Humanizing Homelessness: Miracle Messages Launches in Union Square


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Humanizing Homelessness: Miracle Messages Launches in Union Square

Using technology to help people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco


San Francisco, CA – The Union Square Business Improvement District has launched a new pilot program in partnership with Miracle Messages to support people in need within the Union Square community. Miracle Messages is a nonprofit organization that creates connections for individuals experiencing homelessness to their support networks, including long lost family and friends. Through compassionate outreach, this partnership focuses on treating homeless individuals as people to love, not problems to solve.

Founder and CEO, Kevin Adler, started Miracle Messages in honor of his Uncle Mark, who lived on the streets for 30 years.

“1 out 3 individuals experiencing homelessness are affected by relational poverty with severe implications for being on the streets, says Adler. It’s not uncommon to meet an individual who’s been living on the streets for 20 years or more in San Francisco. These cases of chronically homelessness can have their lives changed by our ability to reconnect these disconnected and displaced folks through compassionate outreach.”

Through peer-to-peer outreach, formerly homeless individuals and other volunteers head out onto the streets and alleys around the Union Square area and provide a friendly face to reach out to those in need. Volunteers start by asking simple questions such as:

·         What is your name?

·         Where are you from?

·         How long have you been homeless?

·         Is there a family member or friend who you haven’t seen in a while that you need help re-connecting with?

Once the conversation develops, volunteers then ask if they can record a short video of the homeless individual asking their long lost loved ones for help. Finally, volunteers take all the data provided and create a ‘Miracle Message’ in order to search for relatives and friends online using social media. Since launching in Union Square on October 2018:

·         110 interactions have taken place between volunteers and homeless individuals

·         17 messages have been recorded

·         11 messages have been successfully delivered to friends and relatives

·         6 reunions have occurred

“Homelessness is a complex issue that’s not only facing San Francisco, but impacting our region, state and this country. We are trying to do our part here in Union Square to help provide a proactive and compassionate response on behalf of our community,” says Karin Flood, Executive Director of the Union Square Business Improvement District.

One particular reunion has stood out. Volunteers met a homeless individual, Wayne, at the Powell Street BART station near Union Square. He requested help to get in touch with his mother and sister, with whom had hadn't spoken in 16 years. The volunteers were able to get through to Wayne's niece after discovering that Wayne’s mother had sadly passed away. Upon receiving a message, Wayne’s family drove up to San Francisco to meet Wayne and they have since been meeting regularly. The family is working together to help find Wayne a long-term housing option. This past holiday season, Wayne celebrated with his family, the first time that the family had all been together for the holidays in 20 years.

“Every case is different and all cases will have different outcomes, but it’s certainly a positive start that we are truly proud of,” says Adler. "We hope to continue using this successful outreach model. Every reunion made is special and if we can help get one person off of the streets at a time and into housing, then that one case will turn into two, then three, and so on.”

In December, volunteers met two homeless individuals who were displaced by natural disasters. A thirty year old gentleman had been living in an alley near Union Square since he was displaced by the horrific Santa Rosa fire in 2017. This individual lost everything and volunteers are working toward finding him employment. Another gentleman has not seen his family since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“After the catastrophic effects of a natural disaster reaches far beyond its focal point, it is all too common to find people who’ve been displaced from their city now living for decades on the streets,” says Adler.

There are a number of ways residents, workers, visitors and businesses can get involved. For example. Miracle Messages brought a group of Twitter employees to Union Square as part of the #TwitterforGood volunteer day.

Ways you can help:

1) Walking the streets or visiting a local shelter/partner site with representatives from Miracle Messages

2) Get your company involved by bringing a whole team out to volunteer for one day. Volunteers can sign up:

3) Become a “digital detective” and help track down family and friends

4) Donate to keep programs like this going:

“The term ‘homeless’ is not an all-encompassing definition. And there isn’t a one-size fits all approach. We have people on our streets who are suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. We take pride in this partnership and the outreach we are doing. It’s our job in this corner of the world to humanize the term ‘homeless.’ Together, we can tackle this issue one step at a time,” says Flood.

About the Union Square Foundation: A 501c3 working collaboratively with government partners and district stakeholders to shape the long-term vibrancy of the community with thoughtful public realm investment and homeless services. Tax ID #82-2194802.