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 “Project Homeless Connect”

Alienating the Homeless

It isn’t always easy supporting the homeless. Yesterday, I sat with a group of students who care, who are giving up their Sundays and Spring Break to help people in need. Nonetheless, as we took a break, the conversation turned to interactions with homeless people and others who ask for money.

One young woman had been verbally abused after giving a homeless man some change from her pocket. He told her that she should have given more. Another told how a man had asked her for money at the BART station. She offered to buy him a ticket for the train and his response was something like ‘that’s really gonna buy my next hit’. A third woman told how she was approached by a woman who told her she was hungry. Having just left a restaurant, she offered the woman her box of left overs, enough she told us, to feed herself for lunch the next day, and the woman tossed the food on the ground.

How do we deal with these situations? We think we are helping and maybe we are. Perhaps we wonder if we are subsidizing a bad habit, or reinforcing their staying on the street and out of the system.

One way is to support organizations that help the homeless in an organized way. Project Homeless Connect is a great example. Another way is to advocate for social services and enough housing to cater for those who slip through the net.

A while ago, I gave a man enough money for a bus after he told me a long story about being a recovering alcoholic. His sister lived near where we were standing, he was supposed to stay with them for the weekend, and her husband was taunting him by bringing out bottles of alcohol and drinking in front of him. He had to get home. He had run out of her house and left his bag and wallet. He would pay me back if I gave him my address.

I gave him the money and told him to help someone else rather than return the cash to me. I did this, if I am being honest, because I didn’t want to give my address and yet wanted him to feel that I wasn’t giving him charity.

When I entered my house, I told my wife, though the main theme of my story, was had I just been conned. I agonized about it until she told me to decide that I had helped someone and move on. Apparently, since I am telling you this story now, I haven’t.

Finally, a nice story. I often give money to homeless people who are selling the newspaper Street Spirit. I figure that they are trying to earn a living and I want to support their dignity. I gave my sons $1 and told them to buy from a man standing on Shattuck in Berkeley. The man told them that he was a poet and had a poem in the paper. My (then) 7-year-old was intrigued and proudly told the  man that I am an author and we shook hands.

Larry Wyatt selling Street Spirit newspaper

Having seen me sign books for my readers, my son then asked the man to autograph the poem and both their eyes lit up when they did. I wondered if he really had written the poem. I want to believe that he did, that there a moment of magic passed between this old man and my son.

It helps me to continue to advocate or the rights of the homeless and the poor. Perhaps, the magic helped me as well.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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 http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Forgot my Birthday?

Last year, my birthday fell during the once-every-four-years World Cup (soccer). I thought I could slow the aging process down by deciding that, like the World Cup, I would have a birthday once-every-four-years.

A great tribute to the peaceful South African revolution

So what do I want for my birthday? Something between my own house, world peace, and one of my books becoming a New York Times Bestseller. If you can arrange any of those three, please do. If you feel you have to prioritize (really, how long have we been friends?) then I suppose world peace comes first,

Otherwise, I am going to list 10 organizations that I have highlighted over the past year. Instead of buying me a fine bottle of wine or a box of chocolates that will have me working out for hours at the gym (after thoroughly enjoying them), why not consider donating the exorbitant amount of money you were going to splash on me to one of these great organizations. Please click on the link to the organization that catches your fancy.

1. The Lower Ninth Ward Village – a community center that will provide the only way to keep children in a safe environment over the summer.

2. Save A Child’s Heart – a hospital in Israel that gives free medical heart procedures to children from any country or religion in the Middle East and beyond.

3. One Voice – helping Israeli and Palestinian youth demand a non violent and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

4. Jewish Funds for Justice – sending students to work in disaster-struck areas of the world and teaching the value of social justice.

5. World Reader – providing sustainable e-book solutions to children in Africa and other poor regions, allowing them to grow through reading and education.

6. Habitat for Humanity – a community helping to provide people with homes.

7. Jewish Heart for Africa – leveraging sustainable Israeli environmental technology to help the poorest rural African communities.

8. Darfur & The Berkeley Stove – providing stoves for women in Darfur, thereby avoiding the need to put themselves in violent situations.

9. Project Homeless Connect – offering bi-monthly services to the homeless of San Francisco.

10. Kiva Loans – a micro-loan organization that helps people create businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.

They are all good causes and I know there are many more. But it is amazing how just a small gift can save or change a person’s life. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Thank you. Wanna slice of birthday cake?


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 http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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

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