To Sameen on His 9th Birthday, Thanks!

“The first time I saw a homeless person I felt very sad. I think everyone should have a home because of these reasons…hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, robbers, and COVID-19. These things can kill you. Homeless people are treated poorly in the streets by others. I think everyone should have a home because everyone deserves one.” – Sameen Prasad

Children are observant and have a heart for others that supersedes bureaucratic politics and the cruelties of capitalism. Before his ninth birthday, Sameen Prasad saw what millions in the Bay Area — including many who are triple and quadruple his age — chose to ignore every day: the devastating effects of poverty. And he chose to do something about it. 

Sameen and his parents were hiking and talking through how homelessness can exist in a city with such wealth and income inequality. After discussing the dearth of affordable housing and how poor and homeless people are villainized, Sameen started brainstorming what he could do to positively impact and help people experiencing homelessness. As a young artist, he started a birthday fundraiser to make drawings of people’s pets for a small donation to the Coalition on Homelessness.

The campaign started with friends of Sameen’s mom requesting portraits of their pets. For those without furry friends, Sameen also created original doodles depicting impressive scenes like the one below entitled, “Octopus Vs. Godzilla.” As of this writing, Sameen has raised over $1,200 and drawn over a dozen doodles dripping with distinguished artistry! 

The Coalition doesn’t accept any city, state or federal government funding so that we can stay true to our mission of centering the voices of those experiencing homelessness. This funding can do a lot for our scrappy nonprofit. We print over 60,000 copies of Street Sheet every month which our poor and homeless vendors get for free and can sell for a suggested $2 donation. We have at least one vendor who makes over $1,000 each month from his paper sales! We also use funding to pay homeless outreach workers. One of the most fundamental activities at the Coalition is outreach, which is where we go out on the streets to encampments or shelters, wherever homeless folks are congregating, and form relationships with people experiencing homelessness. Our outreaches establish a two-way street with folks we’re talking to. Not only are we able to give out information like where a person can get a hot meal or a shower, but we engage in public education on “Knowing Your Rights” as a homeless person, which can come in handy when engaging with law enforcement who often force homeless people out of public space for just trying to survive without a home! We take our funding and are able to hire currently and formerly homeless people to do these outreaches, as trust is more easily established when you’re talking to someone who has shared the same struggle as you. 

Outreach is just one tactic of our advocacy, yet it actually drives and directs the work. What we hear on outreach, we take back to our Housing Justice and Human Rights workgroups at the Coalition, where we form campaigns that directly address the issues that come up. A good example of this is when the coronavirus first hit in March last year. We quickly formed a team of outreach workers, some of whom were homeless at the time of or prior to the time of their outreach, and with ears to the ground to find out what immediate needs were of folks on the street. Keep in mind, at this time the shelter system was closed to anyone new. If you were homeless on the waitlist for shelter, there was no option to seek refuge inside. We found that immediate needs were information about preventing coronavirus, tents for folks to take refuge from the elements, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, snacks and water since the drop-in centers and public spaces like the library were closed. 

At the same time we were giving out these essential survival items, our workgroups were working steadfastly to get the City to create hand-washing stations in high traffic areas where homeless folks live and congregate. To this end, dozens of hand-washing stations were installed stocked with soap, water and paper towels where folks could have access to a sink that was otherwise closed off to them since the cafes, hospitals, or other places folks could go to freely wash their hands did not allow public entry. 

But our outreach doesn’t end with the initial idea. In this case, when we got the hand-washing stations, we kept our outreach consistent — reaching back out to folks and following up on how the hand-washing stations were working out in actuality. We heard back that some stations were never restocked of supplies and others that were located on a City map did not even exist. These double-checks resulted in going back to the City and pushing for more consistent restock and staffing, as well as ensuring all hand-washing stations identified on maps were present. 

While this is just one example of what we do, it serves as the basis for all of our work. Another is Proposition C, a 2018 ballot measure we put on that taxes the wealthiest corporations to yield a total of $300 million in homeless funding arose from the brilliance of formerly and currently unhoused residents of San Francisco. Also, the Shelter Client Advocates (SCA), who help shelter residents get back into shelter if they were unfairly kicked out, was first theorized by the minds of homeless people. Additionally, the SCA was one of our first external Coalition programs under the name Shelter Grievance Advocacy Program in April 1992. 

So to Sameen, and all those you’ve inspired to donate, thank you for funding this work. Thank you for supporting Street Sheet, which gives an independent platform to and provides income for unhoused and poor folk. Thank you for endorsing and validating the voices and brilliance of those who experience homelessness. Thank you for joining us in the struggle to ensure everyone has safe and dignified housing. Happy birthday No. 9, Sameen. Much love and solidarity from your friends at COH.