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Guest Opinion: Help Castro's homeless during the holidays

by Andrea Aiello

A person sleeps in a doorway in the Castro. Numerous groups are organizing donation drives to provide personal care and other items to people who are unhoused. Photo: Rick Gerharter
A person sleeps in a doorway in the Castro. Numerous groups are organizing donation drives to provide personal care and other items to people who are unhoused. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, the holidays are a time of giving to those less fortunate. Yet, I struggle as to what to do with our neighbors who are living on the street in the Castro and Upper Market. I generally do not give money to people on the street; I will sometimes buy a meal for certain individuals. But, I always have a nagging thought — am I supporting them in a lifestyle that keeps them on the street?

While at the same time, I totally understand there is nowhere for many of our homeless neighbors to go, or, for some reason, the services the city provides are not meeting their needs. It's also winter and people are cold and wet.

My solution to this quandary is to give money to programs that provide services to those less fortunate and to drop off new socks, emergency blankets, and hats in bins at designated locations. There are programs to donate money to all over the city such as Project Homeless Connect, Glide, and various shelters.

Locally, Castro Cares provides intensive homeless outreach to the individuals we run across every day. Castro Cares has a dedicated outreach staffer working 20 hours a week developing relationships with those most at risk, getting people "housing ready," making sure they are enrolled on the correct city lists, providing support and a friendly ear for those struggling to make improvements in their lives.

Donations can be made to Castro Cares at http://www.castrocares.org/donations. Castro Cares is also holding a donation drive for socks, hats, and other essential items. This is your opportunity to donate needed items for those living at risk on the street.

Castro Cares is collaborating with several other groups on this effort that intend on distributing some of these items during the third annual Queer Christmas Eve Interfaith Service at Harvey Milk Plaza from 6 to 8:30 p.m. They invite everyone to come out and celebrate the sacredness in each one of us, uniting to lift up the homeless, the marginalized, the outcast, the immigrant, the unseen, and the "other" during this sacred time of year. They need volunteers to help serve small meals, and hot chocolate and cookies as a form of communion. If you're interested in helping, email Shaun Haines at SF Impact Partners at mailto:contact@shaunhaines.net.

Local merchants hosting donation bins include:
Orphan Andy's, 3991 17th Street
Vanguard, 555 Castro Street
Strut, 470 Castro Street
440 Castro bar, 440 Castro Street
Blush, 476 Castro Street
Fitness SF, 2301 Market Street
The Academy, 2166 Market Street
Compass, 2099 Market Street

Other groups also have bins throughout the neighborhood and additional locations are always being added, so next time you come to the Castro, bring some new warm socks with you and drop them off in any bin you see.

Andrea Aiello is the executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, which oversees the Castro Cares program.

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