The Hawkeye

Rags to Riches

The Connection Between Homelessness and Tech in the City

 By Victor Liu

San Francisco, a city once synonymous with the 1960s counterculture movement, has become a hub for fresh college graduates to put their degrees to use at tech startups. While the new graduates pursue becoming household names like Zuckerberg, Jobs and Gates in the realm of tech, eviction and homelessness rates have been on the rise, pushing more people from their now-expensive homes onto the streets.

The tech industry is not all to blame. A multitude of crises can cause a person or family to lose a home: a loss of a job, a loss of a house, a detrimental health issue, a case of domestic violence, an eviction or something else.

Fifty-four shelters registered on the Homeless Shelter Directory currently accommodate adult individuals experiencing homelessness in the San Francisco area. However, their situation is less dire than those of families.

San Francisco’s homeless problem has swelled to about 1,300 families, and homelessness now affects one in 25 students in the San Francisco Unified School District, equating to over 2,000 students, according to a report from the Hamilton Family Center.

Fortunately for the families of urban San Francisco, the staff and supporters of a 30-year-old shelter hope to work toward a solution to homelessness.

The Hamilton Family Center, the first San Francisco family shelter, temporarily provides for 70 families through its three pillars: transitional housing, rapid rehousing and shelter program. This unusual approach is now a nationally recognized program.

Rachel Kenemore, a senior development associate at Hamilton, said its origins lie in the basement of a church.

“Now, over 30 years later, [Hamilton is] the top service provider for families experiencing homelessness in San Francisco,” Kenemore said.

Kenemore believes that Hamilton’s faith in its solution to the homelessness problem sets it apart from fellow shelters and makes its goal of eradicating homelessness in San Francisco families by 2020 achievable.

Its three-pillar system caters towards families with different degrees of needs. Hamilton also provides every family with a case manager. In addition, by providing families with three hot meals a day, Hamilton also promotes financial stability.

Another integral component of Hamilton’s philosophy is its differentiation between the terms “homelessness” and “someone who is experiencing homelessness.”

“We believe that homelessness is an experience that someone goes through, not something that defines them,” Kenemore said. “So we use that very distinct clarification [between] homeless people [and] someone experiencing homelessness, because crisis can occur.”

Kenemore believes that not much separates her and the temporary residents of Hamilton.

“The real difference between myself and someone who is staying at our shelter experiencing homelessness is the lack of secure safety net during a moment of crisis,” Kenemore said.

Hamilton’s family-oriented strategy keeps children as the center of attention.

“Kids and families experiencing homelessness are moving around quite a lot and they don’t have a lot of space where they can kind of be kids,” Kenemore said. “So a big component of our program at our shelter as well as here at the transitional housing program is … our children and youth programming.”

Hamilton has the numbers to achieve its 2020 goal. Kenemore says 86 percent of families move back into regular housing after the program and 90 percent of families have not returned back to shelters a year after re-entering housing.

While the tech industry attracts science, technology, engineering, and math workers to technology businesses in the Bay Area, their flocking to San Francisco has created a price inflation in the housing market.

Hamilton partners with Salesforce, Adobe, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer and Genentech. With partners in the technology industry, children at the “low-tech” Hamilton still have advantageous experiences for their future endeavors in the ever-growing tech business.

“We work with Yammer and Twitter to build up digital learning centers and programming for kids,” Kenemore said. “They can access their school portals and get connected to new opportunities that they might not have if they don’t have a computer in their home.”

Hamilton’s has worked with tech partners to raise philanthropic funds to build a solution to family homelessness, mitigating the problem that they have helped create.

“There’s a lot of discussion about how the tech industry has made it challenging for individuals to stay in San Francisco and increase the amount of homelessness,” Kenemore said. “Tech has really supported Hamilton. … It doesn’t need to be this kind of chasm in the conversation or what’s going on in San Francisco.”

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Victor Liu will be a sophomore at Saratoga High School during the 2016-17 school year and will be a reporter on his school’s newspaper, The Falcon, next year. He occasionally sleeps and tries to keep his laptop charger clean.

Rags to Riches