you bought ecstasy and it tested positive for fentanyl then that’s a big deal. Now, if you’re buying heroin and it tested positive for fentanyl, that’s also a big deal but it’s still in the same class of drug. So maybe you take less of it. You do a test shot, or you smoke a bit. There are different tried and tested methods that reduce the possibility of overdose.

With those test strips, another good thing about them is that they help us generate conversations about overdose and make sure that people are very aware of how strong fentanyl is and the uptick in the incidences of overdoses, including fatal overdoses.

But, to me, we’re not going to get beyond the opioid deaths until we get to safe consumption sites. There’s really no downside, except for people who see it as a moral failing and they’re morally outraged. It’s coming from an ill-informed position. Let’s talk to drug users, and let’s talk to people who work with drug users and have expertise. You’ll see that the evidence shows that this is a highly efficacious intervention.

It’s like people who say our thoughts and prayers are with you after mass shootings, but they don’t want to touch gun legislation—saying you’re outraged at the opioid crisis and all these deaths, but you won’t implement evidence-based solutions. It’s really time for the people who work with this population, the medical experts, to say we need to do these interventions. The time has come.

Paul Harkin (above, second from left) is the director of GLIDE’s HIV/Hep C and Harm Reduction Services.

The following thoughts from GLIDE’s Director of Harm Reduction Services Paul Harkin come in response to a frequent assertion by people addressing the crisis of drug use on our streets: that offering support to those who use drugs only encourages them to keep on using, thereby only adding to the problem, and that only abstinence-based, tough love measures and punitive approaches are sufficient to move people in the direction of recovery and health. While the evidence points in the opposite direction, the myth persists. Below, Paul offers a perspective from his years of work in the field of harm reduction.

As a long-term harm reduction service provider, I am committed to meeting people where they are at, and not leaving them there. There are multiple ways to help individuals deal with the manner in which they are using substances. Harm Reduction uses evidence-based, respectful, dignified and supportive responses to help individuals.

It is all too common for me to hear people who have experienced recent success in their struggle with substance use, get up on a podium and demand that everyone just does what they did and “cures” their problematic drug use. Everyone else is wrong, harm reduction is a failure, because it “makes it easy for people to use drugs.” This person has all the answers, if only we would follow his or her lead.

While it’s great that such a person is choosing at least for now not to use drugs, the indignation and borderline loathing towards harm reduction principles and practices that can accompany this position—an attitude well-known to providers of harm reduction programs—is not helpful in the effort to mitigate harms in general.

When someone puts him or herself forward as a born again “drug free” human being, we certainly wish them health and happiness in their life. My concern comes when he or she thinks their experience must be both relevant and the model for everyone; we must all pay attention to and heed their particular conclusions: “Look at me, I used to be a degenerate drug user and now I am an awesome drug-free person—you, too, can do like I did and be like me.”

The problem is, of course, that such an individual has no idea what another person is actually experiencing or why they are choosing to use drugs. He or she does not know if a person has had horrible adverse childhood experiences, for example, or if another person has a history of trauma, or another person has reasons for seeking refuge of sorts, self-medication, in substance use to mask other horrors that they are struggling to cope with.

Yet despite having no insight into other people’s lives, he or she is encouraged and lauded for telling us what every person needs. I do not believe that a born-again, “tough love” approach is actually geared to other human beings in any meaningful, compassionate or just way. If you don’t really bother to see and understand where a given individual is coming from, you’re not really seeing them at all, and certainly not caring about them. Only when you truly do not see a person are you capable of saying things like, “we make it too easy to use drugs.” What does that mean? Behind the accusing finger is nothing but the moralizing paternalism of Prohibition or the War on Drugs, each of them a scourge and failure of historic proportions.

Another thing we see a lot of are the ill effects on the evangelical non-user who decides to use again: then all the shame, guilt and stigma and self-loathing that they have learned gets directed inward towards themselves. This is not only common, it’s tragically unnecessary and counterproductive.

There will always be those who respond to their own substance use disorder by prescribing for others their particular treatment, based as is it on their own unique experience. They do this at the expense of denying others their own uniqueness.

We hear a wide variety of such proclamations. One person says, “It took jail to get me off drugs,” another says, “I needed my family to kidnap me and lock me in a room for weeks,” while still another says, “I almost died of an overdose and then I knew I had to change.” The reality is that, however extreme, these random successes are just that, purely random.

As healthcare providers, we need evidence-based solutions for treating substance use disorders. We need to be asking better questions. Not moralizing. We should ask a person who has come out of a serious substance use disorder while living on the streets: Did they get HIV or Hep C while out there using? If yes, did they get connected to treatment? Did they overdose and get saved by another user with Naloxone? Where they offered and connected to Medically Assisted Treatment? These are crucial evidence-based services that most people with substance use disorders may require.

Harm Reduction programs say, “support, don’t punish” drug users. Decades of dehumanizing and racist drug war propaganda has entrenched so many myths and false ideas that perpetuate stigma and oppression. The popular idea that people have to “bottom out” to “kick” drugs is proven to be false.

In the end, it does not matter if one person finds a lasting solution to his disorder or if he chooses to use again. As providers, we are here for him and everyone else. If someone tries abstinence and then chooses to use again (there is a  90-95% failure rate for 12-step programs), harm reduction programs will be right there, supporting them without judgement, ensuring that we offer them protection from HIV and Hep C and give them the tools to prevent/survive overdosing on opioids.

That is what harm reduction is: a non-judgmental, evidence-based response to support drug users. We oppose punitive responses to drug use because we know they only cause further harm to the user. We demand scientific, supportive, compassionate solutions to help individuals deal with substance use disorders in ways that work for them.

Paul Harkin has over 20 years of experience as a harm reduction professional and is the director of GLIDE’s Harm Reduction Services.