San Francisco has 23 more places lined up for “justice-involved” transitional-aged youth to sleep and regain their footing — at the Norma Hotel, an SRO at the corner of 23rd and Mission. 

“It’s almost like a ladder of success,” said Lauren Bell, the director of the San Francisco Adult Probation Department’s re-entry division. 

The beds are set aside for young people between the ages of 18 and 35 who have been impacted in some way by the criminal justice system. That could mean struggles with substance abuse, petty crimes or having been incarcerated for a serious felony. 

The Norma Hotel is master-leasing the beds to the city and, in turn, the Recovery Survival Network, a nonprofit that helps justice-involved individuals re-enter society. The Norma was built in 1885 and currently has 24 rooms, with six rooms occupied by previous tenants, and the others dedicated to the program. 

The one-year program will provide shelter for these young people, while removing barriers for re-entry, stabilizing their lives, and positioning them for success in the future, according to Bell. The services include helping job placement, mentorships, and finding permanent housing. With the Norma Hotel coming online, Adult Probation now provides around 177 such beds, Bell said. The program at the Norma is $69,000 per month to operate, which Bell said is standard for this kind of program. 

“The services allow you to look at the landscape holistically and connect the dots,” said Steve Adami, the re-entry services manager at the probation department. “That’s the challenge when you get out of prison — there’s so much to do, so many obstacles in the way because they’re not things you’ve had to do before.” 

Adami would know: He spent two decades addicted to drugs, and in and out of prison and jail, before he was “paroled into a treatment program,” and eventually placed in a housing-oriented re-entry program. It gave him the solid ground he needed to go back to school and eventually earn a master’s degree. Now, he works with Adult Probation, helping people do the same. 

Steve Adami (center), the Adult Probation Department’s re-entry services manager, addresses visitors at the Norma Hotel on Friday 11/15/19. Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus (left). Sophie Diagne, a Recovery Survival Network case manager (right). Photo by Julian Mark.

At the Norma, there are seven single rooms, six double rooms, and one dorm with four beds. On a recent open house, the dorm room, with its bunk beds, was clean and inviting, with light pouring in through large windows that overlook Mission Street. 

Residents are selected through referral by so-called “justice partners” like Adult Probation, the state Parole Department, and other nonprofits that work with transitional aged youth. After the referrals, applicants will do interviews and eventually submit for a lottery. 

“You don’t need to be on probation to be here,” Adami said. “You just have to have had some touch with the justice system.” 

Sheenia Branner, who will be overseeing the program at the Norma with the Recovery Survival Network, said she was also justice-involved and that will inform her work with the residents. 

Branner stressed that the most difficult part of re-entry is “to try to stay focused in school, try to get a job — but not knowing where you’re going to lay your head.” 

In her role as a housing program manager and as a case manager, Branner will be working intimately with the residents, whom she called her peers, to “work with their housing needs and work with their life needs.”

“For me, I enjoy my job because I work with my peers,” she said. “The one thing about the criminal justice system, you’re supposed to be judged by your peers — you’re supposed to learn from your peers.”