48: How The Salvation Army is addressing homelessness in San Francisco with Theo Ellington

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You’ve heard us talk about The Salvation Army’s commitment to double its impact on homelessness in the West over the next 5 years. (And if you missed it, head back to episode 6 for a full rundown of what this initiative, called The Way Out, entails.)

California has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country—a fact you can’t miss in its largest metropolitan areas. 

And one—a longtime magnet for fortune-seekers, immigrants and artists, known for its steep rolling hills, Victorian architecture, iconic cable cars and famous bridge, the city by the bay paints a picture of the crisis. In San Francisco, some 8,000 people currently live on the streets—an increase of 17 percent since 2017. But it’s more than a statistic—that’s 8,000 individual people without a place to call home.

And so, The Salvation Army in San Francisco has a plan to help address the crisis utilizing its property holdings combined with its existing rehabilitation efforts. In essence, The Salvation Army aims to build a combination of “next-step” and permanent affordable housing along with a workforce development program that will add 1,500 beds to the current housing network available in the city. And at the same time, it will create a clear continuum of care for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

It’s a Live-Work-Love model, said Theo Ellington, the Director of Homeless Initiatives and Community Development for The Salvation Army in San Francisco. A native to the city who holds a master’s degree in Urban Affairs from the University of San Francisco and with over a decade of experience in public affairs and community development, Theo is working with The Salvation Army to meet people where they are in this crisis of homelessness because, as he says, we have a moral and spiritual obligation to do so.

He’s on the show to share more about this model and The Salvation Army’s strategy for implementing it in the months ahead. 

Show highlights include:

  • San Francisco’s homeless crisis due to income inequality, high cost of living and housing shortage.
  • Call to action: Nine-month strategic planning process to utilize property assets and program expertise.
  • The Homeless Orchestra: Theo developed deep concern for the community and decided to give back to the city.
  • Competitive advantage: Most effective way to stabilize people is long-term sobriety.
  • Revolving door: After completing rehabilitation, people have nowhere to go.
  • Sobriety: Provide opportunities for people to live their true lives and re-enter society in a productive way.
  • The Way Out: Continuum of care and support for sobriety through Live-Work-Love model.
  • Mental health respite center: Pre-contemplate people to determine if they know they need services.
  • Goals: Short-term to make impact today and long-term sustainability for path to ongoing sobriety.
  • Salvation Army and city collaboration: Creative ways and outlets for people to get off the streets.
  • How can you combat homelessness? Reach out and make a commitment to do good with no conditions. 

Good words from Theo Ellington in this show:

[05:44] “We want to take people from the streets and ultimately, place them in permanently affordable housing.”

[11:05] “During that next-step housing phase, they’re getting the support that they need to live a life of sobriety.”

[16:20] “Fundraising push: We know that these things cost money. We know that cities are constrained now more than ever.”

[18:17] “There are so many stories of hope throughout San Francisco that leave me hopeful that we have an opportunity to change people’s lives. We see it each and every day.” 

Additional resources:

 Download this episode wherever you get your podcasts. Find show notes for this episode and more at caringmagazine.org/podcast. Connect with Theo Ellington via The Salvation Army Golden State Division

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