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SF shelter provider welcomes queer ED

by Alex Madison

New DSCS Executive Director Laura Valdez. Photo: Courtesy DSCS
New DSCS Executive Director Laura Valdez. Photo: Courtesy DSCS  

For the first time in many years, Dolores Street Community Services has welcomed a new out executive director, Laura Valdez.

Valdez, 47, started July 30 at the Mission district nonprofit that provides resources for homeless, people living with disabling HIV/AIDS, and low-income, immigrant, and minority communities.

The agency, which is marking its 35th anniversary this year, is having a garden party reception to welcome Valdez Thursday, September 6, and the public is invited.

Valdez, who identifies as queer, is a longtime human rights activist and former deputy director of Gay Straight Alliance Network, now known as Gender & Sexualities Alliance Network.

Though she said her first few months will include a lot of listening, learning, and developing relationships internally and externally, her broader goal is to understand the needs of DSCS' clients. In particular, she wants to zero in on how the nonprofit's programs can be improved to help address intersectionality.

"If we are looking at the issue of housing, we will look at the intersection of all those impacted, people of color, people of color who are LGBT, and focus on those communities," she told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview.

Currently, the organization's Dolores Shelter Program in the Mission provides emergency shelter and meal service to dozens of individuals on a nightly basis. The majority of shelter guests are recent immigrants from Latin America and many work as day laborers, according to the organization's website. DSCS also houses formerly homeless people living with HIV/AIDS at its Richard M. Cohen Residence.

As a queer woman, Valdez said she brings an LGBT lens to her position and understands the importance of providing LGBT specific resources.

"I want to make sure we are providing the culturally relevant resources that the communities we serve need," she said.

She also plans to collaborate with local and national LGBT organizations to help expand and strengthen the organization's programs, as well as connecting the agency to statewide coalitions and organizations.

"I have a broader vision for Dolores Street," she said. "I want to connect locally on issues impacting constituents and connect statewide to larger movements and organizations."

DSCS is home to the nation's first LGBT adult shelter, Jazzie's Place, in the Mission district, which has 24 beds. The organization also owns Casa Quezada, a 52-unit, single-room-occupancy building in the Mission that serves formerly homeless individuals, a significant number of whom identify as LGBT.

Valdez also wants to focus efforts at home and make sure the 75 staff members of the nonprofit are taken care of. Compensating for the high cost of living in San Francisco, Valdez said she hopes to "bring the best benefits and compensation" to the employees and ensure that her staff feel "fully supported."

Someone Valdez will be working closely with is Saul Hidalgo, director of housing and shelter programs for DSCS. Hidalgo said Valdez's vision for the organization and her background will further guide the agency's mission.

"One of the things that made me feel most excited about having Laura as our new executive director is that she leads from her own personal set of values that includes a commitment to equity, genuineness, inclusivity, and compassion," Hidalgo, a straight man, told the B.A.R. in an interview. "With her, I have quickly learned, it's not just about what you do; it's about how you do it - and making sure you do so for everyone."

The president of DSCS' board of directors, Monica Regan, said Valdez will play an integral part in the agency's next phase and sustainability.

"We are confident that Laura's vision, values, and lifelong commitment to social justice are aligned with our mission, and that her extensive professional experience in nonprofit leadership will make it possible for her to contribute significantly to Dolores Street's next phase of development and sustainability," Regan said in a news release.

Valdez brings over 20 years of leadership experience in nonprofit administration, public health, public policy and grassroots organizing. As a human rights activist she has led several social justice organizations, including groups working for immigrant and LGBTQ rights.

Valdez's salary is $105,000, and the agency's annual budget is just under $9 million.

DSCS' first gay executive director was Bob Nelson, who resigned from the position in 2005 and has since passed away.

The September 6 garden party is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at DSCS' Richard M. Cohen Residence, 220 Dolores Street. To RSVP, email Anne Jaffe at anne@dscs.org. For more information, visit https://www.dscs.org/.

Contact the reporter at a.madison@ebar.com.

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