“I’m really grateful to be a part of PRC.”

Troy has had six hip replacements, both shoulders replaced, both knees replaced, three neck surgeries, two back surgeries, a blood clot in his left calf, and severe arthritis in his right foot, ankles, hands, and most recently his neck and shoulders. Some days it feels like it’s enough just to keep his body together but that’s not enough for Troy.

“I have been fundraising since I was five years old. I wanted to be the king at my school and so I had to fundraise. My mother told me if I wanted to do it, I had to get out there and help. So I did and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Troy’s work ethic, positive attitude, sense of gratitude, and spirit of giving back are extraordinary. And he’s grateful for and determined to give back to PRC.

How did this all begin? In 1999, when Troy had only been living in San Francisco for a short time, he got really sick and landed in the hospital with Pneumocystis Pneumonia. He was in a coma for two months. The doctors didn’t think he’d make it but he did.

“It’s been a long recovery, and it’s still ongoing. The very drug that is keeping me alive is also deteriorating the majority of my joints. Some days the pain is unreal.” Troy’s condition has made it impossible for him to work. Sometimes it takes three hours simply to get dressed in the morning. But he pushes through it.

“My mother always said: only the strong survive.” Troy is grateful he has what he needs: a home, food, healthcare. Over the years, when Troy couldn’t make ends meet, he received help from what was then known as AIDS Emergency Fund, now PRC’s Emergency Financial Assistance program.

Troy has also taken numerous PRC classes over the years to learn the ins and outs of insurance and receiving disability, as well as employment training, even earning his notary public license. Most recently, he took part in the LiftUP SF peer training program for community health workers. Troy found the experience to be eye-opening. “The focus on learning how to be patient and how to listen, to really hear someone completely through before responding and to be thoughtful about your response: it can be daunting but it was a good challenge.”

For all the assistance Troy has received, he gives back even more. He does a remarkable amount of volunteering, including maintaining his AIDS Walk “star walker” status of fundraisers of $1,000 and more, on PRC’s team for a truly impressive 20 years. Troy also serves on the advisory board of Project Homeless Connect and manages their Reading Glasses Program. He can often be spotted handing out sandwiches to those less fortunate in his neighborhood, with a smile, a hand shake, and words of encouragement.

“People see me out smiling even though it’s been a challenge to get around with my body falling apart. But I’m here, and that’s the good part. With LiftUP, I now have the tools to work with people on the streets, to ask what they need.” Recalling one recent instance in which Troy brought reading glasses to a man who was struggling, Troy describes how the man’s face lit up. “Knowing that I did that, that I have everything I need, so if someone else needs something, I can help.”

Troy would like to do something on a larger scale, to reach people who don’t access help easily. He’s still figuring out what that is. “But LiftUP has given me the tools to do that, hopefully in a better way.”

Troy describes how PRC was a really big catalyst to getting him to where he is now. “We don’t have a lot of agencies that deal with AIDS and give people with it a chance to be in the world in a positive way. PRC: they guide people really well, and I’m really grateful they’re here.”

You can help guide individuals like Troy to do positive in the world. Consider making a donation to support PRC.

Hummingbird Valencia Opens in San Francisco’s Mission District

On Tuesday, May 18th, Hummingbird Valencia opened its doors to San Francisco adult residents experiencing homelessness, mental health crises and substance use disorders. Based on the success of its predecessor, Hummingbird Potrero, the Valencia respite center will be a vital resource to help the City’s most vulnerable on a path to a better future.

                “PRC’s Hummingbird centers are an essential step in San Francisco’s spectrum of behavioral health and substance use services. We provide a proven, cost-effective alternative to Emergency Room care,” said Brett Andrews, CEO of PRC. “PRC is grateful to partner with the Mayor and Supervisor Mandelman, the SF Department of Public Health, and our community partners Tipping Point and the Salvation Army to expand the availability of these critical services to our most vulnerable citizens at a time of such profound need.”           

An estimated 8,000 – 10,000 people experience homelessness in San Francisco on any given night, and thousands more live with mental struggles, many times in combination with substance addiction. The pandemic we’ve all experienced over the past fourteen months has certainly increased the severity of the situation, shining a spotlight on the ever-growing need for support systems and sustainable solutions. PRC is on the front lines taking the initiative to increase the number of these resources, making them available to the city’s most vulnerable populations.

At the inaugural Hummingbird Potrero, located on the Zuckerberg SFGH campus and operated by PRC; nonviolent individuals experiencing acute mental distress are assessed and cared for by the experienced counselors and staff instead of being hospitalized. This approach allows a person in distress to engage and stabilize in a home like environment, surrounded by professionals that are looking at, and beyond the moment of each individual situation. We know that mental distress is the result of a combination of life experiences and traumas, and simply addressing the symptoms will not provide a full or lasting recovery. The first step is to help comfort each individual and work to gain their trust, only then can the true work begin. As staff learn about each person and their unique situation, they also teach them how to communicate their personal needs, and instill a desire for self-advocacy.  Each seemingly small step builds more trust allowing for care plans to develop, and for the individuals to accept, and more importantly, believe that additional help is available if they choose to take it.  

Hummingbird services are guided by lived experiences and many of our programs employ graduates from the same development and recovery programs that they now support. When proof of a successful system is provided in the form of someone that’s been through it, and is now here to help others through it, those shared experiences build powerful connections that last a lifetime. They also provide an example and a desire for individuals take ownership of their future.   

Clients are referred to Hummingbird Valencia from urgent care providers or by street teams including the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), the City’s new Street Crisis Response Team, and the Department of Public Health’s Street Medicine and Comprehensive Crisis Services. Once at a hummingbird site, individuals have access to food, showers, clothing, laundry facilities, counseling services, and a place to rest. The hummingbird program provides connections to a wide range of services including detox and residential programs, transportation to medical services, self-care and job training opportunities, assistance with obtaining an ID, or help reconnecting individuals with their family.

Individuals are free to leave and many do, but many also return and give it another go. This was the inspiration of one hummingbird client when they were asked to participate in naming the respite center. “The hummingbird’s presence may not last long, but while it is here, it does transformative and lasting work.”  The road to recovery is rarely a once and done experience and we understand that it’s likely going to take a few tries including a few steps back as part of the progress. It’s important however to celebrate the wins, eliminate the stigma from the slip ups, and encourage each person to try again no matter how many times it takes. Judgement free support is what clients receive while at a hummingbird center and this stays true while clients access any of PRC’s extended programs.  

Since 2017 the Hummingbird program at Zuckerberg SFGH has served more than 1,000 overnight clients and more than 12,000 day guest visits. The freestanding Hummingbird Valencia location will reach its full capacity of 30 overnight beds and an additional 20 daytime guest capacity once all pandemic related restrictions are removed.

The average length of stay at a hummingbird center ranges from a couple of nights to a couple of weeks, Couples are able to access services at the facility together, and day time services are also available for those who need access.  

“I’m proud that District 8 will be home to the first-ever community-based Hummingbird Navigation Center,” said Supervisor Mandelman. “The Valencia location will provide shelter, supportive services, and a path to stability and wellness for unhoused people struggling with mental illness and substance use. These beds represent one more step toward meeting the City’s acute need for exits from the streets, emergency rooms and jail for unhoused people with behavioral health needs. The Hummingbird model is a proven concept that can make a real difference in the crisis on our streets, and we need many more of them.”

Hummingbird Valencia Rear Entrance | Photo Credit Heidi Alletzhauser

“It’s important because these are actual human lives that hang in the balance. For me, going to PRC was a matter of life and death.”

Anthony went through a few different substance use programs but didn’t get the care and attention he needed for his recovery journey until he came to PRC’s Ferguson Place, and Acceptance Place. There he found a structure that allowed him to grow in a way he didn’t think possible.

What was it that made such a difference?

“It was more like communal living. You’re in this house with people learning how to co-exist, learning those basic skills: how to live with others and maintain harmony, pull your weight, cook dinner together and take care of the place together. It presented challenges, and that’s where the growth came from. You’re learning to navigate these challenges with support of the staff. There will be conflict wherever you go. It’s about the way they were able to help.”

Anthony also had the opportunity to get connected to the right doctors and mental health treatment. This was a game changer. From there, Anthony entered PRC’s Co-op Transitional Housing. It took a few tries of going in, relapsing, and starting over. What changed was the accountability that PRC requires. For the first six months, Anthony attended support groups. He had a case manager to check in with and was living with people going through the same thing.

“It gave me a reason to get up. Even when I had a slip, my case manager was there to support me and hold me up when I was shaky.”

Now Anthony is working a full-time job for the first time in five years. He’s crawling out of debt. There are so many components that need to be worked on that get caught up in the shuffle: credit, health, longtime effects.

“Out of all the different programs I tried, there was so much love and care on the part of the PRC staff in every department. That care, that empathy really does something for somebody. The people at PRC are really great. It’s important because these are actual human lives that hang in the balance. For me, going to PRC was a matter of life and death. This is a service that people really need. It’s important to know how life changing and important it is.”

For the first time in years, Anthony is able to have healthy relationships. He’s able to have boundaries and connect with people in a healthier way. There was a lot of social reconstruction.

“As I develop more independence and become more solid, I’m able to have more freedom. I had to get to a certain point where I was ready to work. They guided me and opened up this possibility.”

You can help guide individuals like Anthony to do positive in the world. Consider making a donation to support PRC.

“When I know of other people struggling, I let them know about PRC.”

Sonia was a healthy mother of five when one day a piece of candy got stuck in her throat and changed her life forever. The cuts she incurred prompted a visit to a specialist that was inconclusive. However, when Sonia couldn’t eat and began dramatically losing weight, she advocated for an MRI that showed she had an aneurism, a bulge, like a bubble, caused by a weak spot on a blood vessel wall in her brain. It was unrelated to the throat lacerations but would have gone undetected and untreated if not for that fateful piece of candy.

This accidental finding after a year and a half of physical suffering led to brain surgery that ultimately saved Sonia’s life. Along the way, Sonia has experienced debilitating pain in her digestive tract, swollen nerves, even temporary blindness, all traced to the condition in her brain, making it impossible for her to work. As a single mother, Sonia faced a lot of financial pressure and stress, which exacerbated her pain. “I felt like I was in a hole, stuck financially and health-wise, with no way out. I felt like I was going to die.” Sonia needed help. That’s when she was referred to PRC.

Sonia sought the help of PRC’s Legal Services team to help her apply for public disability benefits, known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Sonia’s legal advocate helped her to understand the application process. Sonia felt that things were going to be okay. Still, Sonia was initially denied based on her written application due to the nature of her unusual disability. When Sonia finally got her day in court and was able to be seen by a judge in person, the judge was surprised Sonia was able to physically be present in court given the severity of her condition. Finally, Sonia felt like she was in the right place at the right time with the right people. Her application was approved.

Sonia still experiences severe pain but the social security assistance has helped tremendously. She explains, “When I secured social security, there was such relief that even though I was still in pain, the bills were going to get paid. I started feeling better. It’s made me feel better in every way. I don’t have all that stress, which has allowed me to focus on my health.” Sonia has learned so much since then about how to adapt to her condition, how to mitigate stress, and how to use different therapies to manage her pain. She’s finally able to concentrate on trying to get better.

Sonia recently started a part-time job two days a week doing payroll. She wants to do more but knows her body’s limits. She can’t lift things and has to take frequent breaks but working has also helped her feel better in that she’s starting to live her life again and take steps toward being the independent woman she once was.

Thanks to PRC’s assistance securing social security, Sonia has been able to move out on her own with her daughter. She’s been able to work toward her goals, in the short term continuing to get better physically, and in the long term go back to school to become a nurse practitioner or a lawyer, clearly influenced by her personal health and legal experiences. She still has to be careful about the level of stress in her life but she’s been able to recuperate both physically and emotionally little by little.

Sonia is one of thousands who annually take advantage of PRC’s Legal Advocacy program to gain access to income and healthcare necessary for stable housing and improved health outcomes. This program was the first service provided by PRC, formed in 1987 as AIDS Benefits Counselors in direct response to the AIDS epidemic to help those affected by HIV to navigate their way through a purposely cumbersome process to get the disability benefits they deserved. The program has grown tremendously over the years but maintains its commitment to providing legal services, using a harm reduction model, to the most vulnerable populations in the community, including homeless, non-English speaking, active drug-using, and other marginalized individuals.

Sonia refers others to PRC constantly and sees her role as a bridge between others and PRC. “When I first came to PRC, I was really struggling, health-wise and financially. When I know of other people struggling, I let them know about PRC.”

You can help guide individuals like Sonia to do positive in the world. Consider making a donation to support PRC.

“Your donation to PRC will change lives. It changed mine.”

Calvin first learned about PRC during a chance meeting with PRC Employment Specialist Lauren Vega while volunteering at the Castro Country Club, a clean and sober gathering place for the LGBTQ recovery community. Lauren had been seeing clients there and suggested PRC’s LiftUp SF career pathway training program to Calvin. A big believer in things happening for a reason, Calvin decided to give it a shot. He’s so glad he did.

Calvin had previously worked in kitchens in the restaurant industry. He loves cooking and wanted to be his own boss. But a drug addiction interrupted that. Calvin had a whole year of sobriety but after COVID hit, he relapsed into alcohol. He needed a change so he got a sponsor and entered a 12-step program. That’s when he met Lauren.

With Lauren’s encouragement, Calvin enrolled in LiftUp SF. Part of our Workforce Development program, LiftUP SF was created specifically for people like Calvin with what we call “lived experience” – those with a real world understanding of mental health and substance use treatment settings – to train for jobs as peer health professionals in community and public health settings.

Over the course of the four-week, 64-hour program, Calvin learned a lot about the different behavior patterns of addicts. He saw these reflected in his own past and present behavior and, more importantly, learned how to interrupt these patterns. Calvin discovered a new outlook and a new outlet to express his own struggles. He learned how to put the person in need first, but also about self-care and setting boundaries.

Calvin learned how to communicate better, which was important because when he was using drugs, his people skills had deteriorated. He learned how to listen to the person, not just the problem, and how to talk to people without condescension, a big shift from when Calvin had previously done things out of spite or just to get a reaction. Calvin considers himself a compassionate person. However, “there were a lot of aha moments, when I saw that what I’d been doing wasn’t good.”

“It really changed my life. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in a different field of work and really understand how addicts work, it’s changed my sense of everything.” Calvin explains. Following the training, Calvin began working at PRC’s Hummingbird Place, a psychiatric respite program and navigation center where people in distress have an alternative to the emergency room for stabilization, linkage to social services, and referral to longer-term treatment and recovery.

“My income has increased. I have a job. I have a place where I pay rent. I am learning new things about myself by interacting with peers. I am confident in my work. The peer to peer training helped me to put myself out there. It brought me back to life. I can make change in other people’s lives at Hummingbird. One client said, ‘You are the nicest counselor I’ve ever met here at Hummingbird.’ This brought me fulfillment. I have an impact. With the help and guidance of PRC and LiftUp, it was possible for me to get a different outlook on life. There are people who have it worse than I do.”

“The job is helping me, in a sense, learn who Calvin really is, what my boundaries are, and what makes me happy. I can now analyze my feelings before I react and think about the consequences.” Calvin finds himself pinpointing in others behaviors that he had himself in the past, which allows him to reassess himself on a daily basis. Calvin shares that there are clients who need attention constantly, and his own experience allows him to be more compassionate toward them and toward himself. It’s allowed him to look back at trauma from his childhood in a new light and rediscover himself and live a more normal life.

Calvin shares that PRC impacted him because he had to do the hard work to discover why he feels a certain way. Every day is a learning opportunity. Previously he always said yes to avoid conflict, then felt anger, and then shut down. The job at Hummingbird has allowed him to embrace the emotions that his clients are deflecting. He’s learned to not take it personally. The job is helping him move on with his life. His clients are prime examples of where he doesn’t want to be again. They motivate his continued recovery. Calvin just celebrated two years sober, and he knows he’s looked up to by his peers who see a real change.

Right now, Calvin is just taking it one day at a time. He’s still madly in love with food, which he calls his therapy. “Food will always have a special place in my heart but mental health is also fulfilling. Mental health is important, especially in San Francisco, especially in the gay community. I see a lot of individuals who don’t know how to navigate their own feelings. Your support will help people like me help people like them, to know they’re thought of, that people do want to help them. Your donation to PRC will change lives. It changed mine.”

Your support of PRC’s programs like LiftUp SF is changing lives like Calvin’s, and training a new generation of community health workers to help others. To help guide individuals like Calvin to do positive in the world, please consider making a donation to support PRC.