Marian Shelter closing, but not without fight

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Marian Residence for Women has been called a “model for shelter and transitional services for women,” yet it’s closing for good on August 31, adding another 60 beds to the 400+ that have been lost from the San Francisco's homeless shelter system since Mayor Gavin Newsom took office.

That fact was reiterated once again during an August 7, 2008 City Operations and Neighborhood Services committee hearing on the closure, a mostly somber affair except when Quintin Mecke, chair of the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee, praised the shelter’s model service, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd of onlookers – many of whom were current or former Marian residents. “It really is a catastrophic loss,” he added. Mecke and the committee are tasked with monitoring health and safety in the city-funded shelters. Marian receives no city money.

The 60-bed shelter and transitional housing facility is owned by St. Anthony Foundation and, as we previously reported, the nonprofit is short on cash and shuttering the facility. To generate revenue it’s hoping to lease the building – and as testimony at the hearing showed, it’s the city who will be renting the space and converting it to a medical respite facility, thus serving a different, yet equally desperate homeless population.

Currently, medical respite – which provides bed and care for homeless patients too ill for the streets but not critical enough for the hospital – is conducted at two different locations in the city, though the Dept. of Public Health and Mayor Newsom have long desired a single, comprehensive facility.

Joyce Crum of the city’s Human Services Agency said they were working with St. Anthony Foundation to ensure that all of the women staying at Marian would have a place to go. In an effort to ramp up the waning services for women, HSA has also identified a building with 56 units that they plan to lease and devote entirely to housing homeless women. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s homeless policy director, Dariush Kayhan, said the mayor had set aside $500,000 for the project.

That’s a far cry from the $1.3 million St. Anthony spends every year to run Marian Residence. While some might say that’s what it takes to run a model shelter, Kayhan said, “It seems that it’s an unsuitable program design.”

Some homeless rights activists have decried the closure as it results in an overall loss of shelter beds at a time when supportive services for women are declining throughout the city. At the hearing, many called on St. Anthony’s executive director, Father John Hardin, to reach out to other nonprofits to take over the facility. Hardin said they did contact other nonprofits. “For St. Anthony, it costs $1.3 million to run the program. That’s not $500,000. We’ve been a victim of our own success,” said Hardin.

Furthermore, he said, to turn the program over to another organization would also tack on the cost of leasing the building, which St. Anthony owns – adding about $400,000 to the annual cost. “I got 20 calls that said keep it open, we’ll help you raise the money,” he said, but no money has come in.

Kayhan told us the new women’s housing and services facility will be in a Single Room Occupancy hotel on Market Street that is currently empty and won’t require any upgrades to occupy. The city is hoping to ink a lease with the for-profit owner of the building sometime in the next couple weeks.

“This new investment is for supportive housing,” Kayhan said at the hearing. “We don’t want to create additional shelters.” He did point out that moving the medical respite facility currently located at Next Door shelter to the Marian building will free up a floor of the shelter to accommodate more beds. “It’s been one of my goals…to have a supply of housing devoted particularly to women. I think we actually have a good game plan going forward.”

Others speaking at the meeting called out the city for shutting shelters. “In looking at the numbers and realities facing the shelter system there is no net increase to services for women,” said Quintin Mecke, chair of the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee. He said more than 400 shelter beds have been lost – most recently the 100 mats at Ella Hill Hutch – and 25 percent of those 400 were for women. Additionally, the city no longer funds a 24-hour drop-in center that permits women to enter. The city’s drop-in, at 150 Otis, is for men only.

The average age of a Marian resident is 55, and the average stay is 11 months, and that’s not a demographic the city’s shelters handle well, pointed out Helen Fauss, a licensed clinical social worker who works with St. Anthony Foundation. “I’m well aware from being at Marian Residence for Women that the women are not being adequately placed,” she added, challenging prior statements made by HSA’s Joyce Crum.

Though HSA reports a regular vacancy rate at homeless shelters, there’s a huge problem actually accessing those empty beds, as we found in our report on the issue. There don’t appear to be any city statistics regarding how many people who seek shelter beds are turned away.

However, Bernice Casey, staff member of the Shelter Monitoring Committee, recently spent a day at Tenderloin Resource Center tracking the number of people who came in to reserve a shelter bed and we’re turned down because there weren’t any available. Of 90 people who walked in looking for a bed, only one person succeeded. That day a total of 164 bed reservations were requested at Tenderloin Health, but only 35 were filled. Only four of 13 women found shelter. And, according to the report on the study, “When Ms. Casey arrived at 6:45 AM, there were 23 clients queued outside Tenderloin Health awaiting reservations, and when she left at 11:30 PM, there were 7 clients lying outside -- one of those 7 was in the queue of 23 in the morning.”

Mayor Newsom and his staff have consistently advocated housing over shelter, which is the preferred end result to the situation of homelessness. However, new housing opportunities aren’t keeping pace with the number of homeless people seeking shelter, and eliminating shelter doesn’t seem to eliminate homeless people.

People advocating for the continued operation of Marian Residence are holding a press conference on Wed., August 20, at 11 am on the Polk St. side of City Hall. They ask you also petition Newsom on the issue.

The details:

Please help prevent the closing of the Marian by sending a short email or letter to Mayor Newsom asking him to stop the August 31 closure of the Marian Residence for Women,

AND

by joining us on Wednesday, August 20 at 11 am on the steps of City Hall, Polk Street side for a Press Conference.

Below are some key points that you could include in your own letter, or a sample letter you could copy, sign and send. We need a critical mass of letters sent to the Mayor IMMEDIATELY, and it's best if letters are written in your own words with your own special touch.

Please email the Mayor's office at gavin.newsom@sfgov.org, or fax a letter to the office at (415) 554-6474.

KEY POINTS FOR MRW:

>>>>We are urging the Mayor to allocate discretionary funding to keep the Marian Residence open until grants and other support can be secured.

>>>>Closing the Marian Residence will cost the City much more because these women and others will live on the streets and require emergency services and hospitalizations.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Hon. Mayor Gavin Newsom
City Hall
City and County of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Honorable Mayor Gavin Newsom,

The Marian Residence for Women is a shelter and transitional housing program for homeless women in San Francisco. It is home for 60 women on any given night and houses over 350 women each year.

Despite the prgram's remarkable success in caring for this underserved population, St. Anthony Foundation has decided to close down the Marian and to rent the building to the City of San Francisco. This is a devastating and cold-hearted decision that will put homeless women in San Francisco back onto the streets or force them to live in unstable and unsafe situations.

While the City has promised to find permanent housing for every resident of Marian who is to be displaced by the closure, many Manian women have instead been dispersed to shelters or left to face the closure with no option but the streets.

We urge you to keep Marian Residence open until funding can be secured to maintain this program. Please do not abandon homeless women or this unique and successful program.

Sincerely,

Sign your name here

Comments

I am sure that when the city takes over what was the Marian Residence, it will not be as well run and treat the folks with as much dignity as I have heard about the Marian Residence. I am saddened by the loss. The city should keep it as a women's shelter, just like it is, and put the respite beds at another location only for respite beds. I was attacked while homeless in '95 and was put in the respite section at MSC North. I can understand the need for respite only, because I sure didn't get much rest there!

Posted by Terrrie Frye on Aug. 20, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

This is so horribly sad and disappointing. Newsom's a jerk. Is there an update for the housing and program for women, like Marian Shelter for Women?

Posted by dale p on Jan. 08, 2009 @ 6:23 pm