The art of helping the homeless

The Art Of Helping The Homeless

Keeping history in mind while supporting those in need

When Amber Cavarlez began her current job, as assistant director for a residential mental health treatment facility, she found herself casting about for services she could offer to residents. “I was trying to figure out resources for the clients we serve,” Cavarlez said. “One of my friends works at Hospitality House as a development manager, and I thought we should join forces. My clients are seeking ways to be engaged in a community. They’re homeless also. So how can we work together so my clients are able to have resources, and feel heard?”

A community arts and assistance organization located at Sixth and Market Streets in San Francisco, Hospitality House sits at a locus for some of the city’s least well off citizens. As Cavarlez began to learn more about the organization, she found herself drafted into a volunteer role there, and she has been happy to donate her time for the last three or four years.

The organization, which was founded in 1967, has a number of different programs, Cavarlez says, including a self-help center, a shelter program, a community building, employment services, and a community arts program that includes an annual auction, from which Hospitality House derives “a large source of our funding,” she says.

It’s important to remember the people and history and maybe some of the traumas that have happened, so we can make sure resources are maintained for all

That’s where Cavarlez comes in. “I’m on the art auction committee,” Cavarlez told Good Turns recently. In her role, she leads “silent prize acquisition,” reaching out to artists and community members to donate items to be sold in a silent auction that takes place alongside the live auction at the end of the night. “The live auction has huge names. Last year there was Barry McGee‘s art and displayed right next to him was someone from the community arts program. So it’s a really fun way for me and Hospitality House to reach out to other organizations and let them know we’re here and see how we can maintain a partnership.”

This year’s auction will be held May 9 at The Midway Gallery on the edge of San Francisco’s up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood. (Tickets are on sale now.)

“The auction is a huge implementing factor for us to be able to maintain services,” Cavarlez says. The arts program is “a real hub for civic engagement. There are studios for low-income artists, there’s everything from ceramics to drawing classes. It’s a way for people to come in and do art and start to get integrated into the community. Every other Friday they hold exhibitions where a lot of the artists are shown and people can sell their art. It’s really a way for people to show their art and have the tools to feel heard around whatever creativity they want to showcase.”

“What we primarily focus on is celebrating creativity, strengthening community, and rebuilding the lives of Bay Area artists who are formerly unhoused or incarcerated,” Cavarlez said. “I’m a really big advocate of community and how we can help each other out, especially with what’s going on in San Francisco right now. Hospitality House is based in the Tenderloin, and that is a prime spot for huge changes. A lot of the surrounding areas are companies coming in that maybe don’t know very much about the history that’s been going on there, the participants and the artists and activists that have been living on those streets for quite a while. It’s important to remember the people and history and maybe some of the traumas that have happened, so we can all be culturally competent about what’s happening, and make sure resources are not taken away but rather spread out evenly and maintained for all.”

It’s a good point. But in this case, the important resource is the time of volunteers like Cavarlez. If you’re in San Francisco in May, stop by the auction. And if not, see if you can spend some of your own time on as good a cause. You—and the city you live in—will be glad you did.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Henderson

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