School gym set up as homeless shelter for San Francisco families; city says program is a 'success'

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Part of Building a Better Bay Area means celebrating solutions to the many challenges that face the region.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Hillary Ronen, announced that a school shelter for homeless San Francisco Unified School District students and their families has become a success.

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On any given night, about 30 SFUSD students sleep inside the gym at Buena Vista Horace Mann School in the Mission District. Most of the kids come from single-parent families, who have nowhere else to go.

"La escuela está muy bien," said Juan, who is 16 years old and says he likes Galileo High School.

Juan fled El Salvador with his mother and siblings last summer. They all ended up homeless in San Francisco and have been staying at the Buena Vista Horace Mann shelter for a week.

"I would be happy in a house that my mom rents, to be there with my brother and my sister doing homework," said Juan in Spanish.

"They were threatening to kill me or my kids. I had to leave because it's not safe, they killed someone in front of my house," explained Anna, in Spanish.

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Anna is Juan's mother. She's seeking asylum for her family.

She knew it was going to be hard when she came to the U.S., but says that thanks to the shelter, they're not on the streets and they have support.

Seven nights a week, employees from Dolores Street Community Services set-up for the so-called "Stay Over Program" at the Mission District school. The families are given food, access to showers and lockers for their belongings.

They sleep on pads with blankets, divided by curtain partitions. The families wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, and head out for school by the time the BVHM students arrive to campus.

"Even though she is sleeping in a gym, she has some hope for a better future for the kids," said Jacqueline Portillo about Anna and her family.

Portillo is the manager of the shelter, which originally was opened just for Buena Vista Horace Mann families in need, but it was underutilized. So last April, the City expanded the program to include all homeless SFUSD families, and occupancy jumped 60 percent.

"Here we're working together to make these kids be successful in the school," said Portillo, who added, "they have a community here and also we speak the same language."

City Hall reports that nearly two-thirds of the families who have exited the program are on the path to secure housing, 40% of individuals have moved into transitional housing, and six individuals have rented their own place.
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