by Tracey Mixon and Dominique Griffin (originally published in Street Sheet)
Leaving First Friendship
By Tracey Mixon
In August of 2018, I became homeless with my daughter, who was 8 years old at the time. After staying a few weeks somewhere unsafe for us, I found myself at the emergency family shelter at the First Friendship Institutional Baptist Church near Alamo Square.
I was so unprepared for what I encountered at First Friendship: mats on the floor, no showers and no privacy. Having breakfast and dinner served to us was the highlight of this horrible living situation. But for me, the hardest part was having to be out of the shelter by 7 a.m., even on weekends. One Friday, my daughter was extremely sick and ended up leaving the shelter in the night by ambulance. When we arrived back later that night, we barely had enough time to sleep before we had to get back up to figure out where to go that day. That was hard. We had no place to be when my daughter needed rest to heal from being sick.
At the same time we were going through this, I applied for a peer organizer position here at the Coalition on Homelessness. I was hired during the big push for Proposition C . I had no campaign experience, but I was enthusiastic about Prop. C because I knew that if it passed, it would help homeless people. Experiencing homelessness and then becoming an advocate for homeless folks has been life-changing.
By the time Prop. C passed in 2018, I had long since transitioned from First Friendship to a private room in a family shelter, which was a vast improvement over First Friendship. We had our own room, which was extremely small with no private bathroom. But it provided us with privacy until something better came along. I didn’t have to worry that if my daughter got sick we would have to get up and leave.
Every opportunity that I have had since then, I have advocated for families still stuck at the First Friendship shelter long after I had left. I had an opportunity to speak with Supervisor Dean Preston shortly after he was elected about my experience in First Friendship. He then took the time to go to the shelter himself and see the conditions in which families are living.
Then, COVID-19 happened. Because of the risks posed by the pandemic, the congregate First Friendship shelter was shut down, and an opportunity arose for families to have a private space to eat, bathe and sleep. A place where if your child is sick, they are able to stay and rest. This is what the Oasis family shelter offers to homeless families.
By Dominique Griffin
Back in 2020, I was experiencing homelessness with my two young children, and trying to find a way out. After speaking with a few intake workers, CalWORKS staff and housing workers, my family was finally placed in the Oasis hotel through the Coordinated Entry system.
I arrived in the middle of November 2020, and once I got my key with excitement and nerves, I entered my room. To my surprise, it looked really nice. The room was huge! It might have had something to do with us being placed in the corner room, or maybe we had gotten lucky, but either way I was very blessed and pleased. My kids were just as in love with the place as I was: It was peace of mind, it was a hot shower every night, it was space. Shoot, it was our new home. The room had lots of closet space, more than enough room for all of our clothes, and the bathroom was spacious, with a working shower and tub (great for relaxing bubble baths)! There were lots of tables and chairs, and room for other items and a place to sit other than on the bed. The beds were very comfortable and there were only two, so I of course shared my bed with my 9-year-old daughter and my oldest son. My 14-year-old got the second bed alone!
The other great thing about living at the hotel was that we got meals three times a day. Breakfast might include a breakfast burrito, pancakes (to re-heat), oatmeal that you can make yourself, or cereal and milk. Lunch was hot food: chicken with veggies and bread, tacos or fried fish. Dinner sometimes included a roast with potatoes, hamburgers and fries, or pizza—some days, it was hit-or-miss, taste-wise, so I learned to get seasoning and hot sauce just in case! But some days it was so bad, I would have to pay out of pocket for some tasty fast food.
Another awesome bonus was that we went from getting $40 per month for washing our clothes to the shelter providing laundry services. We would put our clothes in a huge bag, set it out by our door on a Monday morning, and our clothes would be back by Wednesday morning with all clothes not only washed, but folded—even socks and underwear!
Once the shelter found a good case worker, I was able to meet with him or her once a week to talk about all of my needs such as housing-, job- and school-related items to get me on track while staying at the shelter. I also was a part of the weekly meeting to discuss other needs, such as how my stay was at the shelter, if my neighbors were being cool or if there was anything wrong in my room. Since this was a shelter-in-place hotel, I was able to get room service, but only once a week on Fridays. A housekeeper would vacuum, take trash out, change the sheets, make our beds, and clean the bathroom. She always did an awesome job. She also always liked how clean I kept my room—this might also have something to do with my OCD!
Staff was always helpful; they did three check-ins per day—morning, noon and night—to make sure you were safe and alive and to make sure you didn’t need anything. When you did, they were really great about helping.
Oasis was unlike any other shelter that I have been at. It was by far the best one, hands down. It felt like a right-place, right-time situation for me. It was not overbearing for me at all. I loved this place. I was one of few residents that really saw this opportunity as more than just a shelter, but instead as a way to really use what I had and to make something out of my time while I was there.
Since then I have been able to find stable housing in Pittsburg, CA. I really appreciate the second chance. This was really life-changing for me, and I know it will be for a lot of other families like mine.