PARTICIPANTS

“I know I’m not the only one to say this, but this place saved my life. There’s really not another place like this in the city. I’ve been to other drop-ins, I’ve been to other needle exchanges, and it’s just always felt really institutional, and sometimes like they were doing it out of a combination of pity and resentment…I think it’s amazing that this place makes homeless kids feel like people. And I think that’s important.”

Yeah Yeah, now an HYA Outreach Counselor

“I left home when I was thirteen. After a brief stop on the streets of Hollywood, I made my way to San Francisco, where I stayed in abandoned lots in the downtown area. Eventually I made my way to Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park.

I found that I could count on Homeless Youth Alliance as a place of refuge and shelter from the environment of stress, anxiety, and bitterness of life on the streets. By eighteen, I had been a fairly consistent client of HYA for about 5 years. I finally left the streets at 19, when I was pregnant. I am currently the proud mother of a beautiful little girl, my daughter of six years now. Lillee is the apple of my eye. I am currently a successful Holistic Health and Massage Therapist.

I can hardly imagine what could have happened to me if I had not met Mary and the other people of HYA. They were so helpful to me in so many ways, and I feel as if I was saved by the help of HYA. Over the years Mary and I have developed a lasting friendship. With her help, I am on a good path, and have been able to make the right decisions.”

Jessica Taylor

“I owe HYA my life. My goal is to mentor young people who are talented, and make it possible for them to sell their art instead of panhandling or selling drugs. The moral of my story is, through HYA and my own perseverance, I’ve been able to support myself, stay healthy, and give back.”

Spenser

“My name is Angela Pelosi and I am a San Francisco native, and for a brief time a needle user living on the street while trying to get on my feet. I used to be the person you found passed out on a bench or asking you for money. I am now a mother of 3 and living life responsibly and drug free. My life has turned around now, and my past has not caught up with me or affected my children.

When I was homeless, I was thankful to have a program like the Homeless Youth Alliance that would hand out condoms, needles, toothbrushes, and provide showers and a lot more for the people who needed help the most. Looking back now, knowing how many people were out there using needles and at risk for AIDS and Hepatitis C, I am thankful there are people trying to keep everyone on the streets SAFE.

Although we may want to turn away from or judge those we see passed out or asking for money, they will always be out there, using drugs and having sex. And without support, they will be sharing needles and having unprotected sex. These people are mostly under 30 and will one day get on their feet. Let this beneficial program continue to help prevent the lost and rejected from passing on diseases. Let this program help to guide people in the right direction with words, concern, and resources.

I fully believe that, without the Homeless Youth Alliance, we will be turning our backs on thousands of people who need help. That is not how I can view my city, which is so advanced and such a melting pot. Please let the Homeless Youth Alliance support these thousands of people who need help, because if they don’t, who will????”

Angela Pelosi

SUPPORTERS

As a resident of Belvedere Street in the Haight Ashbury district, I attended a meeting two months ago regarding the services of the Homeless Youth Alliance, a social services organization in the neighborhood. I went to this meeting because I wanted to learn more about this group, as my front porch had been bombarded with flyers from other neighbors concerned about their presence in the community. At the meeting, I realized most people were uninformed about what exactly HYA does and why, including myself. I decided to learn more about the program by approaching the director, Mary Howe, and offering to volunteer.

I had no prior experience or contact with HYA at this point. In the daily shuffle of life, I often don’t stop and look at what is in front of me long enough to separate fact from fiction. It’s a commitment that can take both time and research. Therefore, it is usually easier to make assumptions based on what something appears to be, as opposed to what it actually is. However, this time the issues seemed important and the contradictions presented at the meeting compelled me to further investigate the program.

Mary gladly accepted my offer and within a week I set up my first volunteer opportunity. The result has since transformed my understanding of both the neighborhood I live in and the situation of homelessness and drug addiction in San Francisco. It has also left me both a dedicated volunteer and a true believer in the charity, necessity, and absolute compassionate dedication of HYA. My first experience volunteering disproved every last negative perception one can make about these services, the people who run them, and the people they serve. Over the course of a few hours on a Wednesday evening, I discovered a caring, sympathetic, well-trained, and organized group doing a very difficult job with patriotic dedication. I say patriotic because these are people who take care of their own and do not judge other people. Everyone is welcome and no one is turned away.

The facilities at HYA proved to be clean, receptive, and stocked with much-needed necessities (socks, nutritional guides, pamphlets about everything from Hep C prevention to housing options) and plentiful resource materials. The participants were astonishingly orderly and respectful. Present to facilitate activities were: Mary volunteer certified nurse (as HYA has a fully functioning medical clinic, complete with medicine and injury supplies), and the three volunteers who were all friendly and experienced in handling the challenges of such work. I was impressed by their complete professionalism during my stay and nothing less.

Since then, I have signed on as a weekly volunteer and have come to understand, with both greater respect and appreciation, the absolute necessity of the Homeless Youth Alliance in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. This is a positive, productive organization that helps youth in need and continues to do so with tireless enthusiasm and commitment. A visit on an average afternoon shows a real functioning community; visitors and staff together watch movies, share stories, cook food, email friends, ask for and receive help in finding housing, jobs, medical services, and much more. Familiar faces and total strangers are received with the same level of total acceptance. This is a place where people who have nowhere to go can have somewhere to go.

Learning about the Homeless Youth Alliance was a matter of getting my facts straight. Now I consider myself informed and invested in volunteering with them as long as I live in this neighborhood.

Jonathan Sajda

Three years ago, my daughter – who was traveling at the time – told me that she was experimenting with opiates. She asked me not to worry as she had everything under control. She was,” happy, healthy and well fed”. San Francisco and the Haight was a place where she could pursue a lifestyle that suited her needs. As a child of the sixties, opiates could mean only one thing and I would hear none of it! I hired an Intervention Specialist referred by the Betty Ford Clinic and proceeded to destroy practically every hard won thread of trust we shared. Years of honest communication and mutual respect were compromised by a well-intended but grossly misguided attempt at changing my daughter’s path. I nearly lost her.

This summer, I flew out to San Francisco again, this time to support my daughter as she navigated the justice system. With the help of the Homeless Youth Alliance (HYA) currently located at 1696 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, she was trying to get her life back on track. Finally I could put a face on a name and replace my imaginings with real encounters. I met the director, Mary Howe without whom, I believe I would be on the wrong side of a statistic. Through daily outreach, HYA staff was able to overcome the barrier of mistrust that had developed in my daughter.
Gradually, she began to gravitate to the center and participate in programs which address everything from tangible basic needs to sorting through mental health issues.

The alliance made it possible for my daughter to check in and let me know she was alive – if not well. Since the staff has all been where my daughter is, they provide inspiration and insight in ways I simply cannot. On several occasions, my daughter would call and counter my concerns saying she could always tell when I was talking about something I didn’t understand. In this aspect, the staff of the HYA proves invaluable; through empathy and experience, they have facilitated the transition from addict to self-described, recovering addict.

All kinds of kids are drawn to the Haight; my daughter was. This population exists in spite of, not because of the Homeless Youth Alliance. The compassion, guidance, education and caring that this institution provides, creates a virtual safety net from which troubled youth can try to reclaim their lives. The Alliance empowers street kids. They work with between 40 and 100 people daily; building self-esteem in a population that may not have other support systems. Their approach is effective. I have personally witnessed the need for this organization. The program mission is clear: “to meet homeless youth where they’re at and to help them build healthier lives”. Through well researched and time proven methods of outreach, the HYA has been able to succeed where many families, including my own, have failed.

Pay it forward for their future and ours. I support the Homeless Youth Alliance and the community in which it operates.

Sincerely,

Madeline Bodnar