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.

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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.

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charcoal on paper works by Willie

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Blog Post 
By: Rachel Spencer ( )

Rachel Spencer (Edited)Traffic is miserable in the . It’s not because the highways are small or that traffic lights aren’t programed properly, but because people are flocking here. As the number of cars on the road continues to increase, the number of people looking for housing is also increasing at a high rate.

As the Bay Area’s population continues to grow, the supply of rental units is rapidly decreasing and the demand for them is increasing, which is causing rental prices to sharply incline year after year.  For the affluent, the high rental rates are often discussed as an annoyance. For the working class, the high rental rates are crippling. If you want to survive the cost of living in the Bay Area, a single household needs to make a minimum of$78,000/year. Most working class individuals are working hard at jobs that pay minimum wage.  Imagine: for one household to make $78,000/year, it would require 4.7 full time minimum wage jobs!

Despite working full time and doing all that is in their control working class families are struggling to scrape by and, just when it all gets to be too much to handle, Samaritan House swoops in to save the day.

The name Samaritan House reflects perfectly the nature of the good work that they do. It calls to mind the story of The Good Samaritan.  In short, the story depicts a man who was a victim to thieves during his travels, leaving him without any possessions and half dead on the side of the street. As he lay there, people walked past him and avoided him until another traveler from Samaria helped him by tending to his wounds, giving him a safe place to stay and being a true hero for this man in need. Samaritan House exemplifies the compassion for the needy in today’s San Mateo.

In San Mateo alone, there is not a shortage of people who need help meeting their basic needs. As they come to Samaritan House, they are treated like dignified human beings and helped to get a roof over their heads, clothing on their children’s backs and food in their stomachs.

On any given day, you can go to Samaritan House in San Mateo to find a 3 story building full of compassion, dedication, humility, kindness, and laughter working day-in and day-out to meet the basic needs of those who can’t do it on their own. In other words, you’ll find a 3 story building full of heroes, and remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Community Connections Blog Posts are comprised of narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best- our staff, clients, and volunteers!

Everyone is invited to participate, please email your experience with Samaritan House to rebecca@samaritanhousesanmatao.org.

San Jose Mercury News – Wishbook 2014

We are very honored and excited to be a featured nonprofit in the San Jose Mercury News Wish Book this year!

Read the full article below:

JORGE CASTILLO FUNEZ

SAN MATEO — By the time Jorge Castillo Funez was diagnosed with diabetes this past December, his condition was severe. Without twice-daily injections of insulin, he would soon die.

However, an obstacle blocked the young man’s path to recovery: an intense fear of needles that Funez traces back to a childhood trauma in El Salvador.

Unable to perform the injections himself, Funez relied on the staff of the Free Clinic of San Mateo, a health center run by nonprofit Samaritan House that provides care for people who lack adequate insurance. He visited the clinic every day for more than a month so medical assistant Yesenia Hernandez could administer the insulin, then teach Funez’s girlfriend how to do it.

“I have never been treated the way they treated me here,” said Funez, who works as a hotel housekeeper. “They saved my life.”

Funez, 32, is one of roughly 1,200 low-income people who visit the clinic every year. Many have slipped through the cracks in state and federal health insurance plans, failing to qualify for Medi-Cal or the Obama administration’s new insurance mandate. Others have insurance but still struggle to pay for medication.

“We’re the safety net for the safety net,” said Sharon Petersen, director of operations for Samaritan House, which runs a second Free Clinic in Redwood City. The clinics benefit not only the clients, she said, but the broader health care system: When people with chronic conditions get preventive care, they make fewer trips to the emergency room.

The clinics provide a wide range of services, from basic care to neurology and orthopedics, despite having fewer than a dozen full-time staff members. Most of the clinics’ several dozen doctors and dentists volunteer their time.

Samaritan House, which gets most of its funding from private donors, will spend roughly $820,000 this year to operate the clinics. But there is still a critical need for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, including the insulin provided to Funez and other diabetic patients. Wish Book readers can help by donating $6,000, which covers a month’s supply for both facilities.

Diabetes is the most common chronic illness among patients at the San Mateo clinic, Hernandez said, though most of the patients are not insulin-dependent. Many of the clinic patients are Latino, a group with higher rates of diabetes than the general population. Clients don’t have enough money to buy fresh, healthful food — fast food is much less expensive — and often face linguistic or cultural barriers.

Funez’s father was a diabetic, but his family didn’t know that until after he died. Doctors determined that his fatal heart attack in 2004 was brought about by untreated diabetes.

The information shocked and scared Funez, who came to America when he was 20 and speaks halting English, but he still didn’t understand much about the disease — or that he was genetically predisposed to it.

He continued eating fast food and drinking soda — “mas Coke,” he recalled with a sheepish smile. In October 2013, he developed a suite of diabetic symptoms: blurry vision, thirst, frequent urination and unintended weight loss.

Now, a year later, he is looking and feeling much better. He eats less fried food and more salads, and has eliminated his soda habit. Besides regular checkups with an endocrinologist, Funez has visited clinic nutritionists, optometrists and dentists.

But he’s still afraid of needles. Insulin shots make him cringe, and he faints every time his blood is drawn. Funez said he developed the phobia after he witnessed a needle break off in a classmate’s arm during a round of vaccinations at his elementary school. The boy’s arm later had to be amputated, Funez said.

To keep his diabetes under control, Funez will need to master his fear. Hernandez said she worries about what would happen if his girlfriend weren’t around. But she’s determined.

“My goal,” Hernandez said, “is to one day see him inject himself.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about Samaritan House’s free dental and medical clinics, go to http://samaritanhousesanmateo.org and click on “What We Do.”

Your donation to Samaritan House helps individuals like Jorge  receive the medical treatment needed to live a full and healthy life. Read his story in the Wish Book and please consider a donation to help patients like Jorge. Click here to make a donation.

Helping our clients build ‘Secure Futures’

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Samaritan House’s new financial workshop classes, Secure Futures, are helping equip our clients with the financial skills they need to build assets and plan for the future.

Secure Futures Instructor, Carlina Davila is very pleased with the results she is seeing from her students. “It is really the small changes in spending habits and attitudes towards money that are having such large behavioral changes.” One of Carlina’s clients has started a new savings account and had managed to put away $90 over the course of a month just by cutting back the number of Starbucks each week. “Once our participants lay out their monthly expenses to create budgets, they’re really able to look at areas that they can cut back.”

To learn more about this program, view our program flyer (English) (Spanish) or contact us for more information.

Emergency rental & deposit assistance helps move San Mateo couple into a new home

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Every month, our client service department helps provide emergency rental assistance to help 23 low-income individuals and families experiencing financial hardship maintain a stable living situation. Last month, our client service and finance department staff went above and beyond to ensure that a client was able to pay the deposit and 1st month’s rent for a new, more affordable apartment just 2 days before her move-in date.

“My partner and I are both people living with disabilities, specifically wheelchair users, and we are on a fixed income. We both work very hard to make ends meet every month…” reports Ligia. When the opportunity arose to move into a Below Market Rate (BMR) apartment nearby, she turned to Samaritan House for help. “[Our case manager] Christiana Weidanz worked hard to make sure that our new property had a check that same Friday. Everything worked out wonderfully! We moved in, they received their deposit and first month rent, and now we can finally breathe.”

BMR Availability

Many Americans struggle to afford a decent, safe place to live in today’s market – especially in Silicon Valley. According to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank that researches the topic of housing affordability and homelessness, “For every 100 extremely low-income renter households, there are only 19 affordable and available rental units in San Mateo County.” In addition, over the past 5 years, average rental prices in the area have skyrocketed while the number of renters who need moderately priced housing has increased.

These pressures make finding affordable housing even tougher for low-income households in San Mateo County, and make the need for Samaritan House’s safety-net services and emergency assistance programs a precious resource for families in our community.

In a thank you note to our client service department, our client Ligia expressed her appreciation for having this rental assistance service to help out during her time of need: “This all could not have been possible without Christiana being so proactive, understanding, and compassionate. We are so grateful for her assistance, and the assistance we received from Samaritan House.”

Asha’s Story: “Samaritan House was the lifeboat that saved me”

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Asha * never envisioned being on public assistance and seeking help for her family prior to coming through the doors of Samaritan House. Everything changed for her last year when, at the age of 58, she was laid-off from the banking job she had had for over a decade.

Residents of the Peninsula for almost 30 years, Asha and her husband immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1980s. After a series of unforeseen circumstances, suddenly her family was faced with the decision of whether or not they could afford to keep living in the area that had called home for so many years.

“It was like being in an avalanche happening in slow motion,” Asha explains of the financial situation that she and her family found themselves in just a few months ago. Her husband experienced a back injury many years ago which rendered him unable to work, and he does not qualify for disability. Her daughter, who just graduated from college in India and moved back to the U.S. to live with her parents, is also struggling to find employment in a challenging job market for new grads. Asha was receiving unemployment and continuing to look for work when both she and her husband suffered health issues, which saddled them with medical debt.

Asha was always an exemplary employee, and before being let go of her previous job, she received several awards from her work for outstanding performance and sales. After she was laid off, she found herself struggling to find another job in the banking industry, despite her years of experience. Asha feels her age was held against her in many situations, and she became discouraged and very depressed.

“There were nights where I lay awake until 3 in the morning, going over in my head bills that were due and trying to figure out how we were going to make it through to the next month,” Asha recalls. Then, for the first time in their lives, she and her husband were late paying their rent. Having no family to turn to for assistance and having exhausted their resources, a friend mentioned that they should visit Samaritan House to look for help.

Asha came to Samaritan House reaching for a lifeline to get them through a troubled time. “The first time I met with my case manager, Julio, I was going through the worst time in my life,” Asha explains. “During our first meeting, Julio talked to me and put me at ease. I was no longer filled with dread, and I found myself feeling hopeful for the first time in months.” After Julio evaluated her case and assessed her income and expenses, Asha was given rental assistance and vouchers for Samaritan House’s food pantry for the next two months to help stabilize her family’s financial situation.

She and her husband also gave up their car several years ago to cut costs, but this left Asha relying on public transportation to get to and from job interviews. Unable to afford this expense, her case manager was also able to provide Asha with bus passes, which Asha said was invaluable in helping her find her current job.

Things are much brighter now for Asha, and she is proud to report that she received a job offer and began working as a customer service representative at a local bank in April. She and her husband continue to pay-off medical debt and look for ways to improve their financial situation, but she talks of feeling far more optimistic about their future and their ability to stay in the area, which they have called home for so long.

Asha feels an undying gratitude for everything that Samaritan House provided her family during the most challenging time of their lives. As Asha states, more than just the tangible support from Samaritan House, the kind and supportive words and listening ear from her case manager Julio touched her heart and gave her hope.

In the future, Asha says she would like to be able to give back to Samaritan House by volunteering there. “I always tell people that one day I want to be able to become a major donor! I can’t thank them enough for all they did for us.” As Asha explains, “…at the time, I felt like we were surrounded by sharks. Samaritan House was the lifeboat that helped save me and my family.”

*At the request of our client, the above name has been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.