Keys to Hope: Gary’s Story

In the Spring of 2016, I lost my job due to cutbacks, faced hard times and became homeless. That summer, I was able to get into Safe Harbor Shelter, where they gave me the chance to pause, regroup, and grow. I was assigned Healthcare Case Manager Kat Barrientos and we met weekly. We set up goals for me. I started saving aggressively at Safe Harbor, and during that time, Kat was an ear and mentor who didn’t judge me. She kept an open mind and held out hope for me until I was ready to accept it myself.  She provided just the right amount of support. Within my first week at Safe Harbor, I got a job. It started out as part-time, 5 hours a day, but soon came to be full time.  This was a very positive turning point in my life.

Late August 2016, I went from an emergency bed into a transitional bed. I would then start meeting with my case manager every two weeks.  She always had an open door policy when the extra support was needed. I increased my saving amounts consistently with the knowledge that I would need to rebuild. Much to my excitement, at the end of January, I was granted a housing voucher from the County of San Mateo.  In March 2017, I got an apartment of my own.  I also received an additional salary increase from work. In a short 7 months, I went from being homeless to having my own apartment and a great job.

Gary's Keys of Hope
Gary’s Keys to Hope

To be successful, you have to be willing to do the work. It takes dedication and hard work on the part of the client.  Kat always told me ‘I am not here to do everything for you, but to support, encourage and give you the tools to be successful without me.’ That is her greatest gift to me.

I want to thank all Samaritan House and the Safe Harbor Staff for allowing me the opportunity to better my situation, as well as the great support they give out.

Artists in Residence

work by Willie

By Safe Harbor Shelter Clinical Case Manager, Julia Parmer

I was in my office, trying to seize on a small window of opportunity to tackle a pile of paperwork, when a client came running through my door. “Julia! You have to see this. Willie built an easel!” I knew, or rather, I had heard, that my client Willie was an artist. A likeness of Janet Jackson, almost eerie in its uncanny resemblance to the pop star, had floated for many years from office to office at Safe Harbor, left long ago by Willie after a previous shelter stay. But I had never seen his current work, nor had I seen him in action. I went outside where, indeed, Willie had, using two chairs, some posterboard, and other odds and ends, fashioned himself a makeshift easel and was hard at work, charcoal pen in cramped, blackened hand. I joined the gathered group of spectators who stood in silence, eagerly watching as Willie put pen to paper and the shape of a face began to form.

We soon decided to move Willie’s art supplies upstairs into our second floor Learning Center; a new room at the shelter, designated for onsite programming. In this room, we offer a host of courses for our residents, such as financial literacy classes and resume workshops. These classes are meant to help our residents make the most productive use of their time at the shelter; to further assist them in their goals of self-sufficiency, employment, and permanent housing. But this room also serves a second, and equally important purpose; to build life skills, to expand creative abilities, strengthen social emotional and physical well-being. To that end, we’ve offered yoga, nutrition, color therapy, arts and crafts, knitting, and, of late, Willie’s fine arts studio.

Artists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 3

In March, one of our staff members started a weekly women’s group in that same Learning Center. The group is not therapy; it’s a safe space to explore and navigate the challenges of living in a shelter as a woman, as well as a place for women to express their creative sides. Recently, they put together vision boards; empowering artistic collages to express ones’ dreams, goals, and hopes for the future. They made these using simple materials that we’ve had donated; old magazines, colored markers, stickers. The results were extraordinary. Sometimes I leave work feeling powerless, nearly hopeless at the homeless situation in our County. How is it, I thought to myself, as I looked at each finely crafted board, that our residents, despite the hardships, the heartache, the struggles, were able to draw on such inner strength and creativity to produce such things of beauty? And why is it that I ever doubted they could?

Earlier this year, a formArtists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 2er client emailed me to ask for a recommendation letter as she was putting together an application for an MFA program in creative writing. I had not seen this client since she left the shelter more than two years ago, but she felt that it was during her time at Safe Harbor that she experienced the personal and artistic growth to propel her to reach for this long-held dream of hers to go back to graduate school. I was deeply moved that she had found her experience at the shelter to be so transformative, and, more importantly, that she was taking these brave steps (at the age of 50 no less) to fulfill this goal of pursuing a career and a life in the creative arts.

So often I am surprised by the imagination and the thirst for knowledge that I witness on a regular basis at work. We’ve had guitarists, sculptor, painters, writers; so many creative and capable individuals. It is so easy to stigmatize that which we don’t know or which we fear. The concept of homelessness, of a homeless shelter, does not necessarily immediately lend itself to the notion of the creative arts. So we make assumptions and snap judgements, as we are naturally all prone to do.

But on that day, watching Willie begin to sketch out a future masterpiece in the front parking lot of our 90 bed facility, surrounded by his fellow residents, I had to simply take a moment to reflect and to remind myself that there is so much beauty in the world, if only we open our eyes to it.

Artists in Residence by Julia Parmer 061517 4

charcoal on paper works by Willie

Safe Harbor Shelter’s Monthly Birthday Bash!

LW365_bdayCake

Safe Harbor Shelter residents had an awesome birthday party this month, celebrating the 10 residents who have an August birthday!

This is the second time Safe Harbor Shelter has had a birthday bash. The first one happened last May and was orchestrated with the help of a former Safe Harbor Shelter resident and her church, Central Peninsula.

“I must tell you, it feels so glorious to be back there and be with the residents,” says the former resident herself. “Not only did the residents have a fun time, we (volunteers) had so much fun spending time with them too.”

Carol Laughlin, Samaritan House’s Director of Volunteers, says they plan to continue putting on this event as long as it as it makes the residents happy.

Safe Harbor Shelter is Samaritan House’s 90 bed emergency homeless shelter located in South San Francisco. Homeless individuals 18 years and older and from San Mateo County are permitted to enter the shelter on a first-come, first-served basis. The shelter is operated in collaboration with the County of San Mateo Human Services Agency.

 

Community Connections – Julia Parmer

the harbor overlooking shelter at sunset

the harbor overlooking shelter at sunset

Written By:  

Samaritan House Staff Member, Julia Parmer 

John has been sitting by the window overlooking the SamTrans parking lot for two days now. He is steadfast in his vigilance, barely moving a muscle, back straight, hands in his lap. He is watching something, but I do not yet know what. Towards the end of the second day, he cautiously approaches the front desk, where I am filling out some paperwork. “Miss Julia?” he asks hesitantly. “There’s a dog in that truck by the window. I think his owner must have forgotten about him and I’m worried.” Following John’s lead, several clients run to the window, and for the first time they observe what he has been keeping a close watch over. A small dog is sitting in the driver’s seat of a large Chevy truck. The dog is completely still. Immediately, we all spring into action. Anje calls the police and the SPCA. Gus, an outreach case manager from San Mateo County Behavioral Health who happens to be here runs outside and taps on the car window, hoping to awaken the dog. The car window is slightly open. With some help from another client, Gus drops some food inside. The dog stirs; he is ok.  John continues to oversee the action from his perch, silent and steady. All hands are now on deck to save this neglected animal. I am smiling, laughing at the controlled chaos.

            Every day, the residents of Safe Harbor amaze me. John has little more than a backpack to his name. Yet there he sits, day in and day out, keeping watch over another life, protecting this small creature that cannot protect itself. It is these moments in which I feel so privileged to work here and it is these moments that make the other, often heartbreaking moments bearable. I am so thankful to know people like John, and to be a part of this community at Samaritan House.

**This post was written for our Community Connections Blog. There you will find stories, ideas, opinions and other narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best, the staff and volunteers! you have a story you would like to tell, please email it to rebecca@samaritanhousesanmatao.org. 

Safe Harbor Shelter Increases Clients’ Access to Programming

A special thank you to communications volunteer Monica MacMillan for contributing the following blog post.

5

_____________________________________________________________________________

Since 1987, Samaritan House has been providing beds to the homeless as part of its efforts to meet the immediate and basic needs of low-income individuals in San Mateo County.  In 2000, Samaritan House opened Safe Harbor Shelter, a ninety-bed shelter located in South San Francisco.  In addition to providing the homeless with emergency shelter, safety, warmth, and sustenance, Safe Harbor offers healthcare assistance, substance abuse counseling, and job search assistance.  Historically, Safe Harbor has offered its clients referrals to outside agencies for these supplementary services.  Increasingly, however, it is trying to bring programs in-house.

“We want to support our clients as much as possible” by improving their access to programming, says Julia Parmer, the Mental Health Case Manager at Safe Harbor.  Because many clients don’t own their own transportation, it can be difficult for them to travel to outside agencies to get the help they need.  Moreover, “there is a lot of downtime [at the shelter].”  Programs offered on-site give clients a productive way to spend their time if they are not working.  Parmer has been offering group stress management counseling, and art therapy is coming soon.  Alcoholics Anonymous and Bible study groups meet weekly.  A new learning center with computers is also planned for the near future.

Course Hero, a local start-up company that allows college students to share their academic resources with each other, recently came to Safe Harbor to offer a free resume-building workshop.  Knowledgeable volunteers offered tips on how to market yourself, how to write a personalized cover letter, and what to do and not to do in an interview.  For clients who brought their existing resumes and cover letters, volunteers offered one-on-one editing sessions.  Course Hero plans to return periodically to provide its expertise to Safe Harbor clients.  “I’m happy that we’re in a position to help,” says John Stacey, co-founder and VP of Campus Programs.

For more information about Safe Harbor Shelter, please contact  650-873-4921.

6

2

Peninsula Food Runners in the news

Wonderful story about our friends at Peninsula Food Runners on ABC7, featuring Samaritan House’s Safe Harbor shelter, its residents, and staff.

Since 1987, the Food Runners helped deliver excess perishable and prepared food from businesses such as restaurants, caterers, and corporate cafeterias and deliver it directly to organizations that feed the homeless. We appreciate this group’s continued support of our shelter throughout the years!

 

Community Collaborations at Safe Harbor Shelter

Staff at our annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon in January
Staff at our annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon in January (From Left – Kat, Eric, Precious, Laura, Salina, Gerald, Kenny, Cory, & Anje)

Samaritan House is committed to providing programs and services at Safe Harbor to meet the critical needs of those most at-risk in our community. As the 2013 San Mateo County Homeless Census and Survey illustrates, the problem of homelessness in our area continues to grow even as the local economy recovers.

Since 2011, the number of individuals living without shelter has risen 12%, according to a report released by the county’s human services agency. (view the report here) The January census counted 1,298 people living on county streets, inside vehicles or in makeshift encampments. That’s 136 more people than the 1,162 tallied just two years ago.

Sign-(web)It is this need for emergency shelter and transitional support that make the need for our Safe Harbor Shelter so profound.

Samaritan House is truly an organization of Neighbor Helping Neighbor, and we could not operate without our community’s support. We appreciate the partnerships and relationships we share with the many faith-based organizations, professional associations, schools, clubs, government, and community organizations who generously provide donations and volunteer in our shelter throughout the year.

A number of organizations and businesses have donated their time, talents, and resources to our shelter in the past year:

• The County of San Mateo’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services continues to provide weekly intake assessments and ongoing case management services for Safe Harbor clients.

• Safe Harbor clients receive free, weekly, on- site dental services from the Mobile Dental Clinic run by the San Mateo Medical Center.

• The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County conducts once-a-month sessions educating clients about various public health and assistance programs.

• Around the holidays this past year, several local organizations – including First Presbyterian Church, Millbrae Bible Church, Lion’s Club, the South City Fire Department, and United Airlines – held special events and conducted drives to benefit the shelter.

Are you or your community service group interested in volunteering or organizing a donation drive for our shelter? Please contact us to see how we can assist. With your help, we can continue to provide a safe and supportive environment where our shelter residents can focus on building brighter futures.

Breaking the Cycle: Martin’s Story (Conclusion)

Kat-blog
Kat Barrientos, Safe Harbor Health Case Manager

Last week we profiled the story of a resident of Safe Harbor, Martin, as he overcame obstacles and arrived at our shelter to get back on his feet. Click here to read the first part of his story.

Guest blog post by Amy Hsieh.

A year ago, Martin was caught stealing a registration sticker from another car. Fortunately, the charges were dropped down, but it gave him a scare. He has goals now, like going back to work, finding housing and maintaining his health.

A big part of Martin’s turnaround has been working with his health case manager Kat Barrientos in Safe Harbor’s Housing for Health program. This past year, Martin developed severe cellulitis that caused swelling of the limbs, headaches, fever and pain. At Safe Harbor, Kat physically examines his leg every day, and makes sure that Martin shows up to all his medical appointments.

Martin’s life is different now. He is strongly focused, and his life is getting back on track. He works closely with his case manager on his individual plan that is tailored to what’s going on in his life. Martin knows that he has Kat to support him and to give him tools to help.

“Kat doesn’t feel like staff. She feels like a friend. She keeps me on track with my plan and helps me keep my word to myself,” he says.

How does Martin feel about the future? He feels great. For the first time in along time, he is thinking about what he wants to do in five years. He’s taking classes and plans to enroll in a skills training program to become a surgical technician or a medical device assembly technician.

“I changed because I had to turn the page, because I wanted to accept myself and be around people who want more from life. Safe Harbor allows you space and time to think about where you want to go,” says Martin.

A few months ago, Kat invited Martin to serve as a consumer representative on a new Advisory Board for San Mateo County Medical Center’ Healthcare for the Homeless. This new role as a homeless advocate is a natural fit.

“Being on the Advisory Board has really helped his self-confidence. It has given him a voice to express his ideas that are taken seriously. I’m very proud of him,” says Kat.

Martin’s story is just one story from the several hundred men and women Safe Harbor serves every year. With the community’s strong support, Samaritan House will continue to help those in need regain self-sufficiency and build brighter futures. For a list of the shelter’s current needs, please visit Our Wish List page.

Breaking the Cycle: Martin’s Story (Part 1)

shadow2

We are excited to present this guest blog post by Samaritan House Grants Manager Amy Hsieh. Amy visited with a resident of Safe Harbor to talk about his experiences with homelessness and his road towards stability.

Martin is chronically homeless, having lived in and out of Safe Harbor shelter since the late 90’s when it was still located in the National Guard Armory in San Mateo.

Born in Los Angeles, Martin spent his childhood in San Francisco in a family that provided little supervision. Martin says, “I lived a different life. I was drug-oriented. I partied all the time when I was a teenager. It became a lifestyle. Then it becomes your life.”

He found jobs, worked for many years in South City in the freight and shipping business, but was always sidetracked by drugs. For a while, he worked for at an international freight company, where he used his travel benefits to fly to exotic locations. Inevitably, he would spend all of his money, and then be back for another stay at Safe Harbor.

“I was using and not functional. Breaking that cycle was hard,” he says.

On his first stay at Safe Harbor, he remembers feeling uncomfortable, not knowing anyone. “It was like being out on the street, but in an enclosed space, like being squeezed into a box,” Martin explains. Once he started getting to know people at the shelter, he started to feel more comfortable.

“Many people don’t realize that the shelter is a community of people who are all in the same boat. You’re not forced to be here. It’s a choice. If you want, you can make it work for you,” says Martin.

It has taken time, but over his last three stays at Safe Harbor, Martin made a conscious choice to live a different lifestyle. He is now drug free, but the road has not been easy…

(Story continued next week. Check back to read more about Martin’s journey.)