Jasmine Conley is a success story in the making

It’s not every day that one of PRC’s former clients comes out the other end to join the staff. But that’s just what Jasmine Conley did when she recently accepted a role within Workforce Development’s newly launched Black Trans Initiative. This two-year project funded by the City’s Dream Keeper Initiative reallocates resources toward technical assistance for Black transgender people.

This is a population Jasmine is especially familiar with. “I always wanted to work with transgender women. I didn’t always identify as trans myself but that changed. I took this position because I want to help transgender women help themselves and identify what they want to do.”

Jasmine didn’t always know what she wanted to do. When she took her first PRC computer class, Jasmine found herself coming out of surgery and about to lose her housing. Her PRC instructor helped her secure a space at PRC’s co-opt supportive housing. Following the completion of her course, Jasmine felt confident enough to enroll at City College. It was overwhelming as a person with a background of trauma but Jasmine persevered, earning a community health workers certificate and a 4.0 grade average, while also working at student services as an advocate for trans students drawing attention to challenges they face.

Looking to do more, Jasmine considered training as a social worker when the opportunity at PRC arose. The idea of building a new program from the ground up is scary but exciting. The Lift Up SF peer-to-peer training Jasmine took helped immensely. “The things I learned earlier from a book went right out the window when the client was sitting across from me and all that trauma came back. I had to put my feelings on the backburner but I know now this is for me. It’s not easy but it made me love it even more. I know that I belong in this position. I want to be the best I can be because I’m representing PRC, which helped me be the best I could be.”

“I want to help anyone who wants help bettering their lives like I got help at PRC. If not for PRC, my life would have a different story. I can’t believe I’m working here now. Those who helped me four years ago are now my co-workers. I went through the entire program and here is the outcome. I have the best job and I think this is just the beginning.”

If you enjoyed reading about Jasmine’s journey and how she’s supporting PRC and WorkForce Development’s Black-trans initiative, consider supporting this work with a charitable contribution. You can also read additional stories about PRC’s clients and staff on our blog.

“This can be one of the most important roles we play in someone’s life.”

To say that we’re fortunate to have Joe Ramirez-Forcier managing PRC’s Workforce Development Program would be a massive understatement. His compassion and work ethic goes above and beyond as he navigates the complex situations many of our clients face, and he does this with an incredibly welcoming smile and a calming demeanor. We sat down with him recently to get to know more about him and the work he does at PRC, and we’re certain you’ll admire him as much as we do.

 A true San Francisco native, Joe lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and experienced firsthand the decimation it caused to his hometown, his friends, and his community.  He watched as those around him became fewer and fewer, instilling in him the value of life and a duty to live his to the fullest. Not one to sit back and watch, he’s been volunteering ever since, working with people in end-of-life care and helping medical professionals to find critical resources for supportive services. Today he continues serving his community by way of helping PRC’s clients navigate a path to a more promising future.

How did you find yourself at PRC?

“It was unplanned. I was working in tech, and about 20 years ago I had an epiphany and decided to work in the nonprofit sector. Eventually, I mapped my skills and began helping people with HIV, mental health, and substance use both in treatment and in residential settings, and now I work in workforce development.”

You’re coming up on your 16-year work anniversary with PRC. How does it feel to know that you’ve been assisting clients for that long?

“I’m all about the now. It’s my role and it doesn’t matter what I did yesterday. There’s always someone in front of us today who needs our support. I really believe in steward leadership: that it’s my role to serve. Whether it’s with a client or with my staff, I think, ‘how are you?’ and ‘how can I support you today?’ You really only have today and the folks in front of you. I think staying present and oriented toward others is very important in this work.”

How has PRC changed in the past 16 years?

“We continue to expand and define our roles and our capacities in community work. When I started, we had three public funding contracts supporting our services. Now we have 16 government contracts and grants. All of this shows that we are committed to providing a variety of services for people who really need them. This is why I come into work every day. I know we have something to offer that really does benefit people.”

How have things changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

“We’re in people services so when you put Zoom in the middle, we’re not engineered as humans to connect through a flat-screen. Communication by its nature is rounded by body posturing and closeness, the three-dimensional aspect of a person right in front of you. Especially for clients experiencing the intersection of homelessness, substance use, HIV, and mental health, the power of being together in person is so strong. Zoom is a poor substitute to his, yet currently an essential substitute, and it has changed the way we communicate immensely. Things don’t move as quickly. People don’t mentally process as quickly. And that means we need to do things differently. We’ve had to re-engineer how we deliver our program multiple times since the beginning of the pandemic. But we’ve been able to serve the same number of clients, which I’m really proud of.

“In the first year of the pandemic, we were able to get digital devices to clients so they could continue our computer training and peer-to-peer classes. It was clear that our clients didn’t have computers or Wi-Fi, which is necessary to access our services. While distributing computers, if our students didn’t have a mask, we’d give them a couple because they were really hard to get at the time. That above and beyond service lifted our hearts during a really challenging time. After all, we were all coping with the pandemic together at the same time.”

For someone who’s unfamiliar, could you explain what workforce development is?

“We work with a population that has gone through life experiences like becoming ill with HIV, dealing with substance use, and handling with severe mental health struggles. And similar to rehabilitation for a broken limb, a traumatic event, or a setback, it takes an extended period of time to regain one’s health. That’s the essence of vocational rehabilitation and the process that takes place in workforce development. We get a chance to have a really meaningful conversation about their abilities, strengths, hopes, and dreams, in order to build up hope they see their value and self-worth. Helping someone with their resume is one of our strongest counseling tools to convey how valuable someone is as a person. When you think of all the stigma where society or their family hasn’t valued them, it’s a chance to change that narrative. Then we embark on training to build confidence, skills, comprehension, and knowledge. Clients can then decide if and when they’re ready to try out a volunteer or internship role based on how it aligns with their abilities, their goals, and their income needs. This allows them to make really informed choices.”

Can you tell us more about how Workforce Development has evolved?

“We’ve added so many new computer training classes: supplementing Microsoft Office with administrative skills training and the Lift UP SF program, our peer-to-peer training for jobs in community health settings. With our new funding from the City’s Dream Keeper initiative dedicated to services for the Black Trans community, we’ve enhanced our trainings with Black/African American competency based on culture, health, community voices. At the end of the day, we are a post-secondary education facility, and for our computer training classes, we are a recognized training provider by EDD CA as California’s Eligible Training Provider. We look ahead to where there are job opportunities and develop certificate programs based on the labor market. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to focus on our mission, scope, and strategies to get our clients to where they need to be in the future and how we can enhance what we’re doing today.”

(Left to right) Troy Boyd, Brian Whitford, Tomas Llorence, and Joe Ramirez-Forcier (far right) pose with Lift Up SF graduate Greggory Saint Pierre (middle)

For those who aren’t able to attend the courses on a regular frequency or cadence, how are you able to help them get through the programs?

“There have been a lot of stressors in the past year, and we’ve really challenged our training department to say we can’t let these people fail. We’ve contacted folks who weren’t able to complete our coursework to extend a distance learning option and get them back in classes. For people who are working, we’re piloting an extended learning platform. That should help students have a chance to matriculate and also let them know that lifelong learning can be viewed differently, and they can succeed. For some, this will be their first success.”

Many of your staff have a similar “lived experience” and personal history as your clients. How has this affected Workforce Development?

“A shared ‘lived experience,’ or personal knowledge of the world gained through direct, first-hand experience, has certainly helped. In fact, it can be essential in finding success within our local communities. Whether it’s treatment, health care, or something else, this shared experience helps articulate the support we can offer. When we reveal parts of our past or say yeah, ‘I’ve been through that too,’ this makes a big difference. There’s a therapeutic effect of saying: ‘you’re not alone,’ ‘you’re not the only one who’s gone through this,’ ‘it does get better, so don’t give up.’ Having someone believe in us is so important. Many of the people we see don’t have anyone else in their lives. Sometimes we’re the only ones cheering them on. This can be one of the most important roles we play in someone’s life.”

For clients who have gone through the programs and graduated, what kind of follow-up services do they have access to?

“They can see us whenever they choose to. Once a client gets a job, housing, or health care, if they want to pause and take a break, we give them that space, and the door is always wide open. For our clients with HIV, they’ll need lifelong services, which can include retirement planning, relocating to a senior living facility, or selecting a new doctor in a new city if they relocate. There aren’t a lot of places clients can go for HIV and workforce development, much less substance use and mental health, that are accessible whenever they need it. Fortunately, we have funding to support folks along that continuum to make sure they have the support whenever and however they need.”

What other new challenges or problems have you faced?

“We’ve generally helped a certain cohort of people over the years but the population has aged and the demographics have changed. In our latest outreach, we’ve begun to dive deeper into the African American community, particularly to Black Trans Women. There’s a great need and an awareness to adapt our programs to support them and help them to be successful.

“For others who have been institutionalized for a long time, we ask: what does independent living and learning look like? Social skills and independent living skills take on greater meaning. We have had to rethink and adapt to these populations that are so worthy and so needing of our services. It’s important for us to continue to research and make sure we’re really helping them, that we understand the services that exist in the community to support them, and that we offer them the same opportunities that everyone else has.

“A lot of justice-involved people are so vulnerable and have stories of being victims of human trafficking at a very young age, which creates a lot of trauma. The work they were forced into against their will, sometimes by their own family members, puts them at risk of being institutionalized. Their stories are unfathomable. These are very bright individuals who are so deserving of getting the richness of our services. We’re partnering with the TGI Justice Project, which is there to meet these individuals when they are released from incarceration and there’s no one else there to support them. We’ve been collaborating with them to ensure these new clients gain access to our on-site

It sounds like you’ve become quite adept at personalizing your services to a wide range of clients’ needs.

“It’s really adapting to what’s happening on the ground, understanding how systems fail folks, and making sure we don’t recreate that cycle of failure.”

How flexible are your 16 contracts and grants in supporting all these different programs to serve clients in their current circumstances?

“The contracts and grants allow us to make the right decisions we need to in a process called localizing. We analyze what’s happening to the people who need our services. The key is adapting these services so people can access them. The City loves to learn about our techniques, creativity, and innovation in identifying different ways we can deliver essential services so our clients can flourish economically. The end goal is that they get the benefit of our services.”

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

“In 2021 there was a City-wide workforce program assessment for serving individuals experiencing homelessness. I think it’s important to know that PRC was invited to the table. I was able to provide input and help design a system where we don’t simply look at housing as the only solution for homeless folks, as they may not get housing for many years. There is a multitude of essential services that should be triaged for homeless individuals, including referrals to health care and services related to recovery, employment, and legal assistance. The final result of this project was the documentation of best practices for connecting people experiencing homelessness to workforce and employment services across the City.

“At any given time, we have clients living at shelters who are enrolled in our programs, and we want to make sure that they’re invited to and welcome at our services. There are multiple pathways to stabilization in the City of San Francisco. I was overjoyed that this became a standard of care and a guiding principle. I hope it will inform people in the future of a better system when assessing those experiencing homelessness for support services.”

How do you feel that San Francisco is performing in assisting these people in general?

“If it was easy to do, someone would have mastered it. There’s no silver bullet. It requires a fully integrated, engaged system of care with sufficient support. There’s data out there to demonstrate that historically we haven’t had enough funding for social services, much less the housing to stabilize individuals. In America’s largest cities, we have a Herculean task, but it’s a task worth doing.”

If you enjoyed reading about Joe and PRC’s Workforce Development Program, consider supporting this work with a charitable contribution. You can also read additional stories about PRC’s clients and staff on our blog.


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:
    http://tiny.cc/MLK_Leader_Hero

“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.

SONGS OF THE SEASON 2021

THE HOLIDAYS HAVE NOT STARTED UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN “SONGS OF THE SEASON”

TICKETS ON SALE NOW

Join us for a magical, merry, and mirthful evening (with just a shake of sass) celebrating the holiday season of giving starting at 7:00 pm PST, on Tuesday, December 14th, and again starting at 7:00 pm PST, on Wednesday, December 15th, in-person at Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

Now in its 29th year, “Songs of the Season” – a benefit supporting PRC, returns with star-studded talent, curated and hosted by Billboard Recording Artist Brian Kent.

This amazing cabaret show promises an incredible night of performances from a variety of locally and internationally recognized entertainers; all determined to make sure you feel the joy and excitement that comes to define the holidays! As always, prepare to smile, laugh, applaud, and even shed a nostalgic tear or two.

We look forward to celebrating this holiday season with you!

Performances by:
Brian Kent, Billboard Recording Artist
Donna Sachet, First Lady of the Castro
Breanna Sinclaire, Charles Jones, Dan O’Leary, Effie Passero
Frenchie Davis, Kenny Nelson, Leanne Borghesi, 
Roberta Drake, Russell Deason, Sister Roma
PURCHASE TICKETS

Are you interested in becoming a sponsor? Contact Seth Abrahamson, Director of Events, at seth.abrahamson@prcsf.org or 415-972-0853 for more information.

 

Per San Francisco city guidelines, PRC will require all guests to show proof of vaccination upon entry of Feinstein’s at the Nikko, along with photo ID. Proof of vaccination can be provided in the form of CDC card or picture of your CDC card.

Per San Francisco city guidelines, guests will also be required to wear masks indoors unless eating or drinking.

“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. 

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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.

“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