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City commits to fund homeless youth programs

by Matthew S. Bajko

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, right, paid a visit and heard from staff members of San Francisco's LGBT Community Center's LGBT youth drop-in program. From left are Zami Tinashe Hyemingway, Levi Maxwell, Vanessa Teran, and Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the center, on the extreme right. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, right, paid a visit and heard from staff members of San Francisco's LGBT Community Center's LGBT youth drop-in program. From left are Zami Tinashe Hyemingway, Levi Maxwell, Vanessa Teran, and Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the center, on the extreme right. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Mayor Mark Farrell have committed to continue $1.54 million in city funding for a number of local homeless youth programs, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

Last year, Sheehy worked with the late mayor Ed Lee to secure the supplemental funds in the city's 2017-2018 budget. The money came in response to Sheehy's complaints that not enough was being done to assist the estimated 1,500 homeless youth on the city's streets.

Of those, 43 percent identify as LGBT, and 13 percent are HIV-positive, noted Sheehy, the first person known to be living with HIV to serve on the board. For many years, he noted, the city has prioritized services for homeless veterans and homeless families living on the streets and not done as much as it could for homeless youth.

The majority of the money earmarked last year by Sheehy and Lee, $906,000, was used for housing subsidies for transition-age youth between 18 and 24 years old. The San Francisco LGBT Community Center received $289,000 to expand its drop-in hours for its youth program to six days a week, including Saturdays. Larkin Street Youth Services received $350,000 to partly fund a new outreach coordinator and increased staffing for outreach teams that work with homeless youth in the Castro and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods.

As the supervisors and mayor work to finalize this year's budget proposal, Sheehy and Farrell both told the B.A.R. they would work to ensure that another $1.54 million is included in fiscal year 2018-2019 for the youth homeless programs.

"I will absolutely continue to fund the $1.54 million in vital services for transitional age youth, including important outreach services at the LGBT center," Farrell told the B.A.R. in a statement. "As the future generation of San Francisco, we have an obligation to provide programs that will support our young people and help them succeed."

Sheehy, part of the board majority that elected Farrell mayor until the winner of the June 5 special election to serve out Lee's term is declared, had inquired with the mayor's office this winter about continuing the funds for a second year.

He recently told the B.A.R. he was confident his board colleagues would approve the funds.

"I have no reason to think otherwise," said Sheehy.

Last month, Sheehy met with employees of the LGBT center's youth homeless program to learn how the services they are now offering are having an impact.

"The programming that we have with the center is amazing. The work they are doing is critically important; they are helping kids get off the street," said Sheehy.

Center expands homeless program services
Since October the LGBT center has been ramping up and expanding its programs for homeless youth. Not only is it now staffed on all but Sundays, the program offers hot meals cooked by caterer Eat Suite on all six days it is open. It also stocks a food pantry for the participants; it expects to have served 300 youth by June 30.

"We really rebuilt this program to understand the needs of the youth and make all this work," said Rebecca Rolfe, a lesbian who is the center's executive director.

Being able to provide consistency for the youth is a key component, said Zami Tinashe Hyemingway, a transgender man who is the youth program manager. When a youth walks in the center's doors, the staff makes sure to greet them, offer them food, and ask how their day is going, said Hyemingway, rather than bombard them with more clinical services.

"We start by addressing their basic needs first. Often our participants are seen as clients and not people," he said. "We want them to feel like people."

And having a place for youth to go on weekends has been especially important, as there hadn't been an option for them to get inside and have a meal between Fridays and Mondays. Unlike most places, the center also allows the youth to take naps.

"It's like home," noted Vanessa Teran, a queer mom who is the center's associate director of youth programs.

The center received a total of $671,500 in the current budget from the city's Department of Children, Youth and Their Families that allowed it to hire additional youth program staff. This week it brought on a dedicated mental health specialist, Micah Rea, to work with youth on a one-on-one basis and in groups.

It applied for a competitive grant from DCYF for the 2018-2019 fiscal year and was awarded $200,000. The center will also receive $250,000 from the Department of Public Health in July for mental health services.

With the renewal of this fiscal year's funding, the center expects the budget for its homeless youth programs to remain steady through 2019. It is fundraising to launch a sexual health education program and offer more direct services on site at the center for youth, like HIV testing, which currently is only done on Tuesdays.

The youth program staff is also in talks with the San Francisco Community Health Center, formerly the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, about offering drop-in hours for transitional age youth at the health clinic it operates inside the LGBT center.

"That way we can refer youth up to the fourth floor rather than have them go out and travel to another location," said Teran.

One of the individuals the center hired was Levi Maxwell, a former participant of the program. Maxwell, who is nonbinary and uses gender-neutral pronouns, is the lead TAY navigator.

"I was a runaway, now I am working with youth," Maxwell told Sheehy when the supervisor met with the staff.

Watching the center's program evolve "has been awesome," said Maxwell. "I am grateful to experience this and help make a pathway for folks to do what they want."

Plus, noted Maxwell, having the youth program housed in the ground floor portion of the center's Victorian building, with sunlight pouring through its windows, provides the youth "a fun place to be."

The center's homeless youth program has drop-in hours Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. It's open Tuesdays from 2 to 7 p.m.; Fridays 1 to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The center is located at 1800 Market Street.

Matthew S. Bajko can be reached at


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