By Priscilla Rodriguez and Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writers
A recent report from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute revealed that San Francisco and the Bay Area’s crisis of homelessness ranks among the worst in the entire country with more than 28,000 people experiencing homelessness. Experts estimate that it would cost more than $12 billion to eliminate the issue in the region and would cost even more funds to maintain support services over the years.
According to experts, one of the most urgent factors that has led to this crisis is a lack of affordable and long-term housing, which is something that several local organizations are working to fix with the limited resources they have. Among those is Lutheran Social Services of Northern California (LSS), which has its roots in San Francisco dating back to 1883.
Over the years, the organization has developed its services to include housing support and sites, transitional housing, child and substance abuse prevention, financial management services for those struggling to manage their paychecks and income, and other programs dedicated to helping people develop healthier, self-sufficient lifestyles across the region of Northern California.
“Every opportunity that we can [use] to engage people, to talk with them, to build the relationship…we do it every day,” says Deputy Director Nancy Nielsen.
“It’s a long term relationship that we’re committed to.”
Whether it’s through offering a morning breakfast at their housing site, putting together an evening program, or providing a meal at their housing sites, Nielsen explains that staff and volunteers are working every week to ensure that LSS resources are easily accessible.
Currently, LSS serves more than 3,600 individuals every year through its various programs, and of those, 2,000 are directly helped through its money management program, which supports those who need help understanding how to manage their money to prioritize and maintain their housing and other life essentials. The organization has about a 97 percent retention rate in their program as a result of its holistic approach and accessibility, which ensures that every person is building a lifestyle they can maintain.
Though it is clear that the issue of homelessness is not necessarily one that can be tackled in one blow or that can be dismantled with a few thousands of dollars, Nielsen explains the organization is moving forward to take on the challenge with a community-based approach.
“It is about courage, compassion and common sense and about how do we do this together,” she said.
The key, she explains, is having a strong nucleus of staff that is dedicated to the cause and that shows up every day with those values in mind and also having adequate funding resources to make those programs impactful in the lives of those who truly need it.
In more recent years, the growing number of disasters and human-caused problems that have happened in California, such as the fires that devastated and displaced thousands throughout the last few years, have served as both temporary and long-term competitors to the funding that LSS and its homeless clients rely upon. Though it is heartbreaking that any organization doing incredible work for such critical issues has to “compete” with other important causes for funding, it is the absolute reality for most nonprofit organizations.
“We are all trying to share the same pot of money,” says Nielson.
But sometimes, she explains, the flow of funding “can depend on the headline of the day.”
Nevertheless, LSS remains committed in offering care and support to not only fight but to also end homelessness in Northern California.