Despite the city’s provision of approximately 200 safe campsites and its plan to reopen 1,000 shelter beds, thousands of unhoused San Franciscans are still without any form of shelter while San Francisco shelters in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of this ongoing shortage of resources and safe shelter options for unhoused San Franciscans, the Coalition on Homelessness launches a campaign on How to be a Housed Ally to People Experiencing Homelessness. At its core, the campaign wants to encourage housed San Franciscans to reconnect with and support their unhoused neighbors, calling for a neighborhood-based response to the ongoing health and economic crises that over 6,000 unhoused San Franciscans are currently facing. 

The campaign is centered around a guide developed by the Coalition on Homelessness on “How to be a Housed Ally to People Experiencing Homelessness.” This guide contains detailed suggestions on how to support unhoused neighbors effectively. In 10 steps, the guide outlines how to best approach, interact with and aid unhoused people. It provides helpful contextual information, a list of potential needs, access to relevant resources, and ideas of how to organize as a neighborhood network. Importantly, the guide also mentions what not to do as a housed person, namely, calling the police on homeless people in nonviolent and non-emergency situations and dumping trash out on the streets close to where a homeless person is sleeping in their tent or vehicle.    

Christin Evans, who is a volunteer with the Coalition on Homelessness, spearheaded this campaign. There were multiple reasons for why this campaign came into existence, according to Christin. “We were seeing the rise of a lot of anti-tent and anti-homeless groups, like Safe Healthy Haight which was established in May of this year,” she said. “In reaction to that and to counter the message a neighborhood group of housed people called Cole Valley Haight Allies formed to give neighbors a space to collaborate on real solutions to homelessness. In addition to that, there was an increase of people calling the CoH office in the past months with the heightened visibility of homelessness in San Francisco.” These callers are mostly housed people that have a hunch that calling the police is counterproductive, but are looking for answers on how to support or interact with unhoused people in their neighborhood.     

According to Christin Evans, the goal of this campaign was to build off of a previous handout that the CoH had already made on 10 Things To Do When You See A Homeless Person. “We updated the handout with information and tips relevant to the COVID-19 situatuion and expanded the idea to encourage housed neighbors to come together and support their unhoused neighbors,” she said.  

As part of this campaign, members of the Coalition reached out to a number of unhoused people to ask them directly how housed people can be allies to them. The most common suggestions were to offer access to water and electricity and to donate leftover food and other resources, such as trash bags and brooms to keep one’s area clean. Beyond these material ways of helping, however, people told us that a simple “Hello! How are you doing?” and a smile can mean a lot. As Leslie, one of the interviewees said, “acknowledging [homeless people] in a positive way could make a big difference. They’d find that people would be a lot more respectful. It’s got to be a two-way street…” 

The positive effect of showing someone acknowledgement, respect and directly talking to them can not be understated, especially since many unhoused people tend to be very lonely. The key to being a housed ally is therefore also direct communication and relationship building with your unhoused neighbors. A foremost recommendation of the guide is, “Ask people what they need. People know best what they need and most will tell you if they have an urgent need.” Furthermore, the guide calls for housed neighbors to educate themselves and continue learning the basic facts about homelessness and the current situation. Look for the full length recordings of the interviews with Asteria, Michael, Leslie and Edward and learn about many more ways that housed people have been of help to them on the Coalition’s social media. 

The campaign will culminate into a panel event held over Zoom, where housed and unhoused San Franciscans are welcome to join the conversation about how to best be an ally to people experiencing homelessness. The event will be moderated by Christin Evans, joined by the Coalition’s Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach and June Lin-Arlow from Cole Valley Haight Allies, as well as the interviewees Asteria, Micheal and Leslie. The event is open to the public, so please join us on Monday, November 9th, at 7pm for an excellent conversation using this Zoom invite: 

Topic: How to be a Housed Ally

Time: Nov 9, 2020 06:45 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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Meeting ID: 626 185 9846

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Interviews with Asteria, Michael, Leslie and Edward can be found on the Coalition’s social media:

Facebook: @CoalitionOnHomelessness

Twitter: @TheCoalitionSF

Instagram: @coalitiononhomelessness