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About Us & Our Mission

Putting a Face on Homelessness: Project Homeless Connect

By Michael Monagle

We, the nourished, clothed and housed of San Francisco, routinely treat homeless San Franciscans as islands—cut off from society. Project Homeless Connect organizers beckon our collective conscience every two months, seeking assistance to build bridges—by offering medical, legal and social services—to each of these unnecessarily isolated individuals.

Michael Wright had become such an island. A middle aged, college educated man, Wright held steady jobs in the services industry in his home state of Montana for most of his life. This all changed, however, when he suffered an injury, a series of unstable temporary jobs, and pervasive intolerance from his community. Seeking a place to make a fresh start, he arrived in San Francisco. Affable and intelligent, he soon found a job at a local hotel, where he also took up residency. Within a month the hotel changed ownership and Wright lost his job and his home. He suddenly felt the isolation that comes with being homeless.

The city’s 10th Project Homeless Connect offered Wright the opportunity to reconnect with society. On April 13, 2006, like the 1,663 other clients coming from the far corners of the city, he received medical and social services. He also met with a VLSP attorney, Kathi Pugh, Morrison and Foerster’s Pro Bono Counsel. Wright spoke in detail about how he arrived in search of assistance at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium that day. After losing his job when the hotel changed ownership, he sought employment from another hotel that, for a short time, used his services and paid him, though not a living wage. Within three weeks bad turned to worse: Wright found himself working more hours for even less money. He was trapped because the owner apparently linked Wright’s ability to live in the hotel with his employment; Wright felt that if he complained about the low wages and often 12 to 15-hour shifts, he would not only lose his job but also the roof over his head. So for five months he remained, employed but exploited, housed but humiliated. Eventually, unable to stand the degradation, he left this indentured servitude. He drifted again and despite skills, integrity, personality and hard work, he again found himself without a home.

As Wright spoke, Pugh envisioned the plans for the bridge they could build together. She referred him to her colleagues, Morrison & Foerster associates Oliver Dunlap and Alex Kreit, who are taking Wright’s complaints before the Labor Commission. Although his case against the exploitive hotel owner is still pending, because he is homeless, in a fundamental way he feels like he has already lost: people look at him differently (if at all), discount what he says or ignore his opinion completely. The stigma of being homeless and the isolation it brings is real. Wright feels it every day as we pass him on our way home from work.

Currently, Wright resides at SOMA’s MSC South. He plans on looking for work again soon. Despite the negativity surrounding him and the cycle of despair that results from the isolation of homelessness, he tries to persevere, and he envisions a day when he no longer needs services and assistance. With the help of VLSP, the Homeless Advocacy Project, and similar organizations, he hopes that he can build a bridge back from isolation and homelessness and someday help others to do the same. “No man is an island,” and yet there are an estimated 8,000 “islands” currently living on our streets. Each needs a bridge. VLSP volunteers help reconnect society with each homeless person, building bridges to each, one island at a time.

Learn about the Homeless Advocacy Project.