TNDC buys building, helps keep homeless off streets


Repeated visits to the emergency room by chronically homeless people cost the city millions. There is huge effort underway in San Francisco to change that thanks to a partnership between the Mayor's Office of Housing, the Department of Public Health and a dozen other agencies.

A former YMCA on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco looks like an elegant palace, thanks to a $95 million restoration and it now provides 172 studios for chronically homeless women and men.

"I was used to doing 15 things at one time, managing many people at one time. I never imagined that I would be in this position, ever," Kelly Cullen Community resident Charles Armenta said.

Armenta has worked at different restaurants in the Bay Area. He lost everything in 2012 and became homeless after he was brutally beaten and hospitalized with head trauma for months.

He feels lucky to be a tenant here at Kelly Cullen Community.

"The answer to homelessness is permanently affordable supportive housing," TNDC Executive Director Don Falk said.

That housing also comes with a roof top garden for residents. Falk with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation showed me all the services available. There's a gymnasium, bike racks, a community kitchen, a laundry room and community space for classes.

TNDC bought the 100-year-old YMCA building in 2007 to restore it to its original glory for the purpose of providing affordable, supportive housing on a large scale. That wrap-around support is crucial and has to be convenient for the tenants.

A health clinic was built right next door as part of the plan and social workers and counselors are available to help tenants with their physical and mental health needs.

Kelly Cullen Community resident Lisa Cook ABC7 News on a tour of her studio and said that Kelly Cullen Community saved her life. She's been clean and sober for 15 months.

"I was sleeping on the side of this building one day. I never thought I'd be in it. I don't have to stress on where I'm going to lay my head at. I don't have to worry if I'm going to be attacked, or killed," Cook said.

And part of that responsibility is paying rent.

"The rents are given to us through their money managers, everybody in our building has to be on money management, so I'm not really depending on that person to bring me money directly," Kelly Cullen Community Assistant Manager Gwen Valentine said.

Security is critical. There are 150 cameras throughout the building for everyone's safety. The rules are strict to protect people who are now living in what you could call a large indoor neighborhood.

"Housing is really the platform from which people can lead successful lives," Falk said.

Kelly Cullen Community was named after the late Franciscan Friar, Kelly Cullen, whom I had the pleasure of working with on many TNDC fundraising events until his sudden death 3 years ago. He believed that housing is important to people's health, like a vaccine.

"People who are addressing their health issues at Kelly Cullen Community are less likely to go to San Francisco General Hospital's emergency room

The Department of Public Health says two visits to emergency cost $1,500 and the homeless person rarely gets well. That same amount will pay for an entire month of supportive housing at Kelly Cullen Community and allow people to thrive.

And Cook is taking nutrition and leadership classes.

"Sky's the limit. You know, I mean whatever god has in store for me next, I'm ready," she said.

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