Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Civic Center”

Project Homeless Connect™

Volunteering at Project Homeless Connect™ is always challenging. Every two months, dozens of support agencies gather under one roof to provide a broad array of services and counseling to the homeless of San Francisco. I love the fact that the auditorium is next to the Civic Center, right within view of the city legislators. I also deeply appreciate the commitment of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was one of the initiators of the project. He has come every time that I’ve volunteered to thank the volunteers and talk to some of the homeless.

I once told him how much I appreciate his support and commitment. He didn’t bat an eyelid as he reached for my hand and said: “Oh no. I appreciate your commitment.” Yes I know he is a politician, but I really believe he meant it, that he is genuinely passionate about Project Homeless Connect.

For those volunteers who are not part of an agency, our jobs involve interviewing, data tracking and accompanying homeless people to the different agency areas. I usually do the latter where an important element is to just listen to their stories. I rarely leave at the end of the day without hearing something that is deeply moving. I return to my warm home, my loving wife and sons, knowing that tomorrow because I am healthy, I will hit the gym before heading to a job that I love. I am not rich or famous, have not realized my dream of becoming an author of social commentary, but the experience reminds me that I am a darn lucky man.

“The mission of Project Homeless Connect™ (PHC) is to connect San Francisco’s homeless with the system of care that will help them move off the streets and into housing.” (From the PNC website).

Just over five years ago, the mayor and about 300 volunteers surveyed the homeless in the Tenderloin, one of SF’s poorest neighborhoods. From their responses, Project Homeless Connect™ was born.

Again from the website: “Widespread foreclosures, the demands of returning veterans, and the reduction of federal funding for affordable housing create constant challenges in a declining economy. Dealing with the vexing problem requires intervention not only by government but also the community at large.

Today, over 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector every two months to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

Hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies provide PHC and its clients with services such as dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, California identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling and job placement, wheelchair repair, methadone, needle exchange, and more.
As of February 2010, 20,292 volunteers have provided services to more than 30,844 homeless and poor San Franciscans.”

Finally, the federal government’s Interagency Council has declared Project Homeless Connect™ a National Best Practice Model on Homelessness. If this isn’t validation enough, PHC is being replicated in over 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

I’m proud to be a San Francisco-ite.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Seriously Left Coast – The Casual Carpool

It doesn’t get more left coast than this. We congregate daily outside the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations on the East Bay, standing in two orderly lines of commuters, as the drivers swoop in and pick us up. One line is for people who want to be dropped off in the San Francisco Financial district, and the other near the Civic Center.

In some cars there is a shared silence, listening to National Public Radio, while in other cars the driver might initiate a conversation. Usually, Monday mornings are quiet, and Thursdays are optimistic.

There is a website where protocol suggests the radio station and that the driver should have the prerogative to initiate conversation. You can complain on the website about certain drivers’ abilities, or a passenger who lavishes himself with too much aftershave.

On the passenger’s door of my car there is a magnetic advert for my book, The Accidental Activist. A few times a month someone asks about it, and I have a captive audience of two to ply my pitch. I keep it short, as I feel mildly guilty that they have no escape. It’s a long way to jump from the Bay Bridge, though I would hope that my pitch isn’t quite that excruciating.

Sometimes the discussion might be about politics, a book that the passenger is reading, or the latest performance of the Warriors, Giants, 49ers, or Raiders. It can get intense. I once drove two lawyers who discovered that they were soon to face each other in trial, only because I innocently commented on an NPR story about tenant/landlord rights.

It doesn’t matter what the conversation is, or even whether it takes place. Online networking has replaced the social commentary that traditionally transpired in coffee houses or bars, headphones have cut off the opportunity for spontaneous discussion, and perhaps a greater need for guarded self-preservation has also erected walls.

Still, in a car for twenty minutes a day, three strangers share some time together. Whether in silence, listening, or talking, they are still spending some time together. And in a world of growing isolation, even as people pack into smaller geographical areas, that is a welcomed relief.

But these people took car sharing to another level


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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