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Eating at Soup Kitchens to Pay the Rent

El Tecolote, News Report, Kristan Korns Posted: Jun 01, 2009

Each night, men begin gathering in front of the Iglesia de Santa Maria y Santa Marta before 7 p.m., forming an orderly line and waiting to enter the shelter that will provide them sanctuary for the next 12 hours.

The homeless in the community were serving are not what people normally assume, said Marlon Mendieta, program director for the Dolores Housing Program. A large proportion are day laborers, or are working in regular jobs in a store or a caf, and just dont make enough to pay rent.

The Dolores Housing Program operates the only two homeless shelters located in the Mission District. One location with 28 beds is leased from St. Peters Church at 2909-24th St., and space for another 57 beds is leased from the Iglesia de Santa Maria y Santa Marta at 1050 S. Van Ness Ave.

Mendieta said the Dolores Housing Program is in its 26th year. It started in response to the political unrest in Central America at the time. People were seeking asylum from violence and civil wars, and there was a call for churches to give sanctuary, he said.

Today, the programs shelters are part of an effort to help immigrants and others who have been impacted by the failing economy, to get off the streets and back into the workforce.

We see the value of what were doing and how it impacts peoples lives, Mendieta said. This is life-changing for immigrants trying to make a better life, and people whove fallen through the cracks in the safety net.

The shelters house 85 people at a time, and over the course of a year they will have helped nearly 600 people. Every staff member speaks Spanish, and about 60 percent of those helped by the Dolores Housing Program each year are Spanish-speakers.

The shelter opens each evening at 7 p.m. and provides each resident with a hot meal (brought over from a kitchen leased from the nearby St. Johns Church), and a safe place to sleep (on either bunk beds or cots) for the night.

In addition to a meal and a bed, the shelter also provides English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons and has arranged to have a nurse available every other week.

Its so hard to get good employment if you have no place to stay, Mendieta said. We help get people off the streets so they can get a job and pay rent.

The residents leave the shelter each morning by 7 a.m., and children later begin arriving at the small church-run school that uses the rest of the building during the day.

Those who need help are referred to the program by places like the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, and usually stay up to six months while working with case managers to find steady employment and housing.

Mendieta is concerned that the Mayor Gavin Newsoms budget for the coming year may contain cuts that could make it more difficult to maintain what he calls a safety net for the people most impacted by the economy.

Steady funding is critical to helping people move out of homelessness, he said. But all of a sudden in a bad economic year, there are calls to cut back on funding. Maybe when the economy is good [its okay], but not when unemployment is going up.

Related Articles:

The Soup Line Gets Longer and Older

Economy Blamed As Day Laborers Crowd Soup Kitchens

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