A home is much more than shelter, but a place of one’s own can seem especially elusive to the neediest residents of pricey San Francisco. REALTORS® in the City by the Bay have stepped up big-time to make life better for more than 3,200 formerly homeless people who’ve been able to obtain housing assistance from a variety of city agencies.
The Welcome Home Project, launched by the San Francisco Association of REALTORS® in 2015, addresses the reality gap between receiving keys to permanent housing and being able to turn the space into a comfortable home. Donations of brand-new hygiene and houseware items such as toasters, coffee makers, towels, and dishes line a packed storage room at the SFAR headquarters, ready to give participating families and individuals a fresh start with a “welcome home” kit customized for their most significant needs.
“This is an opportunity for us to be involved in the community and to help the homeless population of San Francisco transition to being back on their feet,” says Lauren Bensinger, chief operating officer of McGuire Real Estate. “Welcome Home supplies them with their basic needs, things that most people don’t think about.”
The Welcome Home Project will provide basics to more than 800 formerly homeless households this year and expects that number to rise to 1,000 next year. The number of homeless in San Francisco has risen by 17% in the past two years, according to city data, as the housing shortage and supply-and-demand real estate market has pushed the median home price past $1.4 million.
When Welcome Home participants move in to permanent housing, they often have very few belongings. For many, it’s been a while since they had their own private space, a door they can close, and a bed that needs sheets, says Kendra Leingang, lead clinical supervisor at the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “When I deliver the Welcome Home kits, tenants are often so humbled, surprised, and grateful that they are moved to tears. They can’t believe that the community would give them supportive tools to help them begin their new housing journey with dignity.”
Demand for the kits is on the rise. “We used to get three requests a week for care packages, but now we get three requests a day,” says Mary Jung, executive director of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS® Foundation, who administers the program. “This means the city is able to find housing for more than a dozen households a week, which is a very good thing.” The association partners with 49 homeless resource organizations to meet client needs.
REALTORS® support the program in a variety of ways. “The Welcome Home Project is related to what we do—it’s about home, so REALTORS® are very proud of it,” says Eugene Pak, sales manager and associate broker at Compass Real Estate and a former SFAR president. Pak has organized volunteers from his brokerage to spend a day assembling toiletry kits at the Welcome Home Project.
REALTORS® frequently get involved in houseware drives by donating new goods, but it’s the annual fundraiser for the Welcome Home Project that makes the biggest impact, says project manager Marivic Cuevas. Last year’s annual fundraiser, hosted by sponsor Airbnb, raised more than $100,000.
Program recipients express deep gratitude for the life-changing generosity. “For someone to take the time out to supply me with the basic things that I needed, I can assure you that I needed that, and it helped me so much,” says James Derek Lucas, who received housing and a care package in 2017 after more than 30 years on the streets of San Francisco.To donate new housewares or make a tax-deductible contribution, visit WelcomeHomeSF.org.