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SF mayor appoints bi woman to lead homeless department

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Shireen McSpadden will become the new director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Shireen McSpadden will become the new director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Thursday announced she has appointed a bisexual woman to lead the city's homeless department.

Shireen McSpadden will become director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing beginning May 1, according to a news release. McSpadden currently serves as the executive director of the Department of Disability and Aging Services, which serves over 70,000 seniors, adults with disabilities, caregivers, and veterans every year.

Joining McSpadden in HSH leadership will be Noelle Simmons, currently a deputy director at the Human Services Agency, and Cynthia Nagendra, currently the executive director at the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, the release stated. Simmons, who has led the Economic Support and Self-Sufficiency Division at the Human Services Agency for the last six years, will serve as the chief deputy at HSH. Nagendra, a nationally recognized expert on homelessness, will lead long range planning efforts for the department.

Tom Nolan, a gay man who works with McSpadden at the aging department, said she would be missed by everyone there, including himself.

"Shireen has been a dynamic, creative, and compassionate leader at DAS," Nolan wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter shortly after the mayor's formal announcement. "She has demonstrated a strong commitment to our LGBTQ older adults and persons with disabilities in her years here. Shireen was a great supporter of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force, working diligently to realize their recommendations."

Nolan, a former San Mateo County supervisor who previously ran Project Open Hand for many years, nonetheless said McSpadden is a good fit for her new job.

"The mayor has made an inspired choice to lead the city's Homeless and Supportive Housing Department," he stated. "The same creativity, compassion, and leadership Shireen brought to DAS will redound to the benefit of the unhoused in San Francisco."

HSH is focused on moving people permanently out of homelessness through strategies that stabilize people's lives through the city's housing and support services, and building a system that ends a person's homelessness before it becomes chronic. This includes implementing the Mayor's Homelessness Recovery Plan, which will deliver on the city's commitment to dramatically expand housing options — short, medium and long term — for those experiencing homelessness, as well as safely expand the shelter system, according to the release.

"I'm excited to appoint Shireen to this role, especially in this critical moment in our city's history as we emerge from this pandemic," Breed stated. "For years, Shireen has led innovative and effective efforts to care for some of our most vulnerable residents, and over the past year she has been one of the leaders keeping our residents safe, healthy, and housed during this pandemic. Her experience and connection to communities will help the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing meet its goals of serving our most vulnerable residents, including the critical work of delivering on the promise of our homeless recovery plan."

McSpadden stated she's ready to tackle the job.

"It's been an honor to lead the Department of Disability and Aging Services and I am deeply appreciative of the work and support of staff, colleagues, organizations and people with disabilities and seniors themselves," she stated. "Our response to homelessness is one of the most important, pressing, and complex issues facing this city as we emerge from this pandemic, and I'm excited to join the Department of Housing and Supportive Housing to continue the work to serve some of our City's most vulnerable residents."

Updated, 4/8/21: This article has been updated with additional comments.

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