The bright red sign somewhat illuminated Turk Street’s sidewalk below. I rang the intercom, and just as I was heading up the stairs to the offices above, a young woman grabbed the closing door and gently pushed her way through the tight hallway (made even tighter by a large baby stroller parked at the bottom of the staircase). She sprinted up the stairs with a smile on her face. Following her up to the second floor, I passed beautiful murals and felt a much calmer energy than what was found on the street outside. I peeked into diverse rooms of individuals sitting at long tables, talking, laughing, writing. A small white chihuahua wearing a crimson sweater scurried under my feet as I found Jennifer Freidenbach’s office. The SF Coalition on Homelessness’s Executive Director looked back at me with kind eyes. I sat down on the worn leather couch and tried to peek into this woman’s world, which is so different than many of ours.
As Executive Director, Jennifer Friedenbach has an extremely knowledgeable insight into not only the Coalition on Homelessness, but also the homeless population and all of its individuals. The SF Coalition on Homelessness, according to Freidenbach, aims to, “organize homeless people to create permanent solutions to homelessness while protecting the rights of folks who are forced to stay on the streets.” Their entire agenda is directed by homeless or formerly homeless individuals to assure that the Coalition on Homelessness is making efforts toward needs that truly need to be met. They often fight legislation and lawsuits that are unfair to the homeless population, and are constantly working to get more money from the city budget transferred to help these individuals.
This wasn’t Friedenbach’s original plan. Having grown up in Redwood City, Friedenbach applied at the San Mateo Food Bank for a truck driver position. She was instead placed into an administrative assistant position for The Food Bank, and eventually moved to administration work at the Hunger and Homeless Action Coalition.
“I worked for some really amazing women and really got hooked on it… I saw this as a population where there was so much work to be done and the population was so hated,” Friedenbach said. Friedenbach began her work at the SF Coalition on Homelessness 23 years ago — while the organization was only 7 years old. Initially planning on doing fundraising for the coalition for six months, she ended up fundraising for four years, and then continued on to become the Executive Director.
“The single greatest challenge,” said Friedenbach, “is the hatred of homeless people and this kind of othering of homeless people that exists.” This stigma, on top of an explosion in the homeless population, cuts at the federal level, anti-homeless laws, and the use of homeless people as a scapegoat to avoid political responsibility, have all contributed to the vilifying of the homeless in our city.
“True solutions require real investment in solving the problem,” added Friedenbach. “We are only spending 2.7 of our city budget on solving homelessness; we need the political will to solve the issue.” I believe that if other San Franciscans, including myself, can be inspired by Jennifer Friedenbach’s all-encompassing, loving, political will, we can truly take steps toward ending homelessness in our city. “I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress,” continued Jennifer. “For me personally, I want to try and stick around until at least I can feel like… not that my work is done, but I’ve made enough of a difference that I feel comfortable walking away.”