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Guest Opinion: SF Travel always proud of our city

by Joe D'Alessandro

San Francisco Travel CEO Joe D'Alessandro. Photo: Courtesy SF Travel
San Francisco Travel CEO Joe D'Alessandro. Photo: Courtesy SF Travel  

In December 2018, San Francisco dominated the Best of Gay Cities 2018 travel awards, taking home the gold for "Most Welcoming City" and winning honors for "Sustainable Dining," "Most Loved Bar" (440 Castro), and "Rainbow Crosswalk."

As the destination marketing organization (convention and visitors' bureau) for the city, this makes us especially proud as we continue to promote San Francisco as a welcoming place for LGBTQ people from around the world. Our ongoing efforts in this market include a partnership with Q.Digital media (including Gaycities and Queerty). And we're looking forward to making the most of "Tales of the City" coming to Netflix.

We are also proud of the latest developments San Francisco has to offer, such as the huge expansion of the Moscone Center, including four new public art installations (one by Leo Villareal, creator of the Bay Lights), several new hotels, and extended engagements of "Hamilton" and "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."

One thing we are not proud of is the situation visitors sometimes see on our streets — people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues, and dirty conditions. Our visitors, especially convention attendees, tell us how upsetting this is and we agree.

As unpleasant as it is for visitors to observe these situations, we know they are downright awful for the human beings who have to live in them. In the City of St. Francis, that's not right.

According to a recent report to the California State Senate, LGBTQ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth, and data show that up to 40 percent of the population of youth experiencing homelessness identifies as LGBTQ.

Though these problems are complicated and longstanding, they are not limited to San Francisco. Homelessness and drug abuse are national issues. Our city actually fares better than some others on total numbers of unsheltered people.

Though visitors often feel unsafe when they encounter these situations, San Francisco is still one of the safest cities in the nation and our crime rates are dropping.

If there is a point of pride in all of this, it's that the city of San Francisco — starting with Mayor London Breed — is devoting more time, energy, and funds than ever before to addressing these problems. And in typical San Francisco style, innovative and collaborative programs are also offered by nonprofit, community, and corporate groups.

At San Francisco Travel, we pride ourselves on reflecting the values of the city in everything we do. In the spirit of being welcoming and compassionate to all, I am especially proud to announce that we have created a partnership with the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District to bring Downtown Streets Teams to the blocks surrounding the Moscone Center in a one-year pilot program that began last month.

Founded in 2005, Downtown Streets Team works to end homelessness by restoring the dignity and rebuilding the lives of unhoused men and women. Team members engage in beautifications projects such as street cleaning and creek restoration. All team members are volunteers who are experiencing homelessness or at-risk of becoming homeless.

Team members are held accountable and trusted to complete tasks, show up on time, and work well with others. Those who show dedication and leadership skills have the ability to rise up to become team leads, then managers, and supervise others with little or no supervision from staff. In return, team members receive a non-cash stipend to help cover their basic needs, while taking advantage of case management and employment services to find housing and a job. Downtown Streets' ultimate goal is to transition team members into employment. The model is structured to be a one-year transitional program into permanent housing and employment.

Downtown Streets has secured more than 1,600 homes and jobs for people in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. Its goal is to end homelessness in our lifetime, one community at a time.

This is just one of many ways that San Franciscans are helping those in need while welcoming those who visit and it's one more reason that we are as proud as ever to market this amazing destination.

Joe D'Alessandro, a gay man, is president and CEO of San Francisco Travel. For more information, visit www.sftravel.com.

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