SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- How do you get homeless people off the streets? One agency in San Francisco says it's all about providing housing with supportive services. It's a successful model that could be a pilot for the nation.
"When my daughter was 15, I became homeless. She ended up in the foster care system," said Katherine Wolfe, a Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation Community Organizer.
"I used to get hurt out there, whatever I was doing, smoking whatever I was doing. People around me, we were all doing it. That became a life," said Deborah Copes, TNDC Community Organizer.
Wolfe and Copes are now off the streets and living positive, productive lives thanks to safe, low-income housing through the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, or TNDC for short. It also provides a variety of services to support residents in different ways.
Growing fresh food is a key part of TNDC's mission.
"I got involved with this garden here, the People's Garden," said Wolfe.
Wolfe met us at a thriving urban garden on Larkin Street in San Francisco. It's in the shadow of City Hall. She told us about her terrible struggle with homelessness after she became chronically ill with asthma.
Gardening helped ease her depression.
The TNDC community garden not only offers participants fresh, nutritious food, but it also teaches them how to work together and help build a sense of family.
"Having access to fresh produce is rough out here in the Tenderloin and affordable produce. So being able to provide it for free, that's irreplaceable," said Kamillah Galofin, TNDC health and wellness program manager.
There are also roof gardens at many of the TNDC buildings and more gardens and wall gardens are planned.
TNDC gave Galofin a concept to implement-- Consider housing as "health care."
"Health is what we're going to commit to. What are we doing about access to healthy food, what are we doing about the environment we're creating, the community event we're creating, the social interactions, the support."
"TNDC is a great place where it's more than housing. They have this great component about them. They will have social workers on site. They have a community organizing department that goes out and gets the community involved in different things," said Wolfe.
"I try to help people speak up for their rights, try to help people see it's time to get educated about what's going on around them," said Copes.
Copes and Wolfe became actively involved in TNDC as community organizers. They are among many residents who are trained through TNDC to be advocates for the people in their buildings and other social issues.
TNDC has an afterschool program for children, called the Tenderloin After School Program. Kids can get tutoring, enjoy after-school activities, or go on college tours. There are programs for senior citizens as well.
"We have a whole healthy aging focus area that provides activities from workshops, to chronic disease, diabetes to fall prevention, to fitness activities, tai chi and brain fitness," said Galofin.
"TNDC is a model that can be replicated," said Don Falk, the executive director of TNDC. "Homelessness is something we do the answer to if we can find the political will to address it."
Falk added, "The answer to homelessness is homes. TNDC now owns and operates 40 properties, all of them permanently affordable. Most of the homes are occupied by people with incomes under a thousand dollars a month."
TNDC now houses more than 6,000 people in some 3,500 affordable homes with supportive services. And the residents are not just surviving-- they are thriving, thanks to TNDC's multi-layered approach.
"TNDC is my family. They gave me my life back. If I don't get it together, that's on me. I got a chance," said Copes.
"I'm much happier now, I'm much more at peace, much more confident," said Wolfe.
Falk said he invites the business community to join him in finding ways to end the homelessness problem in San Francisco. It could be as simple as organizing a community garden in an available space.
For more information, you can check out the TNDC website.