Putting An End To Homelessness

2007 GAWDA Gives Back recipient Hamilton Family Center takes a proactive approach.

When you envision an organization that works with the homeless, you may think of simple facilities that provide shelter to families and individuals who are down on their luck. But that’s only part of the picture.

Hamilton Family Center
San Francisco’s Hamilton Family Center—chosen by President Bob Ames, his wife Patty, and the 2007 Convention Planning Committee as the 2007 GAWDA Gives Back recipient—provides shelter and so much more. The organization’s roots lie in the early 1980s, when volunteers from the Hamilton Methodist Church began inviting homeless families to sleep on the floor of their dining hall overnight, so they wouldn’t be exposed to the elements. Within a year, the program had grown to such an extent that volunteers created a nonprofit organization, separate from the church, devoted to helping homeless families. This was Hamilton Family Center.

Today, Hamilton Family Center is the largest provider of services to homeless families in San Francisco, and in April 2007 received the Nonprofit Sector Achievement Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Among Hamilton Family Center’s programs are San Francisco’s largest shelter for families, housing up to 40 families for six months; the city’s only crisis center for families, offering 24-hour access to emergency overnight shelter for up to 20 families each night; a transitional housing program providing longer-term support for families and individuals trying to get back on their feet; and extensive services devoted to children from low-income and homeless families. In the last year, the organization has placed 135 families in permanent housing.

On any given night, between 800,000 and 1 million people are homeless in the United States. Half of those are families with children.

“That may not sound like a lot,” says Executive Director Salvador Menjivar, “but in San Francisco, where a one-bedroom apartment is all but impossible to find for less than $2,000 a month, it’s very difficult to place a homeless family in housing. The work we do involves a lot of creativity—contact with landlords, patching together grants and subsidies, and helping families find better jobs.”

Menjivar points out that homelessness does not necessarily imply joblessness. “There is a disconnect between the income people have and the cost of housing, especially for people who are making $7 or $8 an hour. A lot of the people we help have jobs, but they don’t make enough money, and many don’t have access to health care. All it takes is a crisis like losing a job or someone in the family becoming sick. It’s amazing how easily people can become homeless.”

Preventing Homelessness
Part of the key to Hamilton Family Center’s success is that the organization realized it had to do more than just help families and individuals who were already homeless—it had to help stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. Donations to the GAWDA Gives Back program will help to fund First Avenues, an eviction prevention program Hamilton Family Center implemented in 2006.

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“This donation will go directly to families,” says Menjivar. “With GAWDA’s contribution, we will continue to create rental subsidies for people who are at risk of eviction so we can help stop them from losing their homes. In the past, many programs have focused on what the individual did to become homeless, whereas we’re focusing on the economic components, and it’s been a very successful approach. Over just 12 months, First Avenues helped to prevent the eviction of 129 families and individuals.”

It’s important for GAWDA members to realize that the work Hamilton Family Center does isn’t a simple handout, Menjivar says. “Hamilton Family Center ends homelessness for the people we work with. Homelessness can be ended. It’s a matter of working with people and helping them to become independent again. If we pull together, we can end this, and I am extremely grateful that Hamilton Family Center was chosen as the GAWDA Gives Back recipient.”

To learn more about Hamilton Family Center and the First Avenues program, please visit www.hamiltonfamilycenter.org and www.firstavenues.org. To make your tax-deductible donation to GAWDA Gives Back, visit www.gawda.org and donate online or fill out the Gives Back form and send it to GAWDA Headquarters. Thank you!

Gases and Welding Distributors Association