Yoga, meditation and quiet: Homeless people in the Tenderloin flock to healing nonprofit – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: December 30, 2019 at 8:47 pm

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For much of the past year, Tim Long has crawled out of his sleeping bag in whatever alley he hunkered down in the night before, and headed to one spot in the Tenderloin. Its not a soup kitchen. Its not a welfare office.

Long, 59, goes to this one spot for yoga. And acupuncture. And 12-step addiction recovery meetings. He sometimes gets lunch there, too, but thats not why Long and nearly 200 other homeless and poor people come to the Healing Well in San Francisco every month.

They come to feed their souls. That may sound a bit fuzzy but time after time, thats how the Healing Well is described by those whove been coming to it since it was founded in the heart of the gritty Tenderloin four years ago.

During the holidays, with all the special stress they can bring to those who are already traumatized by living outside or hanging on financially by their fingernails, the Healing Well seems to be needed more than ever.

When youre out there in the street, you think nobody cares about you, and you get to where you dont care about anything but getting loaded, finding a place to sleep, getting money, Long said the other day after attending the centers daily 12-step meeting. But here, theyre honest. Nice. They care. You get to a place like this, with things to do and nice people to talk to, and it takes the place of doing dope.

Its healing, like the name of the place says, said Long, who recently moved into a Navigation Center shelter and is working with case managers to find permanent housing. I need that, especially around this time of year. Lot of memories. Im trying to get things together, and this helps.

Thats exactly what the Healing Well founder and Director Kathy Curran, 56, was aiming for when she started the center at the nearby Faithful Fools Street Ministry headquarters in 2015. Curran was a longtime community organizer and affordable housing specialist, and she said she had an epiphany while walking through the Tenderloin, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city.

I was always looking at homeless people with the thought of what do they need? And how do I respond? she said. And then, instead, I realized we need to look at what peoples strengths are.

She runs the nonprofit center on grants, donations and a few contracts with places like Glide Memorial Church for special classes, and two years ago moved to her present location on Eddy Street. There are only two full-time employees, Curran and an assistant director, and two part-timers.

Yoga, meditation, poetry, tai chi, acupuncture, the 12-step addiction peer group, creative writing all the classes are free, and run almost exclusively by 50 volunteers who are writers, teachers, artists or students whove become proficient at their craft.

Nearly 200 people a month come to the daily sessions, and with about a dozen annual free field trips to parks, the beach, gardens and other locations, the program touches about 500 people a month.

This place works because of the strong community we build here, Curran said. Its about recognizing in each other that we are all more than our needs. We all have talent, passion and dreams, and if we meet one another with our strengths, then we can move forward. Heal. Grow.

John Matsui, 50, lives in nearby supportive housing and said he finds that expressing himself in a weekly poetry session helps him deal with post-traumatic stress from being attacked several years ago. In one gathering led by author and actor Chris Rodgers, he free-wrote: Work hard every day with odd-shaped stone. Toil, boil and trouble defines muscle and bone ... be well, be blessed.

Im a buoyant person, but poverty and disability can drive you down, Matsui said. This place is where I come to be able to find my human voice again.

One typical morning at the center started with a yoga class of five people sitting peacefully in the Healing Wells large meeting room. Everything is designed to calm: Honey-hued wooden floors, soothing green and beige colors all around, and two walls consisting almost entirely of glass.

Outside, a woman screamed at someone over a stolen crack pipe. Nearby, two people argued loudly about something to do with one owing the other money. Sirens tore the air.

But inside, the tumult was barely audible through the centers thick glass windows. Volunteer teacher and frequent class participant Troy Gaspard, 52, led the group through yoga poses and tai chi exercises. For an hour, all that filled the room was his low-toned commands and the soft, even breathing of people feeling stress drain away through motion.

I love the energy of this place, Gaspard said after the class. I was homeless for 1 years before finding my housing near here, and the whole time, yoga and tai chi here has been a healing thing for me. It fills my body, makes me feel better.

Ashley Adams, a 39-year-old dog walker who leads the centers Sound Healing sessions meditation, augmented by playing on crystal singing bowls said the near silence and peace inside the Healing Wells walls is enormously important.

I look at the singing bowls as sonic nutrient, she said after one recent session. Sonically, people dont get a break out here in the Tenderloin. There is noise and stress all around, all the time. This here is an opportunity to receive sounds like this so you can relax.

And when we relax, our bodies can heal. Its all about healing.

Kevin Fagan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @KevinChron

Kevin Fagan is a longtime reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle. He specializes in enterprise news-feature writing and breaking news, taking particular pleasure in ferreting out stories others might not find from profiling the desperate lives of homeless drug addicts to riding the rails with hobos, finding people who sleep in coffins and detailing the intricacies of hunting down serial killers.

From 2003 to 2006, Kevin was the only beat reporter in the United States covering homelessness full time. He has witnessed seven prison executions and has covered many of the biggest breaking stories of our time, from the Sept. 11 terror attacks at Ground Zero and the Columbine High School massacre to Barack Obamas election as president, the deadly Mendocino Complex, Wine Country and Ghost Ship fires and the Occupy movement. Homelessness remains a special focus of his, close to his heart as a journalist who cares passionately about the human condition.

He has a bachelors degree in journalism from San Jose State University and was raised in California and Nevada.



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Yoga, meditation and quiet: Homeless people in the Tenderloin flock to healing nonprofit - San Francisco Chronicle

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