Susan Vela at work

I help people get and keep jobs; I am really good at it.

I work for the Department of Psychiatry at U.C.S.F. Psychiatrists and therapists and social workers and case managers send me their clients who want to work. These are often people who have what are euphemistically called “barriers to employment.” They usually are on disability, have not worked in years, and have been either incarcerated or hospitalized for long times.

Big barriers to employment.

But in San Francisco, California, we say, “To hell with those barriers!”

I can get you a job even if, as William said to me, “I been in 12 penitentiaries in 8 states.”

(He now works with mentally ill ex-offenders as a peer counselor.)

I can get you a job if you can’t speak or understand English, if you barely finished third grade, if you hear voices (suffer from schizophrenia), or if you attacked your parents with a Samurai sword.

I can get you a job even if we Google your name and find out that, a long time ago, you did some very very bad things.

I can get you a job if you wear an ankle monitor, if your face is tattooed from forehead to chin, if you killed your dog during a psychotic break, and if you must have a service parrot always on your shoulder, (the wharf!)

And I can get you a job if you are narcissistic, grandiose, unpleasant and malodorous (recycling!).

I can get you a job if you are in a wheelchair and have a drinking problem.

Clients with mental illness feel better when they work part-time; their symptoms diminish as their bottom line improves. There is something out there for everyone, and I find it.

But, to my immense sorrow and chagrin, I have not been able to get Susan a job, SUSAN who has NONE of those so-called barriers.

I am old, but I cannot retire until I get Susan a job.

Susan, who should have been the easiest placement on my caseload.

Susan, who is witty, charming, resilient, reliable, punctual, bright, compassionate, a native daughter of San Francisco.

Susan, who, for the past five years, has accumulated thousands of volunteer hours as a beloved patient ambassador at the front lobby of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, the busiest, chaotic-est trauma center in the city.

Susan is blind, yet she spends her days escorting patients to appointments, calling them cabs, directing visitors, patients and delivery vendors to their departments. Susan had a full work history in customer service before losing her vision. She can memorize names, numbers, stats, and directions. Susan sports a red beret and counts Betty Boop among her role models.

Susan lives on $775 a month in a single room occupancy hotel in a Dante’s Inferno-like block in the Tenderloin. Some 50 percent of her check pays her rent.

Susan, who saves up her pennies so she can take Caltrain to Great America and ride the rollercoaster. Susan, who was a victim of terrible childhood abuse and has diabetic retinopathy, and no close relatives left.

She has been abysmally failed by all the government and nonprofit agencies whose mandate it is to recruit and hire people with disabilities. But she is not bitter or mad (that would be me) and she remains consistently cheerful, upbeat, courageous, and recently memorized all the MUNI lines.

She found me after being a client of the California Department of Rehabilitation (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Napa offices, all!) LEAP program (if you have a disability, you get to LEAP over others), the San Francisco City and County Office for Workforce Development ACE Program (to give people with documented disabilities an interview), and the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Susan seeks a part-time job as a greeter, lobby attendant, front desk person, or cheerful presence, to supplement her Social Security.

Temp agencies reject her because she cannot use a computer. She cannot. The Convention Centers don’t hire her cause she can’t see to scan the badges of attendees. I have the most glowing letters of recommendation about her from the hospital Volunteer Department. If you would like to interview her, please contact me at I can’t retire until she has a job. So, as they say, thanks in advance for your consideration.

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  1. Thank you thank you for writing and your support for my sister. Susie was born at St Francis. Mom was 49 when Susie was born. The doctor was Dr Lorenz. Mom went to Gallo High during the depression and worked at the Armory on mission and van Ness during the war making large bullets and bombs. Our dad was admitted to the VA hospital right before the war ended when he was flipped and found unconscious after a 16 inch gun went off during an attack in the South pacific aboard ship when he was making inspections. He had way way more than ptsd. I can still remember him trembling any time a car door closed during the 50s. He was the most vile, viscous rage aholic man that ever was. He would beat and curse my Mom, brother,Susie and I until he sweated and was exhausted. I still have belt marks on me from when I was 6. You can not imagine what Susie went through. John also terrorized her when I wasn’t around. A nite Margaret is still alive and living on aggorro.

  2. Maybe Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital can pay her to do the job she’s been doing and is good at! Mark?