Jackie Jenks, Homeless Advocate, Displaced From San Francisco

The housing crisis in San Francisco is layered with various forms of grief—from the truly heartbreaking to the minor irritant. All of us in the Bay Area have been touched by it in all of its iterations: personally losing housing, friends moving away, losing your child’s favorite teacher from a school, lost diversity and vitality of a city, unfilled positions in the service sector causing long waits for food. Of course none of that compares to stress-induced fatal illnesses in elders who face losing their lifetime homes, or to the person who ends up on the street and faces a rapid deterioration of their health. But with a certainty it has touched each of us in its own rotten way. And sometimes, the effect is profound.

The struggle for homeless and housing justice lost a true warrior today, with the displacement of Jackie Jenks. After giving birth to her third son, she found her cramped apartment and new, hip child-unfriendly neighbors just too much to bear. She is moving out of state.

To describe the loss, one can only describe her contributions and imagine just how many more contributions could have come to fruition if only she were here.

Jackie is a 22-year Hospitality House veteran who began her employment with the agency in 1995 as an Employment Counselor. She has held many positions during her tenure at Hospitality House and was promoted to her current position after a five-year post as director for the Shelter Program. I first met Jackie when she first started, around the same time I did. Looking back, we were practically children.

Jackie ushered the agency through many a rough patches. She was part of a massive restructuring that then Coalition on Homelessness Director, Paul Boden, was part of. She faced down the City as they tried to cut the agency, close their self-help center, and fought against multiple other attacks for five years in a row during the great recession. She beat back almost all of those cuts.

As part of her role at Hospitality House, the organization became one of very few nonprofits that stood up against attacks on homeless people’s civil rights. Jackie always had her priorities straight. She was less worried about retribution, and more worried about how her community would be negatively affected in every situation. Under Jackie’s leadership, Hospitality House always stood up to the man when the man was wronging the people.

I first met Jackie in that capacity, as she was a member of our newly formed California Civil Rights Coalition. It was wonderful to have a frontline service provider, already stretched from a demanding job, take the time out to work to protect the civil rights of homeless people. When I first met Jackie, I instantly fell in love, and have had a two decade long friend affair ever since. Her skills are subtle, her power nearly undetectable, but it is present in a steady, effective way. Like almost all who have made tremendous contributions to the struggle, she knows it is the behind the scenes nitty gritty work that makes things happen. Change is hard work, and Jackie is a top of the hill hard worker.

Jackie was deeply involved in struggles around the city budget, not just to defend cuts to her own organization but to fight against other cuts to all poor people, and to struggle for more resources for destitute San Franciscans. She was increasingly frustrated with the pitting of organizations against each other, and came up with the idea of forming a homeless providers association. The idea was to join the providers with the Coalition on Homelessness to formulate one large powerful alliance. Powerful it did become.

The group was known as the Homeless Emergency Service Providers association, and now has 28 members. It worked on effecting policy and garnering budget dollars to alleviate homelessness. Over five years, it successfully fought for and won almost $26 million for housing, prevention and shelter. No longer could the City get away with pitting groups against each other. We were one voice—homeless people and providers.

Jackie was a leader in every realm she sat in. She was on the Steering Committee of the San Francisco Human Services Network, and she was the co-chair for Market Street for the Masses as well as the Homeless Employment Collaborative. She also serves as Secretary for the Board of the Community Housing Partnership.

Jackie stood up to developers building skyrises in the Tenderloin—working tirelessly to stave off the impacts of gentrification in the Tenderloin, and forcing developers to provider housing to poor community members.

She led Hospitality House with great integrity, realizing its commitment to empowerment within the organization, and starting a community organizing division. As Director she was serious about bringing folks from the Tenderloin streets into employment, and leadership roles in the organization. She always said that takes commitment and resources, and the results have been amazing. Hospitality House reflects the community up and down its ranks: in diversity, in class, in life experience. The result is a fantastic cornerstone organization that truly serves people, empowers people, houses and shelters people, employs people and treats people with dignity and respect.

The city of San Francisco has been truly blessed to call Jackie one of our own beloved leaders.

Kickin’ Ass for the Working Class
Celebrating your twenty years of
trailblazing work at Hospitality House,
honoring your decades of dedicated service to the
Tenderloin and Central Market neighborhoods,
recognizing your fearless advocacy on behalf of all
San Franciscans, and gratefully acknowledging your
unflinching commitment to justice, equality,
and a City that remains affordable to all.