Present and past youth, residents of The Ark House.
Pastor Melinda McClain at Supervisor’s meeting.
By Jesse Brooks
Bishop Yvette Flunders testifying before Board of Supervisors.
With a threat of eviction looming, San Francisco’s Ark House, the first ever transitional living facility specifically targeting youth that are homeless by abandonment from family support, because of their sexuality, came out victorious.
Cheers and sounds of relief erupted, after a unanimous decision by the San Francisco City Council removed the unique program from their chopping block, and restored funding till the end of the year. Cuts, would have led to the program’s doors closing. Some of the Ark’s residents have horrific stories of how they were abused physically and emotionally by parents and family members who tormented them because they were homosexual, transgender, or questioning their sexuality.
One story that stood out was about a youth, who arrived at the program with cigarette burns all over his back, as his mother tried to burn the gay out of him. These youth come to the Ark House because even in traditional shelters they are at risk from abuse from people, who are ignorant, don’t understand, and are hateful because of who they are.
At the Ark House, Pastor Melinda, a City of Refuge (COR) Minister says “these kids get a chance as residents to experience being in a family, withblic Health, where the decision on which programs to cut came from, why did the department chose to select The Ark as part of their budget cuts? It is reported that earlier this year Mayor Gavin Newsom instructed the health department to come up with $13 million in mid-year cuts. He said that so far, $7 million in cuts has been identified, including a $144,000 mid-year cut for Ark House. The Ark’s problems started when AIDS Healthcare Foundation which rented space at COR, closed their health clinic and pharmacy in the front part of the building in September 2009, due to their own budget cuts. Their leaving took away considerable needed revenue.
On November 1, 2009, the program was displaced by a previous landlord, terminating their lease to increase his income, opening up his space for market-rate tenants. Then in December The Ark was notified that their program along with many other programs that benefit young people and women was slated for the chopping block, due to the city’s economic woes.
The Ark is a social arm of COR in San Francisco. With the leadership of the pastor of City of Refuge Bishop Yvette Flunders and Pastor Melinda McClain, a pastor from the church, they organized a meeting to discuss defensive action. The call to action was for many people to show up at the board of supervisors meeting. Over 50 people attended the meeting on behalf of The Ark House, demanding that the program stay open. Staff, allies and clients gave riveting testimonies of how the Ark saves lives. Convincing testimonies were from present and former clients themselves, representing these marginalized youth, testifying how the program has already made a difference in their lives. There were statements from youth, who are on the program’s waiting list, telling how their entry into the program was stalled pending the decision of the board. In the final hour the Board voted to restore all funding till the end of the year, placing the handling of the situation in the hands of the County Controller’s office to work with the program to work out their challenges.
Instrumental in advocating for the Ark were supervisor Duffy and Daly, with support from Campos. Ultimately, Bishop Flunders felt it was the emotional testimonies from the youth that need the service that made all the difference. She feels they put a face on the need, and made a critical difference in the vote.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for our youth to show up and exercise their political rights.” stated Flunders after the victory.