The Real World: San Francisco

Hannah Hewitt
July 30, 2015

The other day as I looked back on my time in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but compare it to a TV show on MTV called “The Real World”.  Mostly because there are seven of us just like the show states in the intro and because we got to spend an unforgettable summer in an unreal city with unreal experiences. Though our time in San Francisco wasn’t taped and wasn’t about scripted dramas between house members (which there was none of), our time spent here was definitely real and definitely something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

This blog documents the true stories and beliefs held by seven Duke students picked to work at non-profits that serve homeless youth. This is the theoretical “episode” where I tell you about the adventures that led to self discovery, a public policy memo, and raising $120,000 to go to the work that ATC does with its clients; along with anything else that comes to mind.

Back in February when I first found out that I would be embarking on a life changing adventure to the Bay Area, I had no idea what San Francisco would have in store for me. Unfortunately, no one read me the quote by Mark Twain in which he says, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” and instead I only thought about the lyrics from the Beach Boys song “California Girls” that talks about sunshine and getting tan. Needless to say, I went out and bought multiple sweaters to carry around with me because it wasn’t till I experienced microclimates that I actually believed that there was such a thing as microclimates. And for those of you who don’t know much about San Francisco like I didn’t, a microclimate is when the weather changes at from 60 and foggy in Inner Richmond to sunny and 70 in the Mission.

Anyways besides learning how to dress and carrying around an entire closet suitable for any climate, somewhere between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge I discovered myself. I have become a friend, a confidante, a hike coordinator, a passionate advocate for social justice, a photographer, a motivator, and a more confident, more independent me. And lastly, I became a crucial part of a great community at At The Crossroads.

Working at ATC has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me to appreciate my situation and to never take a single day for granted because I don’t want to be defined by my situation but by who I am as a person. It has also taught me to speak up when I think something can be fixed and that I have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. It is also the inspiration for my public policy memo that I have to write to graduate in the Spring, which is extremely scary to think about! I would tell you more about it but it’s still a work in progress. Let’s just say my memo might be about the government and the role it plays in nonprofits for better or for worse. Hopefully, my academic advisor, Elise Goldwasser, will like it.

Let me tell you a little about this amazing organization and its mission. ATC is a non-profit organization that works with homeless youth to build outstanding lives on their own terms. They allow them to pick their own paths and decide what is important for them to accomplish during their one on one meetings with ATC counselors. ATC is unique because they don’t force their clients to conform to a standard of what society thinks it takes to escape homelessness.

ATC was co-founded by Rob Gitin in 1998 when he was 22, which is crazy because I’m 21 now and don’t think I could start a non-profit. I don’t even know what I’m going to eat for breakfast tomorrow…well that’s not true; I plan on going to Tartine because it has over 5,000 ratings but that’s beside the point.

The ATC staff is made up of some of the bravest and most inspiring people I’ve ever met and to top it off, they are super chill. Watching them and listening to them fight for their clients’ everyday is awe-inspiring. They are truly amazing people. They are also awesome because they let a couple of interns help put together one of their biggest sources of income.

ATC is not a government funded nonprofit, which means that though they are able to serve their clients at a much deeper level, it also means that they are a much smaller nonprofit. That’s where the Summer SunDay Hike comes in. The hike is a main source of revenue for ATCs programs. Over the past 8 weeks, I have stewarded around 100 hikers and given them the tools necessary to raise money for ATC. It has been a lot of long days staring at a computer screen and talking on the phone but in the end it was all worth it because I know that my efforts will impact the lives of countless clients while also helping support some of my new heroes.

To finish it off, after listening to my fellow DukeEngage members talk about their time here, I think that it’s safe to say that this summer in San Francisco has been a summer of firsts, a summer of discovery, a summer of fun, a summer of music, a summer of growing, and a summer of friends.


Freedom Calls

Written by Ji-Ho Park
July 10, 2015

Another week in San Francisco meant another suite of events and activities happening around the city. This past weekend was the 4th of July, which following SF Pride, dare I say, felt like a bit of a let down? The pride flags are still hanging from people’s windows and banners are still screaming for equality, and they definitely outnumber the Stars and Stripes I see as I stroll around. But the combination of the SCOTUS decision, Pride, and Independence Day had me reflecting on freedom. “Freedom” is used rather liberally in San Francisco, used to describe the atmosphere, the people who live here, and the sort of hands-off attitude the police force can have when dealing with people who are homeless. But it really makes me wonder how my “freedom” differs greatly from someone else’s, especially the youth we’re working with this summer.

I happened to be around in Dolores Park on a sunny (yes, actually sunny!) Sunday afternoon, when the San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) performed a show titled “Freedomland.” It focused on police brutality and institutionalized discrimination, aimed at people of color (PoC) and undocumented immigrants. The SFMT doesn’t hold back during their 90 minute show, making a mockery of an “up-and-coming cop” whose unwavering belief in the fairness and righteousness of our legal system made most people in the audience giggle (or groan). I won’t ruin how it ends in case anyone plans on watching, but in general, it begged the question of me, just how free are we in the US, when people of certain demographics are targeted and persecuted more harshly than others (and this isn’t simply limited to law enforcement)? Can we consider ourselves to be free when others are unjustly persecuted, or are we to ignore those and live our lives because we’re afforded the privilege of doing so?

The statistics of homeless youth tell a very similar story. Youth who are LGBTQ-identified are at a far greater risk of experiencing homelessness (~40% of the youth that Larkin Street services are LGBTQ-identified). Youth who are Black or Hispanic are also at much greater risk. And what’s important to note is, these youth are often not to blame for their homeless. People who are homeless are stigmatized and often blamed for their situation. But that’s exactly what it is. A situation. A moment in their lives, and is not an indicator of what’s to come. And I think many of us on DukeEngage San Francisco have learned that this summer. We’re working with a population very similar in age, which has made me reflect on how I’ve come to this moment; to be a rising senior at Duke, to be on DukeEngage, and to be more worried about where I’m going to apply to graduate school or for a job, than I am about where I’m going to eat or sleep tonight. Is this a freedom I “deserve” more than the youth I work with? Is it fair? Sure, people in San Francisco are free, and San Francisco has a different way of dealing with those who are homeless, but just because you’re allowing them to be homeless and not punishing them for it doesn’t mean we’re actively doing anything to help people off the streets.

People here discuss San Francisco as a “housing first” city, but I’m still not seeing much of it. We continue to hear about housing is such a problem for people who are homeless in SF, but I see very little being done to help them. Larkin Street offers great services to help youth get themselves back on their feet, but what young 20-something year old is going to be able to get a job within 2 years (how long you’re allowed to stay at a LSYS transitional living program) that is enough to sustain a living wage in San Francisco? Affordable housing is so hard to come by, but as I write, there’s a 6-story mall near the UN Plaza going up.

On a brighter note, there’s been a lot going on at Larkin Street Youth Services and At the Crossroads this week! Larkin Street has been preparing for their big Graduation, for students who have received their GED, their high school diploma, or have graduated from college. It’s an opportunity for LSYS to recognize their own youth, who have already come so far, and hope to continue moving forward. At the Crossroads’ Summer SunDay, Hike for Homeless Youth is this following weekend, and so Hannah and Madison have been working hard to make sure that everything is in place there. We’ll all be volunteering at that event come next Saturday, which will involve an 8 mile hike up Mt. Tamalpais! Stay tuned for another exciting installment of DukeEngage San Francisco, Year 1.

Pride and Spex and Ripplez

July 2, 2015 | Maurice I. Dowell


Greetings reader of this blog.  I hope this note  finds you well and that my colleagues and I are painting as vivid a picture of San Francisco as it deserves. As aphoristic as it may be to think so, this summer I am repeatedly reminded of the smallness of my place in the world – the vast amount of it I have yet to see and the insignificance I sometimes feel in relation to the overwhelming amount of life simultaneously happening  around me. It’s inexplicably unsettling to realize that I’m not a part of all these lives that I stand next to on the bus or nudge around on Market Street  as the 42nd SF Pride Parade rolls towards City Hall. I’m only my body. I’m only this experience. This one set of eyes and opinions and perceptions. SF can feel ginormous because there is so much to see and judge and only begin to take in here. This place is an enigma of shiny tie-dye and residual 1967 Summer of Love vibrations. I find that my favorite cities (SF has quickly joined the list)  are those detached islands of cosmopolitan color. Like New York. Like Hong Kong. The places in which the proximity to waterways settle a land that inevitably becomes a melange of mixing  peoples. And because somewhat removed from convention, these places exist as a haven of sorts; a destination that the (seemingly) lost seek out and run to in search of community, in search of themselves.

If what you seek is stimulation (in all senses of the term) San Fran abounds. Over and over again. There is a freedom here that is both alarming and inspiring. The drugs, man, are plentiful and way too easily accessible. And people buy them. The people you might picture buying, but also the unsuspecting. It’s sometimes hard to tell the dealer from the user. But I believe this awareness falls in line with my thinking at work. It’s hard to tell the homeless from the home(-with). Group sentiment will echo that we always thought we knew what homeless people looked like, what strung-out junkies looked like. And trust there are examples of you’re thinking, but I find more and more that I truly know nothing about anyone, which is why I find it so frustrating to metaphysically consider my existence and my own story. What qualifies my life experience as better (or worse) than the experience of anyone I meet at at work, or see sleeping in Golden Gate Park? I only conclude (though unsatisfied with its simplicity) that only  circumstance is what separates us.

Freedom. Wow, that tangent. This weekend was Pride! My first. And it was awesome. With the decision from SCOTUS ruling in favor of national marriage equality only a day before festivities began, the city pulsed with anticipation. We began early on Saturday morning by bussing to Dolores Park to check out the fever. I’ve visited that park pretty often since we’ve been here and there are always a good amount of people getting into too many things. But on Saturday you could not walk. It was a beautiful, gay mess. We hung out for a bit, enjoying the energy and the music pumping from the barge on the blocked-off street, before heading to Civic Center to volunteer at Larkin’s Queer Youth Space they annually set up for the duration of the weekend. There were carnival games and cotton candy and prizes and families and little boys in rainbow tutus. The Queer Youth Space is the only space provided for youth and their families during the festival, which I think is pretty admirable seeing as how the weekend can feel pretty rated-R otherwise. After work we headed to Castro for the Pink Party! It’s crazy actually, the way the celebration inadvertently pops up all over the city. I left one space expecting the next to be less populated and less excited. Only to find more crowds! More live music. More nudity. More festivity in the spirit of love – all while considering the history of a special pink triangle or Rosa Winkel in German. The triangle badge was worn by Nazi concentration camp prisoners who had been identified and sent to the camps based solely on the premise of their homosexuality. Heavy.


Sunday brought the parade and lots more people! We stood along the route pretty close to work before heading to Golden Gate Park to hear the only American Idol that truly matters, Kelly Clarkson, belt her heart out for us. I think we all appreciated spending and experiencing all of the craziness together. It can be overwhelming. For me, at least, there was a constant state of awe and constant spurts of over-emotion as I looked around to see so many people who just wanted to sure, party hard, but also support a population of people who history books will refer to as marginalized. It’s powerful and would be amiss to stand amongst all that energy and not feel like you’re standing with history. And all at once you consider: though yes, you are a small, useless speck of sand on the cosmic beach of San Francisco, everywhere you turn there are specks just as strange as you. Sifting around on this bizarre little peninsula nestled into the hills of the bay. And so you realize it’s okay not to be everywhere experiencing everything. Yours is important enough and the ripples you create while you’re here you may not ever see. But you definitely made them.