Helping homeless one home at a time

Thom McClusky stayed in a San Francisco homeless shelter for two nights before giving up and sleeping at the base of Coit Tower for more than two years.

“The shelter was like jail but without the cops,” he recalled. “You had to sleep with one eye open. At Coit, the only thing that bothers you is the raccoons.”

McClusky is one of hundreds of homeless in North Beach, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf who have found permanent housing — and a new life — through the support of North Beach Citizens, an organization founded in 2001 by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

Where other programs often serve as factories helping local homeless transition to shelter on a massive scale, North Beach Citizens takes an individual approach, board member Claudine Cheng said.

“Other groups talk about how many thousands they’ve helped, but when we talk, we talk about individual people by name,” Cheng said. “[Clients] really see us as a family, a positive support system.”

North Beach Citizens helps roughly 450 homeless per year from its small storefront at 720 Columbus Ave., according to case worker Brady McCartney.

The organization operates on a shoestring budget of $250,000 to $300,000 per year, the majority coming from private donations and fundraisers such as Sunday night’s seventh annual dinner, featuring Coppola wines, a full Basque dinner and music from LaVay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

Clients who come to North Beach Citizens are given help obtaining an identification card and then housing — the first step in putting their lives together, McCartney said.

“They need a place where they have their own door to lock, a place to decompress,” McCartney said. “Then we address any mental health or addiction issues they have.”

Even after they’re on their own, many clients — like McClusky — come back regularly for lunch or to volunteer.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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