Video: San Francisco Homeless Veterans Get Permanent Place to Live

By Katie Brigham

At 58 years old, Clarence Cook finally has a place of his own to call home.

Living on the streets of San Francisco since 1997, the Army veteran has been in and out of jail for more than three decades while battling a heroin addiction.

Today, Cook has been clean for six months. Earlier this month, he become one of the first 30 residents to move into 250 Kearny — a single-room-occupancy property on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District that has been newly renovated to house 130 homeless veterans. Continue reading

Old Muni Buses Are Reborn as Mobile Showers for the Homeless

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people.

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people. (Lynne Shallcross/KQED)

By Lynne Shallcross

Showering is a daily routine that most of us probably take for granted. But for people living on the streets or in shelters in San Francisco, finding a shower can be one of the biggest daily challenges.

‘Then no one has to know you’re homeless unless you tell them.’

For the more than 3,000 unsheltered homeless people in San Francisco, there are only roughly 20 showers available — fewer if any are out of service. Then there are the logistics of sign-up lists, limited hours, waiting lines and figuring out how to get there.

Doniece Sandoval, a marketing and communications professional and South Texas native, had seen plenty of shower-less homeless in her two decades in San Francisco. But when she passed a young homeless woman on the street who was crying that she’d never be clean, Sandoval decided to do something about it.

So she hatched the idea for Lava Mae, a new service that provides showers in a retrofitted, retired Muni bus. Lava Mae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me,” is in the pilot phase of its service. Continue reading

Life on the Street: Homeless Vietnam Veteran Fights Cancer


John Buckingham, 62, a homeless Vietnam veteran, stands outside of a San Francisco grocery store. He lives on the streets and is fighting cancer. (Nick Arce/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For the nearly three million Americans who served in Vietnam, more likely than death in combat was a post-war life on the street. On a single night in 2013, more than 15,000 homeless Californians were veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing from homeless Californians. John Buckingham is a 62-year-old homeless Vietnam vet living with cancer on the streets of San Francisco. He talks to us about his battle with illness. Reporter: Nick Arce

By John Buckingham

You know, I can be walking and all of a sudden I’ll get this real heavy pain in my body. I mean, like an earthquake hitting the ground and my whole body shakes. And then, all of sudden, I won’t feel so hot. I’ll feel like these cold and hot flashes. And I’ll see things.

It’s all because of the war. Because of Agent Orange.

Continue reading

Signing up the Homeless, One at a Time

Man sits in Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Advocates say homeless people tend to have complex health problems. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Man sits in Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Advocates say homeless people tend to have complex health problems. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

On a recent winter morning, health outreach worker Christopher Mack walked through the streets and alleys of the city’s Skid Row, passing a man pulling a rusty shopping cart and a woman asleep on a crumpled blue tarp. The smell of marijuana wafted through the cold air.

“Do you have health insurance?” Mack, a towering man with long dreadlocks, asked one woman. “Do you go to the doctor?” he asked another.

Homeless men and women who didn’t qualify for insurance in the past now have the chance to sign up, and Mack — who was once homeless himself — is there to help.

The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid to include poor people without children or disabilities who haven’t been able to get the free insurance in the past. Experts say determining how many homeless people are eligible for Medicaid is difficult but estimates range from about 500,000 to as many as 1.2 million. California is one of the 25 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that is expanding its Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal here. Continue reading

Empathizing with the Homeless: San Francisco Woman Goes a Week Without A Shower

A man roots through the garbage at the 16th street BART stop in San Francisco. (Keith Menconi/KQED)

A man roots through the garbage at the 16th street BART stop in San Francisco. (Keith Menconi/KQED)

By Polly Stryker

You know how you feel when you’ve been camping and haven’t showered? After a couple days, your body feels sweaty and ripe; your hair feels greasy. As you start to head home, you begin craving a shower — the soap, the hot water, the clean towel. It’s likely the first thing you do when you get home.

But homeless people live a different reality every day. For them, cleaning up depends on making it to a public shower somewhere across town, with a long line, only open during certain hours. Keeping clean is a nearly impossible challenge.

San Franciscan Doniece Sandoval started thinking deeply about this question one day two years ago when she was walking near the Design Center in San Francisco. She saw a homeless woman under the 101 overpass crying, terribly upset that she would never be clean. Sandoval had always felt moved and saddened when she saw people who were homeless. Seeing the woman gave her an idea. Since clean bathrooms and showers are so hard for homeless people to get to, why not bring showers to them?

And so Sandoval created a nonprofit Lava Mae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me,” to help the homeless.

Sandoval recently described her mission to KQED’s Joshua Johnson. San Francisco’s 3,400 homeless people have access to just 16 shower stalls, at different places around the city. Just getting to them can be tough. Also, not all homeless shelters have showers. Surprisingly, some emergency family and winter shelters don’t have showers. Continue reading

Living in an RV in Palo Alto — as Ban Goes into Effect

Fred Smith lives in his RV in Palo Alto. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Fred Smith lives in his RV in Palo Alto. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s note: On Sept. 19, Palo Alto joins many other cities in Silicon Valley in preventing people from legally living in their vehicles. As part of our ongoing series of first-person health profiles called “What’s Your Story?” 69-year-old Fred Smith talks about living in his RV after being a software engineer in Silicon Valley for nearly thirty years. Smith gives us a tour of his home.

By Fred Smith

It’s an ’85 Winnebago, Chieftain. And there’s clothes and books, and those are pictures of my wife.

We’re in the bedroom right now and it’s a decent sized queen bed, I guess you’d call it. Actually, it’s a better bed than a lot of people have.

Back in 2003, I was doing well, getting $145,000 a year. Then I got caught in the tail end of the dot-com crash and never recovered from that. Unemployment had ran out and I realized that I couldn’t afford to keep the apartment I had. Actually, I ended up living in my car with my cat for a couple weeks here in the alley behind Happy Donuts. You know, you got these seats that fold down, and you’re half in the trunk and half in the back seat. Continue reading

Clinic for the Homeless to Open in Oakland

Wendy Georges (second from the left) leads a planning session for the new TRUST Clinic (Photo: David Modersbach)

By Alvin Tran

Alameda County has new plans in store for its homeless population – it intends to open an integrated medical clinic in downtown Oakland.

The TRUST Clinic is one of the county’s newest projects and involves the collaboration of several agencies including Alameda County’s Health Care for the Homeless Program, Social Services Agency and Behavioral Health Services.

But unlike other clinics in Alameda County, TRUST will be one of just two which will offer integrated health services, including primary care, behavioral health, case management with housing assistance, and medical-legal partnerships.

“This clinic is a very innovative idea. It’s not something that’s being done in very many places,” said Dr. Michael Boroff, a clinical psychologist who will be working at the clinic. “It embraces the integrated health care … with medical and mental health and all of these different aspects of services combining and working together as a team.”

Continue reading

Mobile Health Vans Care for Alameda’s Homeless

By Alvin Tran

Alameda County Mobile Health Services Unit van, set up to treat patients in downtown Berkeley. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

The walking wounded wander the streets of Alameda County.

They are people who are homeless and live day to day in public parks and shelters. They are people in need of support for mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction. And says Addie Brown, they are also one of the most difficult groups of patients to treat.

Brown would know. She oversees the operation of the Mobile Health Services Van headed by the Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless Program (ACHCHP). The van travels throughout Alameda County serving approximately 160 homeless individuals each month. A team of healthcare providers, including nurse practitioners and social workers, provide no-cost primary care and support services, such as counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Over the years, we’ve saved a lot of lives. A lot of clients come with conditions that would have gone untreated had we not gone out there. We’ve been able to help them with their medical issues and getting them hooked up to the appropriate clinic, or doctor, or specialty care,” Brown explained. Continue reading