While one-stop-shops like Amazon and Wal-Mart get a bad rap, one supercenter in the Mission has been doing it right — and actively expanding its reach around town to create a model for delivering social services to communities.
It began with the pandemic: As Covid-19 disproportionately ravaged the Latino community, a coalition of community-based organizations, now known as the Latino Task Force, joined forces and sprang into action, opening a resource hub at 701 Alabama St. Services that were once scattered around the Mission set up tables side by side to meet clients, transforming the ballroom-like second floor into a mini-mall for essential services.
Over the course of the pandemic, the idea took off. The Latino Task Force now has two hubs in the Bayview and one in the Excelsior, and a Samoan “hut,” also in the Bayview, is opening today. Inside, Samoan-language speakers and nonprofits dedicated to the Pacific Islander community will work with the large community based there.
“There were a lot of studies on the academic side about collective impact models, the importance of [collaborative methods],” said Sheryl Davis, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. But few actual models existed, because each nonprofit already had its own established brick-and-mortar space.
Covid pushed theory into practice.
Today, though much of the city has reopened, people still rely on the hubs, and many nonprofits and community leaders hope the model is here to stay.
“I think if the Latino Task Force hubs are going to continue [to stay] open, MEDA is going to be there,” said Mission Economic Development Agency’s Community Planning Manager Dairo Romero. Romero has been working out of the 701 Alabama St. hub for a year and a half now, and has promotoras working at the Bayview and Excelsior hubs.
What began as a safe space to meet in the early stages of the pandemic is now advantageous for clients and service providers alike, Romero said. First, there’s the obvious benefit of not having to run around town to get different services, a difficult feat for people with busy work schedules, limited transportation access, and childcare responsibilities.
DionJay Brookter, the executive director of Young Community Developers, said his nonprofit has seen great success working out of hubs, which can “service more of a whole individual.” YCD started by sending volunteers to support the Mission hub; today, the organization manages the hub at 1800 Oakdale Ave. in the Bayview.
Not only is it more efficient for clients to come to one location for all their needs, Brookter said, but being at the resource hub allows people to stumble upon nonprofits, like his, that they may otherwise have never found.
“I think it also accounts for residents who sometimes may fall through the cracks,” Brookter said. For example, someone who might need a referral to a different organization, but instead of being directed to another part of town that might be difficult to get to, they are pointed to the next table.
YCD hasn’t fully returned to its seven brick-and-mortar locations, and Brookter imagines the future will involve a hybrid of working out of the YCD offices people are familiar with, as well as offering services out of resource centers.
“I think you’re gonna see a lot more of that. I think collaboration, for us, has been at an all-time high,” Brookter said. “Coming out of this, we understand we all have to work together.”
Once the LTF had laid the groundwork with the first hub, replicating it and tweaking certain aspects to the Bayview community was all it took, Brookter said.
When visiting a hub, a visitor fills out an intake form and, depending on their needs, is taken to speak with a representative from any of the various nonprofit organizations available under one roof. The idea is to simplify, and remove barriers to access: People working the hub not only speak the language of their clients, they often come from similar backgrounds, and the community trusts them.
For government services, the hub is a familiar space in one’s neighborhood, instead of a stuffy office downtown.
“I think that the city should replicate that model for other communities,” said Romero of MEDA. “In some of the neighborhoods, they don’t have the level of service that the Mission has.”
Just between January and June of this year, the hubs that were open served 5,844 people. Since receiving a $6.4 million grant this summer from the city through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to last through June, 2022 — more than double the $3 million they got in September, 2020 — the hubs have already provided services to about 4,000 people.
Investing in community
And, while the hubs have been a lifeline for people needing a little support during a pandemic, they also serve to reinforce and strengthen community ties. Those staffing the hubs have been, in large part, young adults, many from within the community.
“At least 50 percent of our Latino Task Force workforce are actually young adults between the ages of 18 to 24,” said Ruth Barajas-Cardona, the director of Workforce and Education Programs for Bay Area Community Resources, which oversees all five hubs.
These young adults who might have otherwise been passed over because of age or lack of experience, can work their way up within the organization and develop important skills, Barajas-Cardona said. “They’re getting picked up in jobs, you know, making 25, 30 dollars an hour at 22 years old.”
Davis, from the Human Rights Commission, recognized the strength of the idea early on, and offered the Latino Task Force all the help she could. She sees the hubs as a way of “investing in community” by building a workforce of people with a “deeper pull” to their work within their community beyond getting a paycheck.
There are other resource centers sprinkled around the city that try, on a smaller scale, to achieve what the Latino Task Force has. But many agree the LTF hubs have taken the concept to another level.
Any egos were set aside, said Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, the Latino Task Force coordinator. It also helped that many of the Mission nonprofit organizations and community leaders had existing relationships.
“They know the history, they know the story,” said Davis, suggesting that the city should have collaborated more with community organizations before there was ever a pandemic to contend with. Over time, Davis said, the Department of Public Health increasingly allowed the community to take the lead.
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development also acknowledged its own limitations as a government body, and the need to work with the community to achieve results.
“There’s never been a model like what we see at the essential service hubs, because government can often end up in silos,” despite good intentions, said Director of Workforce Development Josh Arce, who called the resource hubs “the most coordination of services across multiple city agencies, and even state and federal resources that I’ve ever seen in my time doing this work.”
Arce said there could be “any number of reasons why someone may not trust to go to a government office … to get vital resources,” whether it be limited English, immigration status, or involvement in the criminal justice system. He said 83 percent of hub clients indicated that they speak Spanish exclusively or as a second language, and many speak Cantonese, Arabic, Russian, and Indigenous languages.
Although he couldn’t say for certain what the future holds for resource hubs in terms of city funding, Arce said he lives a few blocks away from 701 Alabama St., and that he’s “seen the success and the impact first-hand.”
Tracy Brown-Gallardo, who is on the executive committee of the Latino Task Force and an aide to District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, said she’s confident that the city recognizes the value of the hubs.
And even while Brown-Gallardo says she and her colleagues will “cross our fingers and pray that the mayor still sees these hubs as a priority,” it’s clear that she is leaving little to chance in the run up to final budget decisions this summer. Already, she and others are lining up their budget requests and requesting meetings with the mayor.