For nearly a decade, St. Francis Living Room has offered homeless and low-income seniors a safe gathering place away from the Tenderloin's streets. But, with the loss of a major city grant, the group is now hoping to raise $50,000 through Indiegogo to keep its doors open this fall.
When explaining the importance of the program to young, able-bodied people, Program Director Greg Moore said he likes to put it this way: "Try to imagine being in a condition where walking one to two blocks is really hard. Then picture that, living in the Tenderloin. Then picture that, making $800 dollars a month or less. Then think about that, being homeless."
The Living Room, which started as a program of the St. Anthony Foundation in 1987 and became an independent nonprofit in 2006, is one of the "precious few" places seniors in the neighborhood can hang out with their peers, Moore said. About 50 to 80 people ages 60 and up stop by the program's small space in the Madonna Residence from 8:30-10am each day for a hot meal, daily activities and information relevant to seniors.
"Many of our clients say we have the best breakfast," said Moore, who has been working vigorously for the past year and a half to secure enough funding to keep the meals coming. Two years ago, he said, the organization's board ended up running day-to-day operations and missed the deadline for a grant from the city's Department of Aging and Adult Services — five year's worth of funding that accounted for 85 percent of the program's operating budget. With the help of District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, the board secured funds for one year and brought in Moore to find new funding sources to fill the gap.
While Moore has made great connections and has six volunteer grant researchers onboard, he said it's nearly impossible to persuade foundations to support a financially unstable nonprofit with low visibility. Within the past year, the Living Room has secured three small grants, which have enabled the program to continue operating through August, but Moore is now focusing his efforts on raising $50,000 through Indiegogo.
The success or failure of the campaign will dictate the success or failure of the Living Room, Moore said. In addition to funding the Living Room's services through the end of the year, a successful campaign will boost the program's credibility. If this campaign is indeed successful, he plans to run another campaign in 2015 to raise $75,000 to $85,000 to further prove the nonprofit's financial credibility to potential funding sources.
While bridging the funding gap is a "constant challenge", Moore says the program is worth the effort. He estimates that 85 percent of its clients are living below the federal poverty limit, 30 percent are homeless and 60-70 percent are dealing with alcohol or substance abuse challenges. Many are in frail health physically, and do not feel safe at home in their SROs or at other all-ages dining rooms, which tend to have more aggressive environments.
And, Moore said, he often hears how appreciative clients are of the welcoming environment the Living Room staff and volunteers have created. "We respect each other. If a client is acting out, I tell them I'm going to listen to you, but you are going to respect and listen to me too."
The St. Francis Living Room Indiegogo campaign runs until June 30th. Incentives are being offered for donations as little as $5, and those who contribute $100 or more will receive a complimentary Tenderloin walking tour with the highly sought-after neighborhood historian Del Seymour.