A Historic Hotel Helps the Homeless

As San Francisco’s real estate market has skyrocketed, many of the city’s nonprofit organizations have found themselves squeezed out. That happened a couple of years ago to At the Crossroads (ATC). For two decades, the organization has been providing services to underserved homeless youth and young adults in San Francisco. Four nights a week, ATC’s outreach counselors hit the streets of San Francisco, striking up conversations with homeless youths and handing out much-needed supplies from their backpacks— everything from sandwiches to condoms, from soap to socks.

 

They’ve built up relationships with thousands of young people, sometimes going back 15 years or more. They also invite folks back for weekly one-on-one sessions at ATC’s offices during the day, where they have a wider and more substantial array of supplies to offer, and where their clients can talk about whatever they want, with no judgment. The goal is to listen, help connect them to the services they need, and work with them to build healthy and fulfilling lives.

 

ATC has been leasing its office space in the Mission district since 1998. Then, in 2015, the building was sold, and the organization had to find a new home. Prospects looked grim. But with the help of the city and some empty space in a historic hotel, ATC now has a new home close to its client base.

 

It was in 1999 that San Francisco’s redevelopment agency sold a parcel of land at the corner of Third and Mission streets to a private developer. The agreement stipulated that the façade of the four-story Jessie Hotel, dating back to 1912, would be incorporated into the 40-story mixed-use tower the developer planned to build. The city also required the developer to set aside space in the tower—15,000 square feet on multiple floors—to lease to the California Historical Society for $1 a year for 99 years.

 

The exterior of the rehabilitated building on Jessie Street. Photo: Architectural Resources Group

 

The building was completed in 2001. The California Historical Society later decided to relinquish about two-thirds of its space. As part of the city’s Nonprofit Displacement Mitigation Program, the developer agreed to lease about 5,000 square feet on two floors of the historic Jessie Hotel to San Francisco for 87 years. The city then looked for the right nonprofit organization to sublease the space to, and out of a group of 20, selected ATC. ATC pays just $1 a year.

 

The space had never been occupied and was about as raw as they come—it was essentially a concrete shell, without even any internal walls. Fortunately, the city also provided money to help fund tenant improvements. That was where we came in. On the third floor, we created private offices and storage space. On the fourth floor, we incorporated several rooms where the organization’s clients meet with outreach counselors. There are also restrooms and a kitchenette.

 

New kitchenette space on the third floor. Photo: Bernard Andre Photography

 

During the design process, visibility within the space was extremely important, as was privacy, both for the staff and the clients. Rob Gitin, who cofounded ATC, and the rest of the staff were very thoughtful about the whole process. Every decision the organization made was an investment in the staff and their clients.

 

New lounge and social space with cheerful accents. Photo: Bernard Andre Photography

 

It’s so fortunate that ATC was able to find a home in San Francisco. It’s not as if they could just move to Oakland or another city. The organization has built so many long-term relationships with its clients, and having a space close to where these youths are is essential. We were pleased to be able to create ATC’s new digs—in acknowledgment of the organization’s crucial role in the city, we provided over 50 percent of our labor pro bono.

 

If you’d like to get a better sense of ATC’s work, check out this short video on their website: https://atthecrossroads.org/whoweare.html. ATC has made a huge difference in the lives of those who need help the most. We were happy to be a small part of making their work possible, and delighted that a historic structure could find new life as a place to work on solving this highly contemporary crisis.

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