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I am still working to get the word out about our services. There are days when it feels like a tedious process that takes meeting one person at a time. Today, however, was reaffirming in that the calls I received show that the word is slowly spreading.

I met with Lolita Kintanar last week for a long and fruitful discussion. She is the Director of Canon Kip Senior Center and is establishing the new Aging and Disability Resource Center there, which is a consolidation of the ten some Senior Resource Centers that closed down across San Francisco this year. The Center does weekly outreach to many organizations across the city to bring these resource services to Seniors. Lolita has worked in the field for decades and was not only a wealth of information but of passion, ambition, networking and encouragement. I am so grateful for her interest in helping VeraMax get established and work to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.

I also attended the Senior Action Network‘s SHAC meeting. It is a monthly meeting of the Senior Housing Action Committee. Those on the committee have been doing this work for some time and are an incredible resource for issues with Senior Housing in San Francisco. In the meeting, the members created an agenda of areas to focus on in 2010. They were incredibly welcoming and excited about the new service we are providing. I plan to become an active member of this committee.

In the spirit of the new movement Idealist.org launched this week, I am really looking forward to collaborating with organizations in this city, not to meet the needs of VeraMax, but those of our homeless Seniors who deserve our respect, our attention and our support.

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Project Homeless Connect

Before the clients came...PHC at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Last week I volunteered at Project Homeless Connect. As always, it was an amazing event. If you haven’t yet, I strongly encourage you to check them out. It was their 5th Anniversary and their largest ever, with 1,245 volunteers providing services to 2,623 San Franciscans in profound need. It is quite a sight to see so many different services available all under one roof for one day. Quite the production to say the least!

Project Homeless Connect

Alicia Volunteering as a Housing Counselor at PHC

I volunteered as a Housing Counselor, providing information on how to find and apply for affordable housing in San Francisco. I saw men and women, young and old, of many backgrounds and ethnicities, all with a story to tell. I was able to meet with staff from several different organizations and exchange information so that we can collaborate. I came away inspired and hopeful.

Outside PHC

Alicia at the end of a long day at Project Homeless Connect

At the next PHC, I plan to have our own table to meet and help older homeless women. I will need some volunteers to help, so if anyone is interested, please shoot an email to our Volunteer Coordinator at VeraMaxVolunteers@gmail.com. It will be on December 9th at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. You can volunteer all day or for a short shift.

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The last few weeks have put new energy into my work at VeraMax in large part due to our fabulous volunteers. I put the word out that we needed help and many have answered the call. We have a volunteer photographer who is working at providing us images to use that will give others a visual of what I am seeing through my work but can’t document due to confidentiality. We have volunteers that are helping me with street outreach, such as Susan Larara, without which I would not be able to go find and meet these women that so desperately need our help. We have a volunteer who, with a background in grant writing and finance, wants to help put us on the right track to get funding. We also now have a Volunteer Coordinator, Tessa Reynolds, who has committed to taking time out of her life to create a team and use her creative energy to strategize on how to reach out to our population.

I feel so fortunate for the help and compassion of these people! The extent to which these women and men care about helping the homeless is at once overwhelming and heartening. It is only with their help that VeraMax will have the ability to find and help these women get off the streets.  Go Team!!

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I heard a song today that touched my heart and simply captures what it is we are trying to do with our street outreach.

Here is a video, sung by Micheal Stipe (REM) and Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs). The song is written by John Prine.

I’ve also posted the lyrics to the song:

Hello in There

Had an apartment in the city,
Me and Loretta liked living there.
It’s been years since the kids have grown,
Lives of their own, all left us alone.
John and Linda live in Omaha,
And Joe is somewhere on the road.
We lost Davy in the Korean war,
I still don’t know what for, guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

Chorus:
Old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers, wilder every day.
But old people they just grow lonesome
They’re waiting for someone to say, say “Hello in there.” Just say “Hello”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much now,
She just sits staring at the back door screen.
Why not, when all the news it just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.
One day I’ll go and call up Billy,
We worked together in the factory.
But what do I say if he asks “What’s new?”
Say “Nothing, what’s with you?” There’s not much left
to do

Repeat Chorus:

Old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder every day.
But old people they just grow lonesome
While they’re waiting for someone to say, say “Hello in there.” Say “Hello”

So if you’re walking down the street one time
And you spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Don’t turn around as if you didn’t care, or stop and stare
Just say “Hello in there”
Just say “Hello”

Say “Hello”

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Over the past few months, we have managed to lay down a solid foundation for VeraMax and are ready to focus our efforts on street outreach.

The wonderful people I’ve met within other organizations and the research I’ve done on resources in the community have given me a good picture of the systems, need and housing opportunities for the older homeless population. I am now armed with the tools to help women who walk in our door. Unfortunately, the flow has been slow and sporadic and referrals are almost non-existent. So, it seems the next best move is to hit the streets and we started today!

Thankfully, a wonderful woman named Lana came into our center wanting to volunteer so she and I went to a corner to speak with a woman who Lana sees daily in her neighborhood. Next week we will go to a known place near Embarcadaro to meet another older homeless woman. These processes will take a while as I slowly work to build the trust of these women so that they may become willing to seek our services and get housed. If you know of any older homeless women who frequent certain areas or know of anyone interested in helping us do Street Outreach, please drop me an email or give me a call. And wish us luck in this exciting new endeavor!!

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My first client is now settled in and overwhelmingly happy about this significant turnaround in her life. This is everything she has been hoping for: a home and her independence. I say “home” because her placement is truly not just housing, but a home for her.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have helped this woman and to see her come back to life. She has changed so dramatically that had I not watched the progression, it would be hard to believe. Through the counseling she received from VeraMax, she showed marked improvement over the three months leading up to her placement. Then the placement itself entirely changed her mood and overall mental health.

It has been a difficult process to start up VeraMax and there are many challenges that lie ahead but this success, this one life we have been able to improve, let’s us know that we are on the right track. It can be difficult to see the light at times when some of these homeless women have such difficulties and trust is so hard to build. We were truly blessed with this first experience because ultimately those are what will sustain our momentum and passion.

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Success!!

Oh Happy Day!! My first client has a home. This day came MUCH sooner than expected thanks to a brand new non-profit organization that provides long-term transitional housing for Seniors. They are called Lavender Communities, based in Oakland, California and just opened in April of this year.

My client is simply beside herself with excitement and she is not alone! Because of the absolute lack of appropriate transitional housing and the 1-7 year wait lists for permanent housing, I did not expect to get her housed for quite some time.

This transitional, independent housing accepts seniors 65 and older for a period of up to 5 years as long as they are on wait lists for permanent housing and have a housing counselor. The unit is a quaint house in residential neighborhood in Oakland with 3 bedrooms. Tenants have shared use of the bathroom, kitchen and furnished living areas in addition to a washer and dryer. There is even a backyard patio lined with rose bushes.

This is the transitional home we found for our first client

This is the transitional home we found for our first client

As this is the first and only unit for Lavender Communities, we were luck to get in before it filled. Business is just starting to pick up for them as they get their name out. Many thanks to Mike McGinley at Curry Senior Center for the tip!!

We will help my client with a deposit and help her move in this week. As an added note, my client is now on several wait lists for Senior Communities and on the road to permanent housing!

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