This month, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf came to BACS’ Henry Robinson Center for an intimate meeting with BACS participants affected by homelessness.
Mayor Schaaf sat down with Miriam Martin, a local landlord, and two formerly homeless BACS participants, Fatima Washington and Christopher Riese, to hear their stories.
Each was impacted by the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Their experiences demonstrate that homelessness can happen to anyone – but also, anyone can help make a difference.
Mayor Schaaf is committed to impacting individuals affected by homelessness. She says, “I want every person in this city to feel like they are secure in their housing, like they have a nice place to put their head at night, and to have income. So they can take care of what they need to take care of, and not just live in fear. And I know that right now, that’s not what it’s like for most people. So we are just trying to figure out how to make this better for more people.”
Miriam owns a home in the Bay Area, and decided to open up her spare room as affordable housing. She was touched and surprised by how many calls she got for that room – she had not realized so many people needed housing. Miriam saw an advertisement BACS placed, looking for landlords. She says, “Then I connected with BACS, and saw that I can work with a trusted partner, who is helping people who deserve and need help. It has been really smooth – all the tenants come with service coordination, so we can always call them.” Miriam has expanded her impact further, and now has two BACS tenants in her home!
Miriam says, “My advice – anyone who has a room, rent it out to someone who needs it.” If you are interested in connecting with BACS to see how renting a room in your home can make a difference, email us at RoomsInOakland@bayareacs.org.
Fatima came to BACS after years of homelessness. She was out of prison on parole, and stayed out of trouble. She lived with family and friends for as long as she could, but eventually Fatima ran out of options. After becoming homeless, Fatima came to BACS’ Housing Fast Support Network, located in the Henry Robinson Center. With the help of BACS staff, Fatima quickly got her SSI benefits, and helped her get an interview with UPS. Now, she is a proud teamster, and has her own place in Oakland!
Fatima says, “Ten years ago is the last time I was able to have my own place. I lost it because of some mistakes I made, but being with BACS helped me improve and get better. I know if I can do it, anybody can. There’s always something they can offer you at BACS.
Christopher grew up on the Peninsula, and moved to San Francisco in the 1980s to enjoy the gay-friendly culture that was forming there. As many of his friends began getting sick, he dealt with a brief addiction, before deciding to move out to Utah and get sober. In the 1990s, Christopher moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he fell in love and got married. He and his husband, Chris, opened up a flower shop together, and enjoyed 17 years of marriage.
Unfortunately, in the span of a single year, Christopher lost his husband to lymphoma, then lost their home and their flower shop when the landlord decided to sell. He moved back to the Bay Area to live with family, but they could not help him. He lost his possessions, and tried various precarious living situations, before having to resort to motels just to keep a roof over his head. Deeply in debt, his case worker connected him with BACS.
Now, Christopher and his two dogs live at BACS’ Supported Independent Living site in Hayward, where he no longer faces housing insecurity. Christopher says, “All the hurdles I have had with my health, with getting sober, housing is the hardest hurdle I’ve had in my life. But now, I have my own room in a home, with a yard that my dogs play in. I am so blessed.”