How Teens Opened Their Hearts, Became Informed, and Spread the Word to Solve Homelessness

The Jewish Teen Foundation (JTF), a program of the Federation, trains teen Board members to become effective young philanthropists and changemakers. This year, our mission was to assist individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Conducting a series of interviews with nonprofit professionals in the field, we learned about this issue and how we could contribute to the efforts being made to combat it.

Anyone can become homeless, for any number of reasons.

The difference between a housed person and a homeless person is a home, not a disparity in work ethic or capability. We must combat this stigma and stereotyping that homelessness is the person’s fault. The Bay Area has the third-largest homeless population in the country, and our community members deserve better.

Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place order, we continued our work by fundraising and identifying meaningful service projects. Dividing our responsibilities, half the Board learned fundraising skills and put them to use, enabling us to grant $27,000 to vetted mission-aligned organizations: The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP), The Healing WELL, and Faithful Fools. The other half of the Board worked to tackle the issue head-on, spreading awareness about how COVID-19 is affecting the Bay Area homeless population and partnering with Miracle Messages, an organization that reconnects homeless individuals with their loved ones. Within this partnership, we helped to distribute over 2,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and comforted individuals as well as provided them with information.

They are not invisible. They're just people who lost their core foundation of being human – their homes.

Our Board met with a formerly homeless woman living in a single resident occupancy (SRO) facility. She expressed her gratitude to Faithful Fools, an organization that helps the homeless in the Tenderloin, for connecting her with adequate housing and access to a caseworker. She remains affiliated with the organization today as a volunteer. Unfortunately, not everyone experiencing homelessness has access to these resources. She also described the loneliness of living in an SRO during the pandemic, comparing it to living in a prison cell with no visitors and just enough supplies to get by.

People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable members of our community during the pandemic. Shelters and navigation centers filled up quickly in San Francisco, leaving many people without a safe place to self-isolate. The city is working to separate people on the streets and provide them with necessary supplies, but this is a difficult task to accomplish with limited resources and manpower. Many nonprofit organizations are working hard to support the city’s efforts, ensuring the safety of their clients and staff while continuing to provide services to the best of their ability. The government and nonprofit organizations are not solely responsible for assisting people experiencing homelessness. Accountability lies with each of us to lend a helping hand in our community.

There are many ways to pitch in and help.

To make it more convenient, my JTF peers and I have compiled a list of organizations that could use your help in aiding people experiencing homelessness. Financial contributions and supply donations are greatly needed during this difficult time. Many organizations are short on personal protective equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer, but everyday donations including food, hygiene products, clothes, and tents are needed as well. Volunteers can also help by distributing supplies and making phone calls.

We hope that you will join us in supporting the homeless members of our community.

If you encounter a person in need, do not hesitate to offer any assistance you can provide. Everyone appreciates your compassion, whether it comes in the form of food, supplies, or friendly conversation at a safe distance. Please open your heart, stay informed, and spread the word!

Co-authors Emma Kositsky and Amalya Salamo are members of the 2019-20 Jewish Teen Foundation Board.

To learn more about JTF, visit our website or contact Rachel Halevi, JTF Program Director.

Applications for the 2020-2021 Board are open now. Apply today!


July 22, 2020


Emma Kositsky