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City offers winter shelters - but just for men

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Several San Francisco churches are offering winter shelter to people in the city who are homeless, but they are only for men.

Michael Pappas, the gay executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, one of the city's partners on the program, said that when it started in 1988, "that was the greatest need," and "it's difficult" for churches "to host folks of different genders."

"There's never been an ask to change it," said Pappas, and that's how the program will remain next year. He said that Episcopal Community Services, another program partner, does offer shelters for women. An Episcopal Community Services spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.

Yesenia Lacayo, the program director for Jazzie's Place, a shelter designed to be welcoming for LGBTQs, said that people who want to get into that shelter need to get on a waitlist through Mission Neighborhood Resource Center.

The number for the resource center is (415) 869-7977. An operator wasn't available at that number when the Bay Area Reporter called Tuesday afternoon.

Lacayo, who estimated that the waitlist is two to four weeks, said, "Anybody who is transgender but identifies as female should have access to the women's shelters as well."

The Interfaith Winter Shelter Program, which in November launched its 29th year, runs through February 24. As part of the program, four churches provide overnight shelter from the cold and rain that are expected in the coming months.

In a statement released in November, Mayor Ed Lee, who died December 12 from a heart attack, said, "We are always working on moving individuals off the streets and into stable living situations, and these efforts take on even greater urgency during the cold, rainy months of the winter. We are incredibly grateful that our partners in the faith-based community are once again opening up their doors and welcoming residents who are experiencing homelessness. During these times of great need, they are literally providing shelter from the storm."

Spokespeople for acting Mayor London Breed didn't respond to a question Tuesday about whether the program would be changed so that women would also be included.

Spaces are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis each Sunday. The reservation allows each guest a seven-night stay. Two meals will be served each night. Last year, over 95 percent of the spaces were occupied.

Pappas stated that for almost three decades, organizers and the host congregations St. Boniface Church, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, and the First Unitarian Universalist Society "collectively constitute the miracle we call the Interfaith Winter Shelter Program. Together, we offer this labor of love in emulation of the values espoused by our city's patron Saint Francis." (St. Boniface stopped offering the service in early December.)

In a phone interview this week, Pappas said, "We've had a very good response" this year and the spaces "are almost at capacity."

"It's a blessing for us to be able to offer this," he said.

Pappas said what attracts people to the churches is "they get treated with dignity, as well as a good meal. They are safe places."

The city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing funds Episcopal Community Services to provide operational staff that handle daily logistics at the host congregations. The group also engages guests "toward housing stabilization," officials said.

Beth Stokes, executive director of Episcopal Community Services, stated, "For many of our guests, coming in from the cold at Interfaith Winter Shelter and engaging with staff and with services will be the first step towards accessing permanent housing - the only solution to homelessness."

Dale Coverdell, 41, who said he's been homeless for "longer than I care to remember," was recently sitting outside San Francisco's main public library, where he usually sleeps in one of the doorways.

"I'm hungry, I'm broke, and I'm cold," said Coverdell, who's bisexual. "I have a blanket and a sleeping bag. That's all I've got."

He said he hadn't heard about the winter shelter, but he'd consider going in. Like many people who are homeless in the city, he said his past experiences with homeless services haven't been good.

"I don't like the shelters they have now," said Coverdell, who worried about getting robbed and didn't like the rules at Multi-Service Center South, the huge South of Market area shelter where he's stayed in the past.

"I didn't like it, so I left," he said.

The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption is at 1111 Gough Street, St. Mark's is located at 1031 Franklin Street, and First Unitarian is at 1187 Franklin Street.

For information on vacancies during the week for one night only, call Dennis McCray at (415) 487-3300, extension 4101.

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