December 14th, 2013 by Amelia
I interviewed Mary Howe a few weeks back regarding the punk-run, DIY-inspired Homeless Youth Alliance. Shortly after the interview was run, they received notice that they are losing their space of 12 years and are now the “Homeless” Homeless Youth Alliance until further notice. This has been a devastating blow to the homeless youth community in San Francisco and the San Francisco Needle Exchange. It needs to be made public that the access to public resources in dwindling in San Francisco and that everyone, house punks to street kids are getting uprooted from the City due to a myriad of factors, including rapid gentrification and greed. Here is an update on this struggle here in the Bay Area…
What’s the “Homeless” Homeless Youth Alliance?
The Homeless Homeless Youth Alliance is what Homeless Youth Alliance (HYA) will become as of the first of the year when we take our program completely to the streets. The entire team is staying on including our therapist, psychiatrist, and medical team, and we are committed to continue to provide all the services we can on the streets. We will bring hygiene supplies, safer sex supplies, clothes, food, needles and Narcan to the streets. We will still support kids emotionally and do case management. We will still support kids when they are incarcerated, in treatment or in the hospital. We will continue to give a shit.
How long was your old lease for? How long had you been in your space?
We have long had a month-to-month lease with a 60-day clause to terminate. That termination came from our owners a month and a half ago. For the past 12 years our space has been a refuge for thousands of homeless young people. Since 2006 as HYA and before that in our earlier formation with the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics.
The DIY spirit and dedication to this community is what is keeping us going. We are not going to give up just because we don’t have a building.
How much was the increase? Why can’t you just go somewhere else, why is this such a devastating situation?
There was not an increase in rent and HYA offered to pay more, more than once, knowing Happening House Ventures, the building owners, would at some point take more of an interest in profit than the charity they offered us at renting to us below market rates.
It is devastating on so many levels, firstly though the current state of things in San Francisco, i.e., the whirlwind gentrification is making it intensely difficult for non-profits and individuals who have long called this place their home to compete for affordable space. Finding a landlord who is willing to rent to a program for the community we work with is a whole different challenge. People say they support HYA or similar programs they just don’t support living or working near them, it’s the age-old NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) shit. There are still those people that think if the services weren’t here the kids wouldn’t be either. That is such an ill-informed and naive statement I can’t even respond.
If people really take a moment and think about the impact HYA has not just on the lives of the individuals who utilize our services but on the community in the Upper Haight as a whole, people should be fighting to help us gain a new space. No one will benefit from the loss of our space except the property owners. Having a space to just be, relax for a moment, take a shower, talk with someone honestly about what is going on and knowing deep down that they are not judging you changes people. It changes the way these youth interact with each other and the rest of the community. But whatever restaurant or retail store occupies the space after us will still have kids hanging out outside. Young people have flocked to the Haight since the 60s and no matter how many anti-homeless and quality of life laws get passed they always will.
When did you go public with the news? What have the responses been like?
HYA went public to our funders immediately. Rumors amongst the businesses started flying so we made a decision to tell the kids earlier than we wanted to. We wanted them to hear it from us and no one else and we wanted to assure them that we aren’t giving up. I posted on my Facebook page November 26th spurring the Uppercasing blog announcing it the following day. It appeared on KTVU news one day after that. Since then KGO, Huffington Post, Bay Area Reporter and various blogs have done stories about it.
It seemed like a whirlwind of reposts that entire first week and a huge amount of support. The support and media has been amazing but it’s the hundreds of people who have contacted me with their personal stories of how HYA changed their lives that really inspires me and the team to continue on.
What are the kids going to do?
They are survivors. The kids will continue on as they do. Most likely shit will be worse for them because they are loosing access to a place that allows them to address their basic needs. When people do not get their basic needs met it makes it that much more difficult to address or change anything else in their lives. Basically we the staff have to become the mobile drop-in and support kids individually the best we can.
When do you have to be out?
We have to be out at the end of the month. Packing up 12 years of stuff will not be easy or fast. But we couldn’t not have one last X-Mas in the space. It is the one-day a year the neighbors come together and cook a hot meal for the kids! So we will party on X-Mas, enjoy one last day in the Drop-In Center, spend a few days packing and then move it all into storage units on the last day.
Are there any other similar services in SF or the Bay Area where they can go?
San Francisco has a lot of services, the upper Haight has very few and for most of our kids they will not engage with other services. The truth is the majority of the youth who access HYA do so because we treat them different, because they know it is their space and they know we respect them deeply on an individual level. There is nothing similar to the space that is created within these walls.
What can we do to help, locals and punks all over?
Spare change or a benefit show? Well for one I know for the most part punks aren’t the richest but those who have less usually give more, that is a fact. The truth though is there are some punks with more money than they need and here is your opportunity to make a difference and give back to your community. Many of us do have passion and the ability to look beyond appearances so as I said before your ability to utilize your own voice to educate people inside and outside of our community about the root causes of poverty, homelessness, drug use and mental health challenges is what you can do. We want you to remember and demonstrate what being non-judgmental looks like. We want you to take care of each other and yourselves.
How are you going to keep the DIY spirit going for now?
The DIY spirit and dedication to this community is what is keeping us going. We are not going to give up just because we don’t have a building: that would be ridiculous. For now it is looking like we are just going to be a homeless youth agency helping homeless kids.
Any last words?
Yeah, we need a van. Also a few of you got off your ass as I suggested in my last interview and contacted me to volunteer. That was really amazing. Working with homeless kids or slinging clean needles may not be your thing but get involved with something that inspires you and make a difference.