As many San Franciscans are making arrangements to visit family or create space to invite relatives into their homes this holiday season, there are many who are unsure of where home will be. This is the case for my nine-year-old sister and I. We are one of 58 families residing at the Oasis who received notice of the drop-in shelter’s closure just days before Thanksgiving (Indigenous People’s Day). Now, the owners want to sell the building immediately — and we’re being asked to move by tomorrow. My little sister and I have been living at the Oasis for five months.
We are both former foster youth — a part of a vulnerable demographic that makes up the majority of both homeless and imprisoned populations. With that comes increased risks of more traumas like self harm, sexual violence, substance abuse, domestic violence, (survival) sex work, mental facility institutionalization, and incarceration.
As the eldest sister of three, born to an alcoholic and mentally ill mother, I’m no stranger to all of those experiences. In 2020, I was given the opportunity to make a difference and have since embarked on what has now been a three year journey to guardianship of my youngest sister, Kali. She is a bright child, who loves unicorns and has taken up the violin at her Montessori school. Having private shelter at the Oasis has given me the safe space to provide those resources for her.
That’s an option that wouldn’t have been possible in the environment we lived in prior to becoming homeless — one that prioritized the protection of predators over the safety of children.
The Oasis has lived up to its namesake as a low barrier access point for families fleeing domestic violence and the only family shelter-in-place of its kind to emerge during 2020. It has been a dignified place where hundreds of families, including pregnant and parenting people, have been able to seek refuge with their children at a time where shelter space is scarce. With all 58 rooms gone, the shutdown of The Oasis would result in a loss of a quarter of beds for unhoused families.
Last Tuesday, dozens rallied at City Hall to advocate on behalf of keeping the shelter open. The demand is clear: Sell The Oasis to the city or a nonprofit. The solution, however, has been stalled. Pressure to keep the shelter open is on the 25 owners who plan to sell on the market by next month.
Fortunately, they are alone in their stance. Unfortunately, their cooperation is the deciding factor in whether or not the shelter will continue to remain an option for families and pregnant people. The shelter has simultaneously been a safe haven, shielding us from abusers, while also allowing me the means to provide continuity and create more opportunities for Kali.
The Oasis is one of many first steps toward our liberation from a life destined for many unhoused people. Without it, we’d have nowhere to go. For many like myself, those fleeing domestic or familial violence, the Oasis is the last option for families who are depending on its operation as a pathway to stable housing. Shutting it down would be a huge step backwards.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on the mayor and the office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to negotiate purchasing the Oasis. Funding is available to purchase the building. All that is needed is for the owners to agree to a six-month lease extension. Closure during the holidays exacerbates what is already a time of uncertainty for unhoused families.
Housing is a human right. Housing is suicide prevention. Housing is harm reduction. The harsh reality unhoused families are facing is that this is a matter of life or death for an at-risk population who may never get the chance to sit at the table to speak directly with those who have a say in our fate.
So this is my family’s plea to the owners of the Oasis: Please extend the lease and sell the building to the city or a nonprofit so we can keep this safe haven open permanently.
Yaasmeen Haseen is a five month resident with her sister, Kali, at the Oasis Family Shelter.