A view from the inside of poverty

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by Joe Posillico, Lt. Colonel –

Starting last year, the tide began to turn for many living in the Bay Area. Jobs disappeared and with them a sense of stability. The Association of Bay Area Governments estimates that 4,030 jobs were lost in the Bay Area in the latter part of 2008, with a projected loss of 56,800 jobs this year. The newly approved state budget cuts deeply into the services for the poor, disabled and elderly.

This is an economic crisis that does not discriminate. Many are themselves in a position they never imagined—coming to charity for help. And many are coming to The Salvation Army. At the end of 2008, The Salvation Army’s Golden State Division, which is based in San Francisco, saw a 14 percent rise in new clients. Of that, 11 percent were new to The Salvation Army

Juan Gomez, 51, father of two college-age children, recently started coming to a Salvation Army center in the Mission District neighborhood for food. A carpenter, Gomez began seeing job opportunities declining late last year. To help make ends meet, Gomez takes any manual labor job he can find. His wife has started selling her authentic Mexican meals. His children work at school. When things were going well, Gomez and his wife would give food to families who had just emigrated from Mexico. Now, they find themselves in need of help.

But Gomez isn’t bitter or embarrassed.

“I am a Christian, so I see this (coming to The Salvation Army) as a blessing. That this opportunity opened up for me to be able to provide for my family is a wonderful thing,” he said.

What does hurt, he says, is being out of work. He helped extend the BART line to SFO and to see it now is “kind of hard,” and underscores his frustration that he isn’t working on those kinds of projects now

Stories like Gomez’s are echoed at each of The Salvation Army’s 13 centers across San Francisco. Whether for food at the weekly food pantries, or a need for rental assistance, employment assistance, or of clothing for job interviews, more people are coming in for help with the basic necessities. Stress is also showing its effects with an increased number of extreme cases of drug and alcohol dependence. We have noted more families calling the streets home. According to a recent Chronicle report, a load of 50 sandwiches per night to give to the homeless has increased to 500, and even that isn’t enough.

Last year, donations to The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign—the ubiquitous holiday bell-ringing fundraising tradition—were down by 4 percent, and charitable donations of shares of stock followed the market trends—down. But in spite of the initial decline, The Salvation Army is hopeful funding will hold steady. Nevertheless, like many others, we are planning to do more innovative work with less.

We cannot respond to this crisis on our own. If you don’t have funds, give of your time. We need help of any kind to meet this urgent new demand in this unexpected environment. Last year, The Salvation Army served 60,000 people in San Francisco. That number is expected to increase in 2009.

The Salvation Army will stand side-by-side with San Franciscans as a beacon light in the storm, offering shelter and hope to those who need it most.

The San Francisco Chronicle, February 27, 2009

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