The Jelani House, run by the Mission-based nonprofit Homeless Prenatal Program, opened Monday and will start welcoming pregnant homeless women as early as Tuesday. The transitional house is the first of its kind for San Francisco.
“No pregnant woman should have to sleep in a car and no baby should ever have to sleep in a tent,” Martha Ryan, the executive director of Homeless Prenatal Program, said at an opening ceremony Monday.
The house, located at 1601 Quesada Ave. in Bayview-Hunters Point, is a “game-changer for the city,” Mayor London Breed said. The biggest challenge for homeless women “is access to affordable housing,” Breed said. Here, women will get the “wrap-around love” that they need to thrive.
It offers 17 private rooms to women at any stage of pregnancy for up to one year post-partum. In each room, lying on the bed, were care bags with a written note welcoming the residents. In the bag, residents will find things such as breast pumps, nursing bras and other breastfeeding supplies.
“We hope this is a place to rest, a place of dignity,” Director of Programs at HPP Lilli Milton said as she gave tours of the sunroom, a quiet and light-filled room with sofa chairs, changing pads for babies, and a baby scale.
The house, which used to be a convent and then hosted a program for people dealing with substance abuse, had been closed for several years before HPP toured it.
“It’s like magic to see this place today when I think back to what it was like when we first toured it two or three years ago,” said Jelani House’s program manager Angela Rasmussen.
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The hope with such housing is to stop the cycle of homelessness for people over several generations. At the opening event, Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Jeff Kositsky explained that intervening as early as possible is the best way to break the intergenerational cycle.
“What we’re really trying to avoid is for women to go back into a shelter after being here,” Milton explained.
To try to prevent that from happening, Jelani’s staff will work with each resident during their stay. “We’re working on the whole person,” said Rasmussen.
There are plans to offer nutrition, parenting and financial classes as well as group therapy and yoga. Residents will be taught how to save money each month so they can leave Jelani with some savings to cover moving costs.
Rasmussen said she’s excited about the community-building that will be happening here. Previous programs she’s run have had residents spread out at different hotels in the Mission District, which wasn’t ideal. “Here, moms will have the ability to talk to one another and really help each other,” she said.
Breed said: “I am hopeful that the work that we will continue to do at city hall will help the city get to a better place so we have more affordable housing options for them so that we get to a point where we don’t necessarily have a need for a place like this.”