[Hpn] Young and homeless in the city

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 08 Dec 2000 14:59:40 -0700


Dec 8, 2000     

Gimme shelter: Young and homeless in the city
Of the Examiner

"Jewnbug" was born into poverty and homelessness 24 years ago.
Decked out in black jeans and white cardigan with long, dark hair pulled
back in a braid, she looks no different than other young women navigating
busy city sidewalks.

But it's when this articulate young woman speaks about the homeless epidemic
sweeping her native San Francisco that an inner beauty and strength come
shining through. 

Jewnbug was just one of many young voices speaking out on poverty and
homelessness during a conference Saturday at Mission High School designed to
put a face on homeless children and discuss ways the community can help end
an escalating crisis.

"Housing is a human right and we shouldn't have to fight for our basic
rights," she told the audience. "Our society leads people to think that they
need material possessions to be successful. In this capitalistic system,
many are putting profits before people."

Indeed, today in San Francisco while most children are writing lengthy
holiday wish lists, approximately 3,000 others are wondering where they're
going to sleep tonight. Jewnbug herself can only afford to live in a Single
Room Occupancy hotel, but considers herself fortunate to have even that roof
over her head.

Using her experiences in work at a youth guidance center and with other
organizations, Jewnbug says she will continue to fight for her rights while
using her voice to advocate on behalf of thousands like her, struggling just
to survive.

"Tiny," 29, who became homeless when she was 12 years old, told yet another
story of life on the streets.

"Our belongings were thrown out of a window in a Hefty bag when we were
evicted from our apartment," she said. "Going through that experience and
coming out on the other side alive is a miracle."

Sponsored by Young Voices, a group of community organizers concerned with
the plight of homeless children and families, the conference was aimed at
implementing a homeless curriculum in the San Francisco Unified School
District that will help young people develop tolerance, understanding and
compassion for those in need.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman welcomed the course of study, telling the
audience she "wants to do more than the district has done in the past." This
includes putting together a model program to educate children on

The district's program also would work to implement policies and practices
allowing homeless children to attend school without having to cut through
red tape.

Another issue addressed at the conference was the lack of affordable housing
for those who have resided in San Francisco all their lives.

Although Mayor Willie Brown did not attend the conference, members of his
staff did, returning to City Hall with a barrel full of ideas and charges
that the mayor is avoiding the housing problem altogether.

"We don't need a place to congregate ---- we need housing," said Krea Gomez,
a homeless mother of three. "There are tons of dollars being circulated
around the city, but where do homeless people fit into the picture of San

Others alleged the mayor, city officials and politicians contradict
themselves by saying they can't afford to house homeless children ---- but
then find a pot of money for business development.

George Smith, a mayoral aide, said that officials need to become proactive.
"We spend [more] time bickering than we do problem-solving," he said. "Some
of the services aren't working so we need to sit down and come up with
creative solutions to the problem of homelessness."

Sandy Close, a panelist discussing the topic of homelessness, suggested
utilizing available resources, such as churches that have closed, as a
temporary and possibly permanent housing option.

In discussing their stories and potential solutions for ending the epidemic
or want, organizers and youth attendees agreed the forum was a start toward
ending the stigma and shame attached to both children and adults who are

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that although the number of poor people in
the nation has remained constant in recent years ---- about 13 percent of
the population ---- more children are living in extreme poverty. Because of
changes in the American economy and in government policy toward poor
families, children now account for 40 percent of poor people, almost twice
as many as any other age group.

"There is such a range and diversity of the people we call homeless," said
Toby Eastman, a Homeless Children's Network representative. "We need to be a
listening ear and act from that listening ear. We should get to a point
where we don't have to talk about this issue. The money is out there ----
it's just a matter of the way it is distributed."


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