He had a dream . . .

In observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, PRC encourages everyone to find ways to serve their community; even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are creative ways to impact the community positively.

10 Ways to Serve the Community

  1. Take care of yourself and others: Practice patience, kindness, and mindfulness. Encourage others to do the same!
  2. Stay informed and calm: Only share information from credible sources like the local SF Dept. Public Health, state department of health or the CDC. Remember, when you stay calm, others will follow.
  3. Protect yourself and others: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our daily lives, the most important way to serve the community is to help stop the spread of COVID -19: following mask mandates, adhering to travel restrictions, and maintaining social distancing.
  4. Donate blood: Blood levels are at dire low levels, the need for blood donations is high. Donation centers have safe, healthy ways for you to donate. How to make an appointment in SF
  5. Become a pen pal: Make an intentional effort to reach out to communicate with family, friends, those you have not talked to in a while to stay connected. It could be as simple as sending a positive affirmation note or postcard. Everyone enjoys receiving actual positive mail. (Organizations such as Home InsteadProject PenPalVillage Concepts, and many more have programs to match you with someone.)
  6. Support local businesses: When possible, purchase gift cards to local shops businesses, and uplift those trying to keep afloat.
  7. Organize a neighborhood cleanup: Walking a few blocks or in a local park to pick up the trash can make a big difference! (SF Public WorksSF Bay KeepersSF Recreation & Parks, etc. all have volunteer programs)
  8. Organize a warm clothing drive: Local gently used clothing or household goods to local organizations with a mission to provide needed items to those in need and career opportunities to those moving forward: St. Anthony’sCommunity ThriftSalvation Army, or Goodwill.
  9. Volunteer at a local Food Bank or Dining Hall: Volunteer to help at the local food bank or dining halls that serve the unhoused in San Francisco (i.e., GLIDE,  St. Anthony’s, or SF-Marin Food Bank  and other organizations serving those in need.)
  10. Donate: Non-profit community organizations need monetary gifts to make possible the essential work they do in our community. At PRC, we assist our community’s most vulnerable individuals through emergency financial assistance, residential behavioral health treatment, legal advocacy for access to necessary income and healthcare benefits, workforce development, social services, counseling, and supportive housing to effectively lift people up out of poverty, addiction, illness, and homelessness and offer them hope and a path to new opportunities. Consider supporting PRC in this important work.

Need some more inspiration? Check out these video references of Dr. King’s speeches:

  1. I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. via Rare Facts on YouTube: http://tiny.cc/I_Have_A_Dream_63
  2. Martin Luther King, Jr., “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” via Beacon Press on YouTube: http://tiny.cc/MLK_Blue_Print
  3. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: A Leader and a Hero by Scholastic:

“PRC fundamentally changed my life for the better.”

David can personally attest to what an impact PRC has on the lives of those who really need the help.

“I will never forget how PRC helped me during some of my darkest days. They supported me, and it fundamentally changed my life for the better. How, you may ask?

It was January 2000. I was reclaiming my health after nearly succumbing to AIDS. I was beginning to believe I had a future but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Since I had gone on disability six years earlier in 1994, the world had changed dramatically.

I had been getting help from several local organizations with food, rent, and emotional support. But now I needed help planning the next chapter of my life. Sharing my fear with a friend, he told me about Positive Resource Center, the forerunner to PRC. I had my doubts but I made an appointment anyway.

I still recall that first visit. I walked through the door overwhelmed with fear about what my future might look like: the path I was embarking on, if my body could take it, if I would lose my disability income. I worried about my stamina and my ability to get hired with grey hair and a gap of six years in my work history. I’m sure you can relate that I was also simply embarrassed asking for help.

All those fears were immediately allayed. I was warmly welcomed, and within short-order, I was confident and hopeful for a brighter future. I knew I had a partner and an advocate to support me through my journey.

PRC was a one-stop-shop for services and guidance. Beyond all the emotional support, they provided me with counseling and assessments to determine my goals and priorities, and we discussed what types of work and companies aligned with these. They helped me update my job skills and plan for schooling. Then it was interview training, interview clothes, resume writing, and even help with making business contacts.

It was not easy. During my six years on disability, my engagement with the world had gotten small and my activities limited. The energy needed to develop a path forward was challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally. Though I retained my Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare, I lost my long-term care income and needed to seek out additional roommates and financial assistance to get by.

Fear and doubt consumed me but I kept on. I had to. I was afraid I would otherwise become homeless. PRC was committed in their support, and so I worked to keep fear at bay, to focus on the path forward, and to believe in myself. I expanded my technical and language skills. I adjusted my diet and sleep habits. I reestablished past work connections. It was a 24/7 focus, and PRC was there though it all, cheering me on and providing additional resources as I needed them. 

During the winter holidays of 2001, with the confidence gained over 20 months, I put fear and frustration aside. I put on my new suit and shoes. I donned a homemade sandwich board with my resume blown-up and a ‘Got-Job?’ talk bubble cut-out attached. I put resumes in green envelopes affixed with candy canes and went downtown to hand them out and wish those passing by a Happy Holidays. I was taking a break from the fear and anxiety. I was not going to let fear rule my life. 

Though I didn’t get any job offers that day, I did receive a lot of compliments on my attitude. I felt proud of myself for getting out there. In the end, it was not my skills alone that landed me my re-entry job. It was the sandwich board story and my attitude, as well as skills old and new and connections made through PRC. Finally, in September 2002, I was offered a contract job, the next step in my journey toward work force re-entry and my goal of a full-time position with benefits.

The first six months of adjusting to a Monday to Friday workweek, the commute, and interactions with so many people outside my small bubble were overwhelming. I did everything I could to manage my physical and mental exhaustion while working hard to be a valued contributor. Every week it got a little more manageable. And with my doctor monitoring my health, I was succeeding at re-entry into the work force! 

In the beginning, I was terrified of the expectations and felt handicapped by the gap in my knowledge, social skills, and work skills. Imagine going from grade school to graduate school. That’s what it felt like. But I was not alone. I had my support network, my doctor, my friends, and the staff at PRC checking in to see how I was doing. I worked hard to make up those six years. I listened, learned, and grew in so many ways.

In July 2003, ten months after starting my contract gig, still networking and still focused on my goal, I was hired as a full-time employee with benefits by a company that aligned with my personal values and supported my goals. I have been there ever since.

Eighteen years later, with my health stable and retirement just three years away, I continue to feel so incredibly fortunate. I survived and thrived. These experiences changed me, I believe for the better. I enjoy the work I do. I no longer struggle financially.

I have PRC to thank for this, and all of PRC’s supporters for making this work possible with their support.

I feel grateful that I’m at a point in my life where I can return the support I received by donating annually to PRC. I’ve also included PRC in my legacy plans. In these ways, I can give back to those who have given me so much, while playing it forward to help others like me.

I will always remember PRC for partnering with me on my journey to return to work, supporting me in getting to where I am today, and helped me forge a future bright with possibilities. I am thankful and feel it as my duty to live my life fully, for myself and as a tribute to those I have lost who did not have the opportunity to do so. Thank you.”

If you feel inspired by David’s story, we ask that you join in supporting PRC by making a donation today.

“It can change people’s lives if we can get them housed and stable, or keep them from getting evicted. Then it’s not such a futile effort.” Lee Harrington, Director of Client Services, Emergency Financial Assistance, PRC

It’s been more than 40 years since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic that swept through the gay community. AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) was founded in 1982 out of the community’s deep desire to do something to help their friends, partners, and family through these scary and uncertain times. They did this by providing emergency financial support. Only a few years later in 1987, AIDS Benefits Counselors, which would later become PRC, was founded to help those affected by HIV navigate their way through securing disability benefits. After merging with PRC in 2016, AIDS Emergency Fund was renamed Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA) but the program’s goal remains the same: helping individuals living with HIV/AIDS to overcome economic and housing barriers to medical care.

Lee Harrington is Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA)’s Director of Client Services, and has been on the front lines of the HIV pandemic since the beginning, and with EFA and AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) before that since 1997: a remarkable 24 years. He’s helped tens of thousands find their footing and build more stable lives, and at the end of December, he will retire and hand the reigns over to a new era of compassionate life changers.

We recently sat down with him to give you an inside look into what EFA’s services mean to our clients.

Lee moved to San Francisco in 1973. In the late 1990’s he was a popular DJ in the Castro nightclub, the Castro Station, providing locals a place of escape at a time when HIV/AIDS was heavily affecting the community. Having seen ads for AIDS Emergency Fund around town, and having two roommates who’d been helped by the program, Lee decided to devote his free time during the day and started volunteering. After three months, AEF offered him a part-time job. When the Castro Station closed in 1999, Lee’s position became full-time, and he’s been with the organization ever since.

What is EFA? Can you break it down for someone who is unfamiliar?

“EFA is short-term emergency financial assistance. As the initials would indicate, short term isn’t quite as obvious. A lot of people come back year after year as things continue to get more expensive and they fall farther and farther behind. The goal is to help them get stabilized, and when they do, those funds can go to help somebody else. We have a lot of repeat clients because they’re living on the edge, or homeless, many times in combination with issues of mental illness and substance abuse disorders.”

Can you tell us about the progression of the work being done at AEF and PRC during your tenure?

“Emergency assistance started off as a grassroots, kind of a neighborhood thing. People sat around kitchen tables while our friends were getting sick with what was then an unknown disease, and they started taking up collections. As more friends became sick, they took up more collections. They approached local businesses with penny jars for people to throw in their loose change.  Eventually, both the pandemic and the organization got really big, so we incorporated into a nonprofit and started to receive funds from the federal government through the Department of Public Health (DPH). Eventually, our budget grew to $1 Million, but the need continued to grow and grow.”

What is the main focus of EFA today?

“Our focus is assisting our HIV clients with short-term financial needs to help them get stabilized. We have a basic grant of $500 per year for qualifying clients that can be used to help pay for things like housing, utilities, and medical bills, and an additional $1,000 that we can combine with that to help prevent an eviction or to help pay a deposit if somebody finds affordable stable housing to move into. We can also use that $1,000 for medical expenses like dental work, eyeglasses, and hearing aids: things that people can’t really afford on their own. These days we’re doing a lot of work to keep people housed, to keep the lights turned on, or their refrigerator working, things like that. We also help clients get cell phones, which have become undeniably important. There just isn’t enough out there as far as long-term solutions. One thing I get excited about, however, is when clients are able to transition into PRC’s other services. Our residential behavioral health program for example does an exceptional job stabilizing people with mental illness or substance use issues.”

Do you find that this helps clients to get to somewhere more stable?

“Yes, in combination with PRC’s other services: workforce development, computer training, and job placement. They all play important roles. Our workforce development program has an amazing record when it comes to helping clients find various kinds of work.”

What does a success story look like?

“When a client has been struggling for years, and we help them get just far enough ahead to gain momentum, or they find housing, or we help them get housed. For a client with really expensive dental issues, if we can get teeth in their mouth so that they can eat.  It’s the little things. When we don’t hear from them again, it’s usually a good sign that things are going well. It’s not that we don’t want to hear from them, but in this context, it’s incredibly gratifying to not hear from somebody. It feels like we’ve done something really useful and valuable.”

How many clients do you serve on a yearly basis?

“We serve between 1,500 and 1,600 clients annually. I typically see between 7 and 15 clients each day.”

How many people are in your department?

“There are currently two of us: there’s me and another manager who assists with client intake. Before the pandemic, we had a cadre of volunteers that helped with intakes, bill paying, and so on. It would be great to have them back but with COVID-19, we’ve been hesitant to start the volunteer program up again.”

Who is eligible for EFA?

“Anyone who lives in San Francisco and is HIV+. Income limits may apply, depending on circumstances.

How can people apply?

“Individuals can apply in-person at our office during set hours Monday through Friday. They can also apply through one of our community partners. We ask to see some documentation: I.D., proof of residence, and proof of income, which, either you prove that you have income and how much, or you declare that you don’t have any income at all. For the proof of residence, if they are homeless, they can fill out an affidavit of intention to live in San Francisco or they can have a case manager attest to their situation. And then if they want help with rent, we need a copy of a lease or a rental agreement. If they want a bill paid, they need to provide me with a copy of the bill.”

How long does it take for clients to receive financial assistance?

“These days it’s pretty much instantaneous. We issue checks once a week. We used to write them twice a week. We’ll get back to that eventually.”

Has this work impacted your volunteers?

“I’ve had volunteers that have gone on to social work, and some have even earned their master’s degrees and become licensed clinical social workers and the like. It’s wonderful to know that they’re inspired by the work done here. It makes you feel good, and it’s an indicator that this work is important and needs to be done.”

If PRC wasn’t here, what would it be like, for some of these clients?

“Imagine if you lived on $900 a month and could barely maintain a room in a hotel with a shared bathroom down the hall, one that’s always filthy. Many of the SRO’s in town are like this. Many of them don’t have kitchen facilities either, so you’re limited to microwave meals, or you have to eat out all the time, mostly relying on food banks, free food in the park, or wherever the free meals are. We strive to stabilize the lives of our clients so that this isn’t the case for them. Imagine trying to get by without a telephone. We provide one mobile phone, per client, per year. We pay phone bills for any carrier, and we provide phones that won’t restrict content. Something so simple can be a lifeline for our clients to rely on for many of their needs.”

So you’re retiring. How excited are you?

“I’m very excited and looking forward to being able to go to a museum, or to a movie, or a farmers market, or even just shopping; simple things that I typically haven’t been able to do during the day. I have a few writing projects that I will be able to focus on, and at some point, I’d love to get out of the country and do some traveling. My bucket list includes Croatia, Spain, Vienna, Raycevick, and even Paris.”

From all of us here at PRC, we wish Lee the best and have no doubt that he will enjoy all that’s yet to come to the fullest. He’s set the bar high and has been instrumental in building a program that has improved the lives of many, and in astounding ways. We’re committed to providing the same compassionate level of care his clients are accustomed to.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Lee and the instrumental work he and EFA have done for our clients over the years, please consider making a donation today.

If you would like to learn more about the work being done at PRC, we invite you to read more client and staff stories on our blog.

The “Bridge to Betterment” PRC’s Logo Made of 62,000 Mirrors, By PRC Employee Seth Abrahamson

Brett Andrews and Mayor London Breed pose in front of the step and repeat sign at the 2021 Mighty Real Gala

If you attended PRC’s Mighty Real Gala earlier this month, you probably saw a shimmery logo in place of the traditional step and repeat wall, and maybe even took a picture or two next to it. This was my gift to PRC and to everyone here who makes it their mission to help others improve their lives. I had recently finished a similar piece for myself and after sharing pictures with my colleagues, was asked to create this vibrant piece of art. 

It’s likely that my love for making art out of mirrors stems from my childhood memories of watching my mom make stained glass. I would help her cut and grind each piece shaping the fragile, yet sturdy medium into a vibrant backlit puzzle. Some projects were composed of thousands of intricate shapes of all colors and took months of precision to complete. I assume this was where I learned the patience required for my iteration of transforming glass into art. 

Live music is another big passion in my life and at the center of almost every performance space is a disco ball: beautiful in any light but shine a focused beam on it, and it returns a spectrum of rays creating a mesmerizing sense of motion. My partner, Ron, asked me to make us both disco ball hard hats for a local street fair a few years back, and that’s where my passion for mirrored art began. The hats became quite popular and from there my imagination took off. I began cutting the already tiny mirrors into much smaller pieces, using a variety of colors, to cover just about any object with intricate and detailed designs. When my colleagues asked me to create this logo out of mirrors, I jumped at the opportunity. 

The logo is titled “Bridge to Betterment” and represents PRC’s values: warm and welcoming, bold and inspiring, knowledgeable and optimistic. To me, the logo represents a bridge on the road to self-improvement, split into the ups and downs one faces when embarking on this type of journey. To be a part of something with such a powerful message makes me incredibly honored, and I’m excited to have been given the opportunity to share it with our community. 

Four feet in diameter, the logo contains more than 62,000 individual blue and silver glass mirrors, each measuring five millimeters squared or smaller. The average thumbnail is roughly the size of six to nine mirror tiles. The base is made of a 3/8 inch thick piece of plywood to be sturdy yet light, and the mirrors make up two-thirds of the total weight of the finished piece. For the most part, I’m able to place the mirrors close enough together to give the appearance of smooth clean curves, but there are also thousands of smaller tiles that were cut to fill in the gaps. If you walk through my home while I’m working on a project of this size, you’re likely to leave with a piece of mirror stuck to your shoes or socks. I know I’m constantly finding them in the laundry. 

The mirrors come in pre-scored and broken sheets and have a web-like adhesive backing. I cut the sheets into strips, which I then twist and bend to stretch the adhesive backing to allow for curves. Many of the mirrors are placed one at a time, especially towards the center. The use of additional glue is needed to permanently secure each tile to the base or object. To cut the mirrors into smaller pieces, I either score them with a glass cutter and use jewelry pliers or my fingers to break them, or I use small cutting pliers and cut them similar to if I were using scissors. Amazingly I have only experienced a few very minor cuts.

I began with the three spans of the bridge and the letters, each of which took roughly three hours to complete. I then moved to the outermost circular and worked inward to maintain the resemblance of the grooves on a vinyl record. In the beginning, each circular row took roughly 30 minutes to complete, and I became keenly aware of my four-week deadline with each row. I happily devoted my nights and weekends to get as much done as possible, and in a way, it was a sort of Zen for me. I would frequently become entranced and lose track of time. 

In the end, the project took 97 hours of deeply focused work, 11 square feet of blue mirror tiles, and 5 square feet of silver tiles to complete. I then attached the logo to a floor-mounted flat-screen TV stand, and it was unveiled on Friday, November 5th, during PRC’s Mighty Real Gala, at the San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel. Camera flashes could be seen all night as guests posed for pictures next to it, and others felt compelled to rub their fingers across the smooth surface as they marveled at the level of detail. The logo now shimmers in the natural light filling the common space in PRC’s offices for everyone to enjoy. If you join PRC at one of our future events, there’s a strong chance you’ll get to take a picture next to it too. To say that I’m proud of the result is an understatement, and I hope the logo will be enjoyed for years to come. 

Honey Mahogany & Larkin Callaghan - 61866145d87c0-0159-prcmightyrealgala-211105-min

PRC Board Member and Gala Chair Merredith Treaster on what inspires her

PRC Board Member and Gala Chair Merredith Treaster on stage at the Mighty Real Gala with PRC CEO Brett Andrews.

Earlier this month, PRC Board Member and Gala Chair Merredith Treaster took to the stage at PRC’s Mighty Real Gala to share what inspired her to join PRC’s volunteer leadership. Four years ago, when her young son asked how they could help those they saw living on the street, Merredith didn’t have an easy answer for him. So they embarked on a journey of discovery together and came across PRC.

“I was immediately inspired by its services for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, substance use, and mental health issues, all circumstances found in significantly higher rates in those living in poverty or lacking stable housing.”

It wasn’t until early on in the pandemic however that PRC’s work hit even closer to home. A family member admitted that they had been secretly struggling with alcoholism and asked Merredith and other family members for help getting treatment.

“They are one of the lucky ones who have a family that cares about them and offers support. A lot of people on the streets don’t have that safety net.”

Thanks to Merredith’s leadership role and the fundraising success of this year’s Mighty Real Gala, that many more PRC clients will have a safety net. If you would like to support this important work, please consider making a year-end donation to PRC.

5th Annual Mighty Real Gala a Resounding Success

PRC is proud to announce the resounding success of its 5th annual Mighty Real Gala on Friday, November 5, 2021. Taking place at the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel and attracting nearly 350 guests, this incredible evening raised more than $425,000 for PRC’s essential services for San Francisco’s most vulnerable individuals.

The outpouring of support of this year’s Mighty Real Gala is a testament to this community’s commitment to helping San Francisco’s homeless and other vulnerable populations. It was an emotional evening for us all, and coming out of the pandemic, we all needed this.” shared PRC CEO Brett Andrews. 

Highlights of the evening included emotionally touching personal storytelling by Gala Chair and PRC Board Member Merredith Treaster, PRC client Joe Gorriceta, and Mayor London Breed. There was not a dry eye in the house. The festivities were ushered in by Master of Ceremonies extraordinaire Dale Johannes, who presided over an exciting live auction and Fund a Need, and the fabulously entertaining seven-piece band, Last Wave. Guests were also treated to award presentations of the Outstanding Corporate Partner Award to Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the Outstanding Community Partner Award to Bare Chest Calendar, the Vanguard Leadership Award to Honey Mahogany, and, accepted virtually, the Sylvester Community Pillar Award to Joel Grey. Between Tito’s specialty cocktails and ventures onto the open balcony overlooking Yerba Buena, guests took turns posing before the one-of-a-kind, mirrored, PRC step and repeat, painstakingly crafted for the occasion by PRC staff member Seth Abrahamson. It was a touching return to live events for all, and a touching tribute to those served by PRC’s services. 

Breathing room

Photo Gallery from PRC’s 2021 Mighty Real Gala

“It’s been amazing to witness so many positive success stories in the short amount of time we’ve been open.”

Picture yourself living on the streets of San Francisco: you’ve lost your job, your home, your friends, your support system, and as a result, you’ve lost all confidence that things will change for the better. Whether this is the cause or result of substance addiction, struggles with mental health, or a myriad of other circumstances, this is an unfortunate and terrifying reality for thousands of San Francisco residents. The longer a person faces this heartbreaking reality, the harder it becomes to find any light at the end of a seemingly never-ending dark tunnel. That’s where we step in. When all hope is lost, there’s PRC.

On May 18th, 2021, PRC opened its second Hummingbird respite center in San Francisco’s Mission District, where many homeless individuals struggle to find resources and the help needed to make meaningful changes in their lives. Based on the model of its predecessor, Hummingbird Potrero, located at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, these programs are the first step for those with the desire to change their life course for the better, and get the help needed to assist in making those changes.

Michelle Sanchez is the project director for the new Hummingbird Valencia location, and we recently sat down with her to give our readers an inside look into what services these locations offer, and how they can have a positive impact on a person’s life.

Michelle has an intrinsic desire to help people and has dedicated her career to serving those who need her help. Originally from Southern California, she studied clinical psychology at UC Santa Barbara, then went on to earn her Master’s in the field from Notre Dame De Namur in Belmont. Immediately after graduating she started working for PRC’s Baker Places residential treatment facilities as a counselor, then advanced as the Director of Intake. Her success in that role then led her to become the Project Director for Joe Healy Medical Detox, and after nearly eleven years in the field, her skills and dedication led her to become the Project Director at Hummingbird Valencia. Having worked in nearly every department at Baker Places, she’s gained the knowledge and experience needed to address the complexity of situations her clients face, and to be successful in her role.

Can you explain to our readers what a Hummingbird Center is?

“It’s a low threshold navigation center, a resource center, and a respite, meaning a period of rest or relief from being on the streets. At Hummingbird, we serve our homeless community who struggle with mental health, substance abuse, medical issues, HIV, and everything under the sun. The main purpose of Hummingbird is best described as a question: Where are individuals going to go while they’re waiting for the appropriate program, when they’re not yet eligible for treatment, or when they’re waiting for housing? Many times they don’t have an ID, or they don’t have Medi-Cal. So instead of being out on the street, they’re able to be here in a safe place while we work to refer them to either treatment programs, housing, or link them to case management.”

Is someone able to come to you directly off of the streets, or do they have to be referred?

“We have two programs at Hummingbird Valencia: an overnight program and another for day drop-in clients. For the overnight program need to be referred for overnight stays and approved by the SFDPH Placement Team.  They are often referred by Street Crisis Response Team or Homeless Outreach Team. Basically, they need to be part of our homeless community.”

How does that work?

“Our mission is to engage with our community and to let them know that this is a safe place to be, that there are resources out there. As the Project Director, I do my best to monitor our neighborhood and if there is an incident with an individual, we reach out. One of our teams will pick up an individual who’s on the street, they’ll engage with them and tell them about us, and if they decide to give it a try, we do the rest. We coordinate with the client and try to ease them into the idea of treatment. It might just be a matter of getting them through the door or getting a COVID test, coming for coffee, a meal, washing clothes, or taking a shower. The showers are such a luxury here, and some of our clients haven’t had a shower in a long, long time. Those are the basics. They’re just coming straight off of the street, and we’re making them aware of the services we provide while they access our day drop-in services.”

How does the day drop-in program differ from the overnight program?

“Our day drop-in can entail any homeless client coming in to hang out upstairs and watch TV, or take a shower and eat, and they get to leave. They’re here anytime between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm, every day. Some clients benefit from that because they’re not quite ready to commit to a program or to leave their carts and their belongings. They aren’t ready to trust anyone. But they’re at least coming in to dip their toes in the water, or simply have a meal knowing it’s a safe place during the day. Some people who come in have medical issues and we have medical staff here on site. We’re able to talk to them and get them help. So it’s an amazing service.”

Does a client have to leave their belongings behind for them to access your programs?

“We can store moderate amounts, like a single cart, in a secure storage area in our garage, which is guarded by security, and that makes them feel safe. But we do have to debug and label everything if being admitted and staying overnight. These are their belongings, and we want to make sure that we have respect for their things. That’s their whole lives, you know.  We do our best to treat their belongings respectfully, so we allow them to bring their things in. We don’t have room to store multiple carts for each person, however, so individuals with multiple carts are hesitant to leave their possessions behind. They also have to take their belongings with them when they leave.”

Are there other services or programs of this kind?

“PRC’s services are a completely unique and new level of care. The Hummingbird centers have never existed before now. Hummingbird Potrero is on the campus of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Every day I consult with Melida Solorzano, the Project Director there, to discuss certain clients and the best environment for them to be placed. I previously worked directly under Melida when I was a counselor and I love all the work she’s done as the divisional director at the time. And now at Hummingbird Valencia, it’s nice because I’ve been able to consult with her and pick her brain on things.”

Are you at full capacity now?

“Yes, we are. We have currently have 26 beds and are working to increase capacity to 30 beds in the near future. COVID precautions have required us to integrate additional beds slowly. But people come in and out, and we fill the beds as people leave. That’s what it looks like in any program.”

What happens when you’re full? If somebody comes in, do they get put on a waiting list?

“I have several people who are waiting on a bed, so I’m constantly in contact with the providers, Melida, and Dore Urgent Care Clinic. We’re always trying to make a plan so that clients don’t have to wait very long. Most of the time, people get into Hummingbird Valencia the same day. If they have to wait for a bed, it can take a day or two.”

How long is the average stay?

“About two weeks, though we have a few clients who have been here since July waiting on board and cares facilities that provide 24-hour assistance with things like dressing, bathing, and medication management, and they are slim to none when it comes to availability. A lot of people continue to struggle with substance use while being in a program. So some people might last a week or two, which is great. But there are some who are only here for a couple of days. They felt the need to get some rest from being on the street, and then they go back out. It can be part of that vicious cycle, but every time we engage and welcome them back. The luxury of Hummingbird Valencia is that they can come back.”

Is addiction one of the main factors that causes somebody to leave and then come back?

“Yes, that is the main reason people self-discharge. It’s those cravings. We provide group meetings – a mandatory meeting in the morning and an optional one in the evening, and counselors are here 24/7. A lot of meetings focus on recovery and mental health, but it depends on what the need is. At the same time, we’re trying to engage and plant a seed, letting our clients know that there are resources and help out there. Even in the middle of the night, if they have cravings, or they need to talk to someone, they have our support. We know it takes time, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

For a client who leaves, how hard is it for them to get back into the program?

“When we’re at full capacity, clients go on the waiting list. But I tell them to keep coming to day drop-in offerings because they’re always welcome. And a few people have. I can write the referral and work with the placement team so it’s possible, and they know this.  When clients leave, we always tell them that’s fine, it’s their decision. It’s absolutely voluntary to stay with us, and if they ever want to come back, we are here and can help.

Do all of your clients graduate to other programs?

“A large portion of our clients do move onto other treatment programs. We’re either getting them into substance abuse treatment, or they’re going to one of our Baker programs for dual diagnosis, meaning substance use and mental health treatment. That’s what is so awesome about PRC Baker Places. Other programs usually have a mental health program or a substance abuse program only. We have programs that help with both. That’s where PRC Baker Places really shines. We recognize that they go hand in hand, and we cater to both, which is rare.”

Do your clients get along well?

“For the most part, yes, but there have been a few rare moments of discord. I’ve seen a community unfold and grow, and It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. But I see people making friends, creating community, and building social support, which is great. Clients who are unhappy because they don’t get along with people, or they’re too paranoid, typically leave as a result. They’ll self-discharge if it’s not for them because we’re a voluntary program.”

Have you had to pivot due to COVID 19?

“DPH in collaboration with PRC has developed a process for us to use Binax rapid COVID testing at our location. Our process is to test all individuals arriving for day drop-in and overnight beds prior to their entry into the program.  We work with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) COVID Command staff to inform them of any positive test results and have a process for confirmatory testing. We work with SFDPH providers in securing a location for the client to enter if they have a positive Binax test so they can be monitored and have care provided as necessary.” 

Have you had any outbreaks at Hummingbird?

“There hasn’t been an outbreak because we are diligent, and we follow the recommended health protocols. Our instances of client positive COVID tests are rare because we require both staff and clients to adhere to safe practices for COVID mitigation including the use of PPE, wearing masks, and social distancing. For example, one client who tested positive was working with the Street Crisis Response Team. They were able to take the client to the hospital and work with him to get a shelter-in-place hotel instead of dropping him off in the neighborhood where it could potentially spread. It was an opportunity to also educate the client about COVID and the benefits of wearing a mask, and make sure that he was aware of the importance of not only continuing to get tested, but also going to the hospital, monitoring his symptoms, and not spreading it.”

Has the pandemic limited your ability to move clients through the programs?

“Yes, COVID has slowed the process for getting clients into our programs, but clients haven’t had to wait too long as compared to last year, and we have multiple Baker Places programs that they can go to. It’s generally wherever a bed is available. And we work very closely with our intake department so we’re tracking clients from day one of them being with us.”

How many more Hummingbird facilities do we need in our city?

“Oh my! As many as we can get, and I’d love to be part of them all! It’s been amazing to witness so many positive success stories in the short amount of time we’ve been open.”

While we would love to have multiple clones of Michelle and a Hummingbird facility in every San Francisco neighborhood, we also need the resources to ensure that each of the many thousands of homeless individuals living on our streets has a bed and the programs needed to assist them on their journey to recovery and greater independence.

If you’ve enjoyed learning about Hummingbird Valencia and how Michelle assists San Francisco’s homeless population on their journey to recovery, please consider supporting this work with a donation today.

If you would like to learn more about the work being done at PRC, we invite you to read more client and staff stories on our blog.

PRC Proudly Sees the Bare Chest Calendar Become Independent

Each year, PRC honors an organization at its Mighty Real Gala that has been instrumental in helping PRC significantly advance its mission. No partner has done nearly as much as Bare Chest Calendar over the years to advocate and raise funds for PRC and its essential services for those most in need. That is why PRC is honored to recognize Bare Chest Calendar with the Outstanding Community Partner Award at its Gala on November 5th at the Four Seasons. The work that the Calendar has done over the years is so incredibly important to PRC, and the funds they have raised directly support PRC’s HIV/AIDS, mental health, and substance use services.

The powerhouse fundraising organization known as Bare Chest Calendar (BCC) has been generously supporting PRC and the AIDS Emergency Fund, which later became a part of PRC, for more than 35 years by donating the proceeds from their annual calendar sales and other fundraising activities. In recent years, the Calendar has raised more than $200,000 annually for PRC’s critical services. The calendars feature twelve shirtless men who become spokespersons for PRC’s HIV/AIDS related services. If you’ve been to one of the many street fairs in San Francisco, you’ve probably seen the Bare Chest Calendar booth and the shirtless or leather vested advocates selling and signing calendars while promoting the work of PRC.

BCC was founded in 1984 by the manager of Arena Bar, Terry Thompson, and three friends who desired to help those suffering from the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Calendar has since raised more than $2 million dollars and featured more than 400 shirtless men. In its early days, it was sold in-person as a promotion calendar at the Arena bar, then it migrated to the SF Eagle bar, and then moved again to its current home at the Powerhouse Bar. Each of these bars has significant historical roots within San Francisco’s leather and LGBTQ communities and has also contributed to the growth and success of the Calendar. Each year Bare Chest Calendar holds competitions to select 12 men for the following year’s calendar. But these men do much more than pose shirtless! Every week from June through December they take time out of their personal schedules to work at local or statewide fundraising events, all while educating the masses on the services of the organization they’re fundraising for.

Bare Chest Calendar models have built a community, often referred to as a brotherhood, and are guided by their “Den Daddies,” leaders appointed to manage contest and fundraising activities.  The Calendar Men each have different reasons for participating and many come back year after year. Some have also been recipients of PRC’s services, and their participation is a way to give back to the organization that helped them through a tough time in their lives. Upon Bare Chest Calendar’s success and growth, the organization has come to an exciting cross-road in its trajectory and has decided to become its own 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. While BCC will continue to support PRC, its volunteers look forward to partnering with other local LQBTQ initiatives that extend beyond PRC’s scope of services. PRC CEO Brett Andrews affirms, “As PRC’s oldest community fundraiser, Bare Chest Calendar holds a special place in our hearts. Proceeds raised over the years have helped to provide direct relief to our clients, and we are forever grateful. PRC is thrilled to support Bare Chest Calendar as they take this important step in establishing themselves as an independent nonprofit.  On behalf of our Board, staff, and the many clients we serve, PRC wishes Bare Chest Calendar many more years of growth and great success.”

Larry Rich, BCC’s current “Big Daddy”, the head of the organization, shares, “The Calendar provides a way for me to give back and support our community in a way that is fun and feels authentic, namely shirtless and wearing a leather vest. I am very proud to be part of this brotherhood and contribute to our 38-year legacy. As a leader in the newly formed organization, I’m excited to return to our grassroots, community-based heritage in the San Francisco Leather and Kink communities. I look forward to working with PRC and supporting their important programs for many years to come.”

We want to sincerely thank BCC for its tireless work. From all of us at PRC and the thousands of clients who have benefited from BCC’s efforts, we wish Bare Chest Calendar infinite success and longevity in their pursuit to help those in need.

To donate to Bare Chest Calendar or purchase the 2022 calendar, visit their website.

An Advocate for our Clients

“It’s got to be terrifying for somebody to be sitting on the other side of the desk from me, a stranger, asking all kinds of very personal questions.

Time is of the essence with this work. If I don’t get a given item completed and filed, then it doesn’t happen for that client and there’s a penalty. I cannot let it be my failure that costs somebody else a step towards their livelihood.”

If you’re fortunate, you’ve probably never needed to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. There are mounds of paperwork, systems to understand and access, and numerous obstacles that can cause frustration and confusion. But for our clients in need of SSDI, these frustrations are heightened by life circumstances, confusing medical processes, and a fear of making mistakes that will most certainly delay the critical assistance they depend on. That’s where PRC steps in. Our Legal Advocacy team understands both sides of these situations, and they’ll do everything they can to help clients navigate this stressful process.

Liz Pickell is a Senior Benefits Advocate here at PRC, and she’s been helping people find their way through the maze of paperwork, bureaucracy, and health system processes since the late 1980’s. She’s got a special talent for making sure clients acknowledge their work-limiting conditions and how to convey the information required to medical providers and SSD, all with a personable approach and a friendly smile. We sat down with Liz recently to get to know more about her and her role.

A self-proclaimed refuge from the Deep South, Liz grew up in Alabama and earned her Master’s in Counseling at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She quickly realized that counseling was not what that she wanted to do. Instead she preferred the tangibility of social work and transitioned into assisting HIV/AIDS patients to obtain SSD benefits. In the late 1980’s however, the AIDS pandemic was taking the lives of her clients before they could receive benefits, and this took its toll on Liz. AZT, a breakthrough drug, would eventually give those suffering from HIV/AIDS and Liz a hopeful outlook, but the medication’s side effects also added to her clients need for benefits.

After working for the Red Cross in St. Louis following the floods in 1989, Liz worked for another AIDS service organization, and then as the Director of Social Work for an Agency on Aging. A life change eventually enabled her to sell her house, then she and her Lab-Shepard mix rescue dog embarked on a year of driving across the country to explore. Having previously traveled to San Francisco, the only place hosting HIV/AIDS-focused conferences in the early years, Liz fell in love with the beauty of Northern California and the dedication of local non-profit organizations. Liz then accepted a job with United Behavioral Health in the East Bay where she assisting with mental health claims for nearly twelve years. Two and a half years ago, Liz came across a PRC job posting for an attorney. Although she’s not an attorney by trade, her skills were a perfect fit for the role. On Valentine’s Day 2019 she joined PRC’s Legal Advocacy team.

“When I read PRC’s values statement I thought: Now this I can totally get behind,” Liz exclaimed. “This resonates with me!”

When asked what prompted the change from more intensive work, Liz responded:

 “I had reached a point in my career where I was doing in-depth case management and being deeply involved in supporting someone in the broadness of their life. It was really overwhelming, and it was a lot to handle. One of my strengths is my empathy and my ability to connect with people, but my weaknesses is my lack of setting boundaries. To make a connection with clients, you have to open up on a personal level. While working for PRC, I’m able to put my energy where my ethics are. I’m focused on a narrower slice of a client’s life, so that I can maintain a heart space that helps me avoid compassion fatigue. I think that if you have the heart for this type of work, you should honor that and put yourself out there.”

So, what do you like about your role as a Senior Benefits Counselor at PRC?

“I really like what I do, I like the paperwork—I’m one of those nerdy people. I help to convey the experiences of our clients, so that Disability Analysts and Social Security doctors can understand them.  That’s my whole focus.”

How difficult is it to accurately describe an individual to Social Security?

“People who do their own applications routinely withhold information about their true lived experiences.  For example, nobody wants to say ‘I feel so bad that I can’t take a bath for 5 days sometimes,’ or ‘I can’t clean up my room or do laundry.’ There’s a sense of pride, and you want to appear to be a good patient so that you get the right care.

I ask people to tell me what it’s like on their worst days, because that’s why they need SSD. I tell them that If all of your days were your best days, you wouldn’t be talking to me. What is it that makes things not work for you? What gets in the way of your being able to hold a job? Often times people might say that they can bathe and dress without a problem, but what they don’t say is ‘I have to sit down and rest after I pull up my pants because I’m out of breath, then I have to stand up and I can button them, but it’s really hard because I have arthritis in my hands.’ Or, ‘I have to slip on my shoes because I can’t bend over and tie them.’ People don’t say those other things, sometimes it’s due to pride, and sometimes they don’t realize how they have adapted.”

How are you able to get clients to open up about their worst days?

“I let them know that I have issues too – that I live with depression. I am honest about this and sometimes share this with my clients. I ask clients the questions in a way that allows us talk about what really happens when they’re trying to get through their day. What things really look like. I let them know that I won’t shame them for their truth, and that I see them as much more than their symptoms, but that SSD only cares about documented symptoms.” I also tell clients, we’re going to be talking about things that are obstacles in your life. You’re a whole person, this is a little tiny slice of your life, talking to me is a little tiny slice, you’re telling me all of the things you’re having trouble with, I don’t see you as the obstacles.”

It seems to me that you have an amazing talent relating to people and getting them to speak to you as a friend.

“Thank you! I try to make it less intimidating, I tell them, let’s think about the SSD system as second graders, things are not necessarily understood at firsthand, so we really need to describe things in detail. I do this to make the bureaucracy feel less intimidating.”

What aspects of your job do you find most rewarding?

“There’s so much really. My colleagues here are fabulous! I get to work with so many bright, ethical human beings. People are here because they’re passionate about the work. We really work by PRC’s values. Within our department there’s a nice interplay of skills and abilities. We rely on each other’s strengths to make things work efficiently. I also like knowing that I’m able to help somebody take better care of themselves. One of the most rewarding things is to be able to give someone a voice that allows them to gain access to needed support or to advocate for themselves. This work makes me a big advocate of universal basic income, because for many people who are disabled, they are too disabled to prove they’re disabled, and that makes me angry.”

And what are the challenges of your job?

“COVID has completely changed our process for initial applications. We used to meet with people and do intakes in-person. We would do all of the paperwork, put together their application packet, tie it up nice and neat, and say, ‘take this to social security and file your application.’ Some people would take it in right away, some would not, and some would lose it, but it would be their responsibility to physically file their application. At the time of filing, Social Security Representatives would complete additional paperwork with clients.  That system created an opportunity for me to help with securing supporting documentation like medical records, talking to doctors, and writing letters of support. Now with COVID, clients aren’t able to submit their applications in person, so we worked out a process to submit the claims for the client. The natural flow of the shared process is interrupted, and creates much more paperwork on our part.”

How many clients would you say you help on average per year?

“On average we serve 1,500 clients per year, and we serve most clients for more than a year. It just depends on their case. My case load averages 50 to 60 clients, all at different levels of the process. For example; a brand-new client takes a lot of time because we have to get to know them, build trust, and learn about everywhere they are receiving care. That’s when we’re getting the most medical information together. There are multiple process however, and each of them take time. If an application is rejected, then we go through an appeals process and that alone can take a year or longer.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

“I think people should be aware of how incredibly difficult it is for someone who is disabled to prove that they are disabled. It’s really hard. They have to create the evidence by getting to the doctor regularly, and feel comfortable enough with their doctor to really tell them what’s going on. That can be very hard for people.  Clients have to remember to contact me when they get something in the mail from Social Security and NOT fill out any forms on their own, especially if they’re living on the street or in a single residence occupancy (SRO). The best thing we can do is encourage people and help them to see the link between how they take care of themselves, and how that can result in some financial support so that they can have more resources that improve their quality of life. One of the most important aspects of my job is keeping communication open and helping people navigate the immense amount of paperwork.  Its very labor intensive, and it’s imperative that we make the time to focus on what it takes for them to get the benefits.”

“Lastly I would like people to know how thankful I am that PRC exists, and that it seriously lives its values.”

If you enjoyed reading about Liz and our Legal Advocacy program, keep an eye out for more PRC staff highlights in next month’s edition. You can also access past staff highlights and client stories here. Please also consider making a donation which will allow PRC to help more people find their path to a better future.

Everyone’s Got to Start Somewhere

“PRC’s Next Step program is the best place for clients to get that first experience with the computer mouse, with the keys, with the screen, and gain at least these minimum skills. We’ll look after them, and we’ll keep them from running and screaming from the building in the process, or throwing the computer on the ground and stomping on it.”

So says PRC’s Computer Training Manager, Brian Whitford, a dedicated and longtime member of our workforce development team.

A native Californian, Brian has a thirst for adventure, one that led to his traveling the world after college working on a square rig sailing ship. In the early 1990’s Brian was diagnosed with HIV, prompting his decision to settle in the Bay Area.  In search of answers and assistance, Brian turned to PRC, known at that time as the AIDS Benefits Counselors (ABC), in its original Castro location. It was also around this time that Brian met his first husband, Arturo. Arturo was also diagnosed with HIV, and tragically lost his life to AIDS in 1995. Having suffered the loss of his husband while also navigating his own uncertain future, Brian relied on PRC to help him get back on his feet. His life experiences and firsthand knowledge of PRC’s services became a driving force behind Brian’s passion to help others. While working his way out of disability Brian studied web design and html training, then went on to teach that same class at the BAVC in the Mission, and then a similar course at Goodwill. In 2004, he started teaching PRC’s “Next Step” computer training program, which he’s managed for nearly seventeen years.

Next Step is a student’s first introduction or reintroduction to basic computer skills, preparing them to navigate the world of web-based apps, typing, email, online profiles, and common software operation. Over the course of one month, students attend eighteen days of three-hour computer trainings based on a state-approved curriculum. A new class begins each month with an average class size of twelve students, preparing one hundred-forty-four eager minds for the next phase of learning each year.

When Brian first started teaching Next Step, the main focus was teaching Microsoft Office and occupational skills training. Over the years the course has evolved to focus on Google’s suite of cloud-based workspace apps due to their ease of access. Brian shares that this limited scope has allowed him to become an expert at teaching basic computer skills to clients who have little or no computer knowledge, or are intimidated by technology. Because Brian has been teaching the same subject for so long, he’s developed a keen understanding of when to refine his methods to better fit each student’s individual needs.

“I like that I don’t have to be the big expert – I’m sort of the expert at teaching beginner level because I teach the same thing over and over.”

Brian has been known to lighten the mood on the first day of classes by saying “students, meet keyboard. Keyboard, meet students.” A simple joke, but when combined with his humble smile, it has a calming effect and lets the class know that Brian approaches his lessons with a sense of humor.  When asked about the goal of Next Step, he responds: 

“The main objective of the class is to meet individuals where they are and build upon that.  A lot of it is Psychology 101, as well as computer basics. Some students are quite vulnerable. You can talk to them and see that they are understanding, but it’s more important that they’re keeping up with the trainings and improving. It’s not just about the end test results. Most of my students are looking for work, while also coming out of recovery, depression, and various mental health challenges. A lot of it is just making the connection and getting them to come to class, which is no small task.”

When asked what part of the job is most rewarding, Brian doesn’t hesitate:

“The students and their personalities. We have a lot of humor and a lot of social energy to compensate for the soulless spreadsheets and software. When we’re in a group setting, it’s a mix of hands-on teaching lessons, and a support group. We relate through their goals and interests, and they are such sweet and interesting characters. Every once in a while a student will say thank you and to acknowledge their progresses, these moments really are golden.”

About the challenges of the job, Brian admits:

“There are many obstacles that prevent our students from getting to class on time. I have learned over the years that in spite of the many life challenges our students face, they do the best they can. But it takes a lot of patience, and a collaborative approach to the work to triage our interactions and offer services that are responsive to the students’ needs. As a team we make it work. Sometimes people stop attending classes midway through and but then return the next month—and we accept them back. This is what differentiates us from similar programs that require fulltime attendance. I wish we had more resources and more staff with similar skill sets as my colleagues Tomas and Jerry who have such a talent for calming our students’ self-doubts.

“Another challenge occurred during the pandemic when we had to pivot from in-person group trainings to individual home visits and virtual learning sessions. We used our food-related funds to buy computers for our students that they could take home with them, which was extremely beneficial.  We taught our students how to access email and navigate Zoom before we could start teaching them remotely and that was incredibly challenging since the class is designed to teach the basics of using a computer. Unreliable internet was also a challenge for many of the students, which disrupted their learning. Our folks already have so much working against them. But we work really hard to always get through challenges—it’s a lot!”

Once a student finishes the Next Step course, they receive a Certificate of Completion, and they can advance to PRC’s next offered course, “Step Up,” which teaches administrative and clerical skills for the workplace. Students then have the option to enroll in “Lift Up SF” a peer-to-peer training pathway that prepares participants with lived experience for jobs in community health settings. Through it all, students gain not only basic computer literacy, but confidence, a community, and a support system

Brian has helped thousands of PRC’s clients over the years to become comfortable using a computer. His main hope is that each student leaves his course better prepared to navigate the myriad of challenges that lie ahead in their pursuit of a better future. 

If you enjoyed reading about Brian and the Next Steps program, keep an eye out for future profiles of PRC staff and see PRC stories on our blog. You can also support this work by making a donation at prcsf.org/donate