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SF shelter director leaving

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Wendy Phillips. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Wendy Phillips. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The director of the nonprofit that runs Jazzie's Place, the homeless shelter in San Francisco's Mission district for LGBT adults, is leaving.

Wendy Phillips, 47, who's served as executive director of Dolores Street Community Services for over five years, said she's "very proud" of the agency's work in that time, including the 2015 opening of the LGBT-welcoming shelter, which has 24 beds and is the first space of its kind in the country. The shelter is named for Jazzie Collins, a transgender woman who advocated for housing, seniors, and other issues and died in 2013.

Phillips said getting the shelter up and running "is one of our big accomplishments in terms of growing the program and being able to provide that service for the LGBT homeless community."

In an email blast announcing her departure, she said that she and her family are moving to her hometown of Chico, California "in order to be closer to extended family there, and to live in a place that is economically more sustainable for us."

Phillips, a straight ally, has accepted a job as director of property management at Community Housing Improvement Program, which helps low-income people with housing. She'll stay at Dolores Street until mid to late August and will start her new job in September.

"This was a very difficult decision to make," said Phillips, who's been at Dolores Street for almost 12 years. Her salary there is $84,000.

Besides Jazzie's Place, Dolores Street, which has a budget of approximately $6 million, also operates other facilities for people who are currently or formerly homeless, those who are homeless and living with HIV/AIDS, as well as immigration and employment assistance services.

"I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have had to work alongside many of you to advocate for and create affordable housing, organize for tenant rights, and support programs providing shelter to our homeless communities, legal services and education for immigrants, and employment and empowerment for day laborers and domestic workers," Phillips said in her email.

An interim executive director will be brought in until a permanent replacement can be found, she said, adding that she'll be available to Dolores Street "on a consultancy basis until the transition to new leadership is complete."

Mason Jeffrys, Dolores Street's director of administration and development, said in an interview that he and Phillips have worked "very, very closely together over the years, and I'm going to miss her dearly."

Jeffrys, who's gay, said that Phillips' departure "should not have any impact on Jazzie's Place. Over the last couple of years, we've developed a really strong senior management team."

He said, "Things are great" at Jazzie's, and "It's fully occupied. There's a waiting list for folks to get in, so there's definitely a need for more LGBT safe spaces in the shelter system."

He's not going to apply to replace Phillips because "I'm a more internally focused person, where the executive director needs to be more externally focused." Jeffrys, who's white, also noted that many of the agency's clients are immigrants, and he said its next director "should be a person of color."

Yesenia Lacayo, program manager for the Dolores Shelter program, said there haven't been many complaints from clients about Jazzie's Place compared to other shelters.

The city's Shelter Monitoring Committee said in its report for the quarter covering January through March that Jazzie's Place didn't have any infractions and only had one complaint against it.

Details weren't available, but the alleged violation was related to the standard to "treat all clients equally, with respect and dignity," The shelter "has responded to the complaint, but [the] complaint is still open pending the client's response," the report says.

Lacayo, who's bisexual, didn't have details about the complaint, but she said problems that have come up have largely stemmed from people adjusting to being in such a space and learning the rules.

"It's tough," said Lacayo. "You're with strangers at the beginning of a 90-day reservation, and most of the clients have never been at a shelter."

Dolores Street wasn't able to provide any clients willing to be interviewed for this story.

Dave Ferrier, president and CEO of Community Housing Improvement Program, Phillips' new agency, said she was chosen "primarily because of her leadership skills and her background in affordable housing and community-based work. We're very fortunate she's desiring to move back to Chico."



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