SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – My journey to understand the homeless problem in San Francisco has led me to Fisherman’s Wharf — where I found a young man panhandling on the sidewalk with a stuffed animal under his arm.
His name is Cory Harris. He’s 25-years-old.
“I’m from San Diego but coronavirus and the cleanup I just moved away from it.”
I asked him how long he’s been homeless. He tells me pretty much his whole life.
“Just unfortunate… moving house to house, no real parents to care.”
At one point, he was a foster child.
But now, “I sleep outside… I have a sheet.”
I asked if he was trying to get any services… any help.
“I tried but they didn’t really want to help me, they denied me.”
Cory says the last place he went for help was Larkin Street Youth Services.
So that’s where I decided to go next and find out why it didn’t work out for Cory.
It turns out it could be because he’s just a little too old to qualify for their help.
They allowed me inside with my camera to one of their emergency shelters at Ellis Street on the edge of the Tenderloin, known as the Lark Inn.
This one is reserved for youth ages 18 to 24.
People who do qualify are given welcome kits with toiletries and sheets.
Once inside, you are greeted by brightly colored murals with uplifting messages.
While a sunny landscape cheers this hallway, the actual sleeping quarters are a bit bleak.
There are cement floors, spare furnishing, plastic bins, and metal lockers to store belongings.
Right now, some beds are not being slept in because the pandemic has them running at only half capacity.
“My experience is it’s a place to lay your head at night if you don’t got nothing else.”
That firsthand perspective comes from Lark Inn resident Dale Jones.
I met the 22-year-old originally from Contra Costa County as he was hanging out inside the Larkin Street Youth Services access site on Golden Gate Avenue.
Dale didn’t want to go into details on how he ended up homeless in San Francisco but described what his life had been like before he found a place at the shelter.
“Couch surfing, bouncing from house to house in the year before I got here, I lived with seven different family members, a couple different houses in a hotel, a couple of times at an Airbnb.”
Now he tells me he is making the most of the resources available to him, checking in with his caseworker here once a week.
“I’m already on the waiting list for basically cheaper housing they’re going to help me pay so just going through it.”
The vibe of the access site is more college student coffee shop than bureaucrat’s waiting room.
Here those as young as 12 can drop in and grab hot meals.
They have access to laundry and showers, a clothing closet, and hygiene products.
Downstairs, there are resources to get a GED, college financial aid, or help to find a job.
Dale is enrolled in a job program now and hopes to get work as a security guard, then eventually enroll in college.
He likes knowing he has this place to go to every day.
“At least I know they got me working Monday through Friday. I have a set program right now before that I was literally house to house, couch to couch day to day.”
Larkin Street Youth Services says working towards ending youth homelessness so it is rare, brief, and one time.
Sherilyn Adams is the executive director.
“We know that about 50% of the folks who are experiencing homelessness who are over the age of 18 had their first experience between the ages of 18 and 25 right? So we know the quicker that we intervene with we go a long ways towards preventing chronic homelessness. The other piece is the longer you’re outside the more detrimental it is to your health and well-being.”
While at the access site, I ran into a familiar face.
“What’s been going on with you since I saw you last? Just been around surviving.”
Cory was there to take a shower and get some food.
But the 25-year-old will likely have a harder time finding a place to sleep than he would have had just one year ago.
“We don’t have a great system in San Francisco for around 25 to 35-year-old’s in general. Because the span of age for people experiencing homelessness, 70, 75… and we prioritize folks based on length of time homeless right now.”
“And it’s very hard sometimes for folks who are newly experiencing homelessness and are in that sort of 25 to 35-year range.”
Meanwhile, Cory continues trying to get the help he needs.
“I’ve been looking around [for housing]… no luck yet.”
Larkin Street Youth Services would not confirm if they were assisting Cory in finding help but did say they are able to help those who enter the system before turning 25 receive housing assistance – like rent subsidies — even after turning 25.
They say so far this year, they’ve housed over 400 young people.
KRON4 will be continuing our commitment to investigate the situation on the streets, but we need your help too. If there is something you think we need to see or hear, email OnTheStreets@KRON4.com