For many of the Mission’s homeless and marginally housed women, Ladies’ Night at the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center are where it’s at. “It” being hot dinner, good company, conversation, and the occasional game. It’s a tradition that’s been upheld at the center for 14 years.
These are fixtures of any evening gathering, but in this case ladies’ night also offers free access to tampons, clean needles, and clothes. Those services, available at tables set up around the room and staffed by women, might be available elsewhere, but the welcoming atmosphere is key.
“You can go to any drop in center, it’s not like here,” said Britain Jeb Creech, who has volunteered at Ladies’ Night on Capp Street for years. Elsewhere, Creech said, it’s chaotic, people are unhappy, the staff and volunteers are condescending. Here, “Our motto is Capp Street love.”
A the evening progresses, someone wheels a cart in and the smell of hot pizza wafts around the room. Later, at the needle exchange, a woman proudly tells volunteers the story of how she used Narcan to save a man from overdose. Then she belts out a rendition of “Silent Night” for the whole room of about thirty women.
Not all of the women who regularly attend the resource center’s weekly women’s evening are homeless, but many live in tents or shelters.
Rayne Brandt stumbled across the weekly event when she happened to be waiting to access her bed at the Resource Center’s shelter and ladies’ night was going on. There, she met Melissa Breckenridde, who has been attending for about three years.
“It was fun. I didn’t know what to expect,” Brandt said. “The ladies were getting down into karaoke. That’s how we became friends.”
Brandt told Breckenridde she looked familiar, and though they didn’t figure out if they’d met before, they got to talking about their mutual love of video games.
“It’s a place where women can get together and have a nice meal,” Breckenridde said. “It’s a safe place.”
Brandt lives at a shelter now, but returned to Ladies’ Night for the second time on Thursday.
“You need a safe haven, a place you can be comfortable and let your hair down,” she said.
Amanda Chapple is one of the unhoused who came through on a recent Thursday evening. She calls her situation in a tent on Folsom street “living in the wild.”
She came to San Francisco with her father six months ago, and the pair sold magazines. When he took the company van, he was sent to jail, she said. Now the 32-year-old is on the streets, with one stint at the Navigation Center already under her belt.
Chapple came to pick up needles, pads, lotion, shampoo, and dinner. Eventually she hopes to get into another shelter (she was told at the Navigation Center she would be welcomed back, but wasn’t sure why she was asked to leave). For now, she keeps to herself.
“I’m happy that I’m here, it’s always good to have something to do,” said Rita Roybal, who used to come to the resource center for a variety of assistance and now lives at the shelter Jazzie’s Place.
Roybal feels at ease at Ladies’ Night.
“Being able to be myself and get along with the other women,” she said, is the main attraction. “When it’s not women’s night there’s a bunch of racket, a lot of drama going on.”
That was the idea that sparked the tradition, according to Vero Majano, one of the women who runs the resource center.
“Ladies’ Night was created just to have a space for women to feel safer,” she said. “If you come in to regular working hours here, you’ll see that it’s mostly occupied by men. And at the time, the women were requesting for a space for themselves.”
Majano said that at least from what she’s seen in her 13 years working at the resource center, women are more likely to die violently or from health concerns while on the streets than men.
In fact, she said, most of the women who initiated the tradition of Ladies Night have since passed away.
The evening is open to anyone who identifies as female – making it a safe haven for trans women as well. It’s also a place for sex workers to come in and feel like they are “off the job,” and one of the few needle exchange programs in the country operated by and geared toward women.
Gabriela Rodezno, in her third year of law school and on her way to becoming a public defender, has volunteered at ladies’ night for about nine years.
“This block used to be a lot of working girls, and they noticed that during the day they wouldn’t come in,” she said — during the day is when men are allowed in. “It’s just a safe space for our women’s community.”
Perhaps just as importantly, ladies’ night is a constant. It happens every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“A lot of the people we serve, consistency is not a privilege [they have],” Majano explained. “We have been able to offer the service of consistency, that’s one of the services we provide here.”
Cristina Garcia, who, although housed, comes to the center on Ladies Night for the company, and has been coming for more than a year.
“I find this group is very good support,” she said. A year ago, her son had a personal crisis. In difficult times, a friend invited her to the resource center.
Her son is medicated and doing better these days, Garcia said, but she still comes by on Thursday nights.
That community element is the key, Majano said.
“People just make community, they look out for each other,” she said.