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There´s No Place Like Home

Filed Under: Uncategorized

For the past 6 years, the Latino Wellness Center has been a home-away-from-home for hundreds of LGBTQQ Latinos in San Francisco. Located at 1663 Mission Street, the Center is the collaborative brainchild of Sí a la Vida (IFR’s program addressing the health and wellness needs of LGBTQQ Latinos) and Mission Neighborhood Health Center (MNHC). On any given week, Sí a la Vida and MNHC provide prevention and wellness services for over 50-60 LGBTQQ Latinos at risk for or living with HIV. The Center also provides free, rapid HIV tests to over 800 San Francisco residents each year. Also known for its culturally affirming support groups and fun and zany social activities, the Center has become a treasured hob for local LGBTQQ Latinos.

This year, however, the Center nearly lost its home after learning of a 100% increase in rent. Neither IFR nor MNHC could absorb the increase, leaving its many programs and services at risk. We all understood what was at stake: losing the Center meant a disruption in services for Latino LGBTQQ services and those affected by HIV, and dozens of clients would be cut off from their life-sustaining support systems. Those options were just not acceptable.

Right away, IFR’s fearless Executive Director, Dr. Estela Garcia, spearheaded a long 7-month search for a new home for the Latino Wellness Center. In partnership with MNHC’s ED, Brenda Storey, they scoured the City searching for appropriate sites. She obtained technical support from the Northern California Community Loan Fund to identify available sites. Plus, she asked everyone she knew to call her whenever they saw a “For Lease” sign. Estela visited one building after another to find a new home for the Latino Wellness Center.

Of course, the Center was just one of many nonprofits in search for a new home. Throughout the many tours of buildings Estela attended, she met many organizations facing the same affordability/displacement challenge. Unless and until rents come down, San Francisco risks losing some of the finest community organizations it has.

Then, something unexpected and unexplainable happened. From out of nowhere, after months of attempts to renegotiate our lease, and just when Estela was about to make an offer on a new site, the original leasing company gave Estela a new offer; instead of the 100% increase they wanted, they agreed to an 18% increase and a new 5-year lease!

A familiar saying at IFR is that “it takes many medicines.” What made the owner change his mind? How did he know to make a new offer just in time? We may never know. No doubt, Estela’s wise negotiating skills provided a good dose of the medicine IFR needed that day, and perhaps a spirits looked kindly on us as well. Whatever the forces at work were, the bottom line was this: the Latino Wellness Center would remain in the community.

We continue to advocate on behalf of the many organizations still facing high rents and insufficient space. We are grateful to the many who helped IFR look for a new home for the Center, and for the great outpouring of support we received. Your concern reinforced what we’ve believed all along about the value of the Latino Wellness Center to the LGBTQQ Latino community. In short, the Latino Wellness Center will remain at home, and as we all know, there simply is no place like home.

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