San Francisco Access Points help thousands avoid homelessness

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Some advocates argue the best way to combat homelessness is to prevent it in the first place-- and that's exactly what many services, some of them new, are helping families do in San Francisco.

"I had my son when I was 16 and I moved out of my grandparents home right when I turned 18," said Andrea Smith, who was born and raised in San Francisco.

Smith says when she was 18, she married her son's father, but that relationship did not turn out how she expected.

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"It wasn't healthy because it was physically, mentally and emotionally abusive."

So she filed for divorce, a brave decision that put her in another dangerous position-- the brink of homelessness.

"I was working a part-time job and living off of basically financial aid and that wasn't enough to pay bills and be able to pay rent and also have a toddler and pay for daycare and things like that," said Smith, who added "It was just a scary feeling, not knowing what I was going to do or what we were going to do. Not just me, but what was I going to do with my baby?"

Smith was referred to Catholic Charities by a caseworker from her high school.

Catholic Charities helped her with a $500 rent payment and gave her access to a number of services, including childcare, which eventually led to an internship and career at Salesforce.

"If I didn't have those resources, I don't know where I'd be," said Smith.

Those resources have recently been streamlined in San Francisco at three Access Points in the Bayview, Tenderloin and Mission District.

"We help anyone who walks through the doors," said Eric Brown, who helps oversee the Access Points, run by Catholic Charities. The Mission District Access Point opened 6 months ago and the Bayview Access Point opened in 2017. The third Access Point in the Tenderloin is run by Compass Family Services.
"Our goal is to keep people out of shelters," said Brown.

Jose Cartagena is the senior program director of homelessness and housing for Catholic Charities' Mission Access Point. He explained that helping people with some sort of payment assistance, to keep them from being evicted or otherwise losing their housing, is often the most effective means to avoiding homelessness. He explained that landlords can increase rent once a tenant leaves or is evicted, making it difficult for that family or individual to go back to their home and afford rent.

"This family is not going to be able to find the same unit in San Francisco. This family is going to be displaced," said Cartagena.

Last year, Catholic Charities helped about 1,690 individuals and families avoid homelessness by keeping them housed. 98% of those people maintained or improved their housing stability.

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"When there's an opportunity for someone to remain housed in a safe environment to be prosperous that's probably the best thing for folks," said Brown, who hopes that more people, like Smith, will take advantage of the Access Points and their services.

Smith is now 29, her son is 13 and she has a daughter who is 8. She supports her family and currently lives in the East Bay. "It's an amazing feeling to be financially stable and to be able to have my household under control and just to see my children thrive and be able to be a part of everything that they want to do."

The Access Points and Coordinated Entry system are largely funded through the city, but also get some state and donation dollars. The Access Points are open Monday-Friday during daytime business hours.

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