Another shelter down - Page 3

Women are casualties as St. Anthony shuts Marian Residence

None of the employees contacted by the Guardian would speak on the record — for fear, they said, of losing their severance packages.

Aviani said severance packages — which include pay and personal job coaching — are not on the line. "We asked them not to create a gossip chain, to stay focused on their work, and when people have questions, direct them to me. We didn't say they couldn't talk to anyone at all. That wasn't the message at all."

Whether or not the gag order was intentional, it has had an effect and created suspicion about the foundation's true intentions.

Even the city deferred to the organization when questioned about the potential plan to rent the Marian building and use it as a medical respite facility. "We're not going to talk about that," said DPH spokesperson Eileen Shields. "We're going to let St. Anthony talk about that at this point because it's St. Anthony's call."

On Feb. 14, Newsom — who has said shelters don't solve homelessness — announced he would like to redesign the city's shelters and called on the community to come up with suggestions. One of his specific suggestions was to create more medical respite centers.

In May, the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, which is chaired by Hardin, released a report outlining a number of detailed suggestions for improving city-funded shelters and services. It specifically stated that shelter beds shouldn't be sacrificed to make room for respite.

The Mayor's Office has yet to formally respond to the report, but at the June 2 LHCB meeting, Kayhan said there were a few things he felt confident the mayor would endorse.

"We heard loud and clear: more senior beds," Kayhan said. "And I'll add to that women's beds." He said that respite care would be "moving and co-locating with another location. We think that could free up space at one of the shelters." And, he added, that space could be allocated to women or seniors.

Which makes it sound like more beds for women and seniors are in the works — but considering the elimination of Marian and a shelter at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, the city is still looking at a net loss of places for the homeless to sleep at night.

Board member Laura Guzman, who runs the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, said she heard Hardin announce the Marian closure at a May 5 meeting. "He said it was a very difficult decision. I believe he said we're going to try to open some medical respite beds," Guzman said. "All along we've said we don't want to replace shelter with medical respite beds, but that's exactly what's happening."

Shuttering Marian is just one more loss in an environment of dwindling resources for women. Buster's Place, the only 24-hour drop-in center for men and women, closed in March, and was replaced by a smaller facility that only allows men.

Five of the city's other shelters have sections for women, but one of them is slated to close as well and none can offer a women-only safe space like Marian. A Woman's Place is the only other all-female facility, and its 15 mats on the floor are always full. "With Marian closing, there's going to be more of a demand on the total system," said Janet Goy, executive director of Community Awareness and Training Services, which runs A Woman's Place. "It's a loss, no question."

Emily Murase of the Commission on the Status of Women said it's difficult to accurately count homeless women because women tend to take more measures than men to stay off the streets, though they may not necessarily be safely housed.