It remains uncertain whether Mission Neighborhood Centers will continue to operate in Bernal Dwellings public housing due to city budget cuts. But residents and volunteers said they need the office in the neighborhood.
The center, they said, has done a good job advocating for residents with problems and has helped make Bernal Dwellings a safer place.
Santiago Ruiz, executive director of Mission Neighborhood Centers, said its program in Bernal Dwellings was able to run thanks to an $80,000 violence-prevention grant from the city.
He said the grant would run out on June 30 as a result of the city’s $6 million cut in violence-prevention programs.
“The competition to get the funding from the violence-prevention grants would be fierce [because of the cut],” he said of the proposed budget of $10 million compared to last year’s $16 million.
“[The center] has helped me a lot to pass through the eviction charge against me,” said Laura Gi, a 60-year-old resident who recently reached a settlement agreement with the public housing managing agent McCormack Baron Ragan. “If it was not here, I would not know where to go.”
Based on the center’s data, 90 residents at Bernal Dwellings are currently assisted by the center. Ginale Harris, the only paid staff member, and a slew of volunteers help residents resolve court, school and workplace problems. There are 160 families living in the complex of townhouses and apartments.
The center also provides other services such as a violence-prevention programs, girls’ group activities, mentoring and tutoring, and a food-donation delivery. It also raises money from individuals, organizations and firms to take Bernal families to Disneyland—a $7,500 trip in June that still needs funding as there’s no donor yet for this year’s trip.
“Young people can do positive activities in the center such as helping kids to study, playing games, and making friends,” said Joyce Allen-Jones, another resident. “If the center is not here, the youth would have been on the street with gangsters and drugs.”
When a reporter from Mission Loc@l visited the center several times on Wednesday, more than 10 boys and girls dropped by for help. They chatted with one another, and helped Harris do paperwork. Sometimes they played games on the computers.
Some of those who visited, like Norrisha River, 15, no longer live in Bernal Dwellings. Nevertheless, River and others continue to volunteer at the center to keep in touch with friends. High school student Britney Snook, 16, is another former resident who now interns at the center.
“I learn to tackle public-housing resident problems from the Mission Neighborhood Centers as I summarize various papers such as court papers for the center,” Snook said. “I can be an intern here as I often visited the center to help kids do their homework when I still lived in Bernal Dwellings.”
Three to four families also came to the center to talk to Harris about new developments at the complex.
On the same day, more than 35 residents showed up at its second office in the complex for the food donation that occurs on Wednesdays between 1 and 3 p.m. Luana McAlpine, a volunteer and former Bernal Dwellings resident, said sometimes 70 residents will pick up food.
McAlpine, helped by a handful of volunteers, packaged the food from the San Francisco Food Bank, and gave it to the residents.
“This food program only occurred when the center opened almost two years ago,” said Terry Hall, 46, a volunteer who moved from Bernal Dwellings to Bay View in early April.
Before Mission Neighborhood Centers, which has its main office on Capp Street, came to the neighborhood in December 2007, Safety Networks ran different programs and the residents also conducted their own programs, according to David Mouroff, McCormack Baron Ragan’s area manager.
If the cuts come, Mission Neighborhood Centers’ executive director Ruiz said they would explore the possibility of funding the office at Bernal through the Family Resource Center and some money available for Head Start under Obama’s stimulus package.
The Family Resource Center is jointly run by the city’s Human Services Agency, the Department of Children, Youth and their Families (DCYF), and First 5.
A program manager from DCYF who visited Bernal Dwellings thought the Mission Neighborhood Centers program in the complex was more consistent with the goals of the Family Resource Center than the violence-prevention grant, since so many services are provided to adults.
However, residents and volunteers worry that seeking a new grant could mean the Mission Neighborhood Centers program in Bernal Dwellings may not get funded at all.
“If the center is closed, we fear crime in the neighborhood will increase as young people have no good activities anymore and go to streets,” Allen-Jones said.
Emma Brown contributed to this piece.