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Pilot program gives shelter to homeless students, families
Courtesy of Buena Vista Horace Mann

One of the most divisive measures on last year’s local ballot, Proposition C—a half-percent tax on corporate earnings in San Francisco in excess of $50 million that will go to support services for the city’s homeless—passed, but not without a bitter fight.

During the lead up to election day, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey publicly clashed over the measure (the former supporting and the latter opposing), which set off a media frenzy.

While this spectacle played out, one school in the Mission District was quietly preparing to convert its gym into a homeless shelter. Buena Vista Horace Mann Elementary School, following a lengthy process, was granted $700,000 by the Mayor’s Office for a pilot program to convert its small gymnasium into emergency housing for its homeless students. The k-8 Spanish immersion school has more than 60 families identified as living without safe or stable housing. On Nov. 15, 2018 the “Stay Over Program”—the first school-based shelter program of its kind—began welcoming families.

According to a statement by City Controller Ben Rosenfield, the added tax of Prop. C, which passed with 60 percent of the vote, will generate up to $300 million in funds toward homeless services, housing and mental health. The Stay Over Program is an example of just the kind of program that Prop. C was intended to fund.

Out of its 54,063 enrolled students, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) reported almost 2,000 students as homeless or in need of stable housing for the 2017-2018 school year. Teachers at Horace Mann were the first to notice these effects in their students.

“We had known that the school was really struggling to meet the basic needs of families,” said Frank Lara, who teaches fifth-grade at Horace Mann. “We all have the same values at this school so it didn’t come as a surprise and we felt, ‘Why not?’” Lara said. “Staff was 110 percent behind it.”

Horace Mann Principal Claudia Delarios Moran, herself a Mission native, brought the idea of an overnight shelter to the community when she saw the need for housing in her students and their families. Some families had concerns of how this program will impact the school day. But the school is not involved in the program directly. Dolores Street Community Services, just three blocks from Horace Mann, has taken responsibility to oversee the shelter.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whose district includes Horace Mann, helped Moran with the campaign as soon as she heard about the plans to convert the gym. On Feb. 5, Ronen recognized Anne Cervantes, David Churton and Bevan Dufty, for their role in establishing the Stay Over Program.

“The school principal Claudia Delarios Moran had the vision for this program over a year ago, as a way to provide temporary sanctuary for homeless and housing insecure families at Buena Vista Horace Mann who had no place to sleep,” Ronen wrote on Facebook on Feb. 5. “When she asked my office to help her to get this program up and running, one of the key tasks we had was to find people willing to volunteer their time and expertise to make improvements to the program space—specifically improvements to the bathroom, including adding showers, which was not budgeted for. Bevan Dufty, David Churton and Anne Cervantes stepped up to the task with great enthusiasm and love, and engaged a number of wonderful contractors to help complete the necessary work, also completely pro-bono.”

Community impact

Across the street from Horace Mann is Lindsey Chambers’ retail store, Wallflower. Chambers didn’t know about the plans for the shelter. As a small-business owner, she said it was important for her to vote during the election. She voted in support of Prop. C.

“I’m glad it’s specifically targeting these businesses,” Chambers said. “It’s hard for small businesses to try to stay afloat as it is.”

Chambers’ business often donates to fundraising causes in the Mission, such as gift cards for the Mission Dance Theater. “I think that’s great,” she said, after she learned what Horace Mann is doing to help its students.

Irene Hernandez-Feiks, owner of the retail and gallery store Wonderland SF, knew about the school’s struggle on the other side of Valencia Street. Hernandez-Feiks, whose child attended Horace Mann, had first-hand knowledge of the school’s proposal to help its families.

“They’re not just going to have them their forever,” Hernandez-Feiks said, “They’re trying to help the families get homes.”

Because the program is only being funded for a short amount of time with no guarantee of more money (as Prop. C is currently being held up in court by the powerful interests it would tax), Principal Moran is facing a time crunch to meet the needs of her students and their families.

“The goal is to provide each family with resources to help them find longer term housing as soon as possible, giving them a safe place to rest until that happens,” Moran said in a statement provided by Laura Dudnick through SFUSD communications office.

Although the future of the Stay Over Program is uncertain, Horace Mann remains dedicated to supporting its underprivileged student however it can.

“Were fighters,” Frank Lara said. “We stick up for our community and fight for our school.”

Story by: Izzy Alvarez