The April 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Murder of Mary Katherine King

Eyes Wide Open

California Lifts Food Stamp Ban

The Ordeal of Ramona Choyce

Republicans Shred Disabled Housing

Art and Activism of Jos Sances

The Paintings of Jos Sances

Gambling with Social Security

Billionaires Grow Richer, Poverty Worsens

Existence Itself Is Banned for the Homeless Poor

Bush Policy Errs on Chronic Homelessness

Sankofa House: A Rainbow for Homeless Women

Student Summit Against Hunger

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

Working for Transit Justice

Poor Leonard's Almanack

BOSS Community Organizing

The Anguish of Classism





May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Sankofa House:
A Rainbow at the End of the Storm

by Janny Castillo

Berkeley Maryor Tom Bates cuts the ribbon at the opening ceremony of Sankofa House in Berkeley. Mary Duley photo

Sankofa House is now up and running -- a state of the art, "green environment" transitional house for homeless families. Some people thought BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency) couldn't do it. They were amazed at how BOSS steadily continued its progress amid severe state budget cuts, and overcame red tape, roadblocks, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to create a new transitional house in Berkeley.

Sankofa House was built at the site of BOSS's oldest shelter, Harrison House in Berkeley. Sankofa can house up to 10 families in a shared living environment, with two or three families per apartment. Seemingly nothing is impossible for the BOSS housing development team, who achieved the impossible with massive support from our community.

How did BOSS do it? Quite simply, we never gave up. On Valentine's Day 2005, we celebrated a gift of love and hope for homeless families. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates attended the ribbon cutting on February 14. The project's funders and contributors were honored and attendees were treated to a tour of the facility.

The Tile Shop in Berkeley made a huge donation of tile products and Shaper Lighting donated the lighting fixtures. Fine Line Construction was commended for the quality of their work, and for finishing on time and on budget. So many people helped to make Sankofa a reality: Steve Barton of the Berkeley Housing Department, Wendy Cosin, Steve DeJesse from Ingram Dejesse and Associates, Jim Gribi, and Babette Jee, architect. A complete list of contributors will be posted in BOSS's March online newsletter at

The name Sankofa is a heart-shaped Ghana symbol for "Wisdom." It means: "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward and understand how we came to be who we are today."

Reclaiming the past and moving forward into wellness and permanent housing are primary goals of BOSS residents. That's what BOSS is good at, providing the space and tools each individual needs to reclaim their self-worth, build skills, and become self-sufficient.

Three moms described their journey out of homelessness. Cynthia and Kelly now live at Sankofa House. Helimeka lived at BOSS's Harrison House shelter and then at McKinley House, and now has moved into permanent housing. These are their stories.

Cynthia's Story

"After all the negative stuff that has happened in my life, all the turmoil, I couldn't see the rainbow at the end of the storm, now I can."

"I became homeless because my brothers were trying to sell my mother's house after she came down with Alzheimer's. I didn't agree to it and I got tired of fighting them, so I just left. I lived in motels with my three grandchildren, struggling to pay the rent for five months. I got accepted to Shepherd's Gate but I did not meet the criteria to get into the permanent program.

"On November 1st, I was asked to leave. I tried to stay with friends but they were too deeply into drugs and I could not stay with them. A lady from Shepherd's Gate had given me a list of shelters; after many calls, I ended up at Harrison House.

"It's okay here at Harrison House. They are helping me to get housing and to stay sober by giving me a place to stay and much more. After all the negative stuff that has happened in my life, all the turmoil, I couldn't see the rainbow at the end of the storm, now I can.

"Being chosen for Sankofa House is a good feeling and a new beginning. I will be able to have decent housing that I can afford, a safe place for my grandchildren and time to get my life back together. I don't have to worry anymore where we are going to be from day to day. Thank you, BOSS. When I did not have a place to live, you gave me a place to rest, fed me and my kids, no questions asked. Thank you."

Kelly's Story

"God gave me a second chance to get my kids back, and I am going full speed ahead. I am on a different kind of mission now."

"I was out there a long time. I was using off and on for 25 years. It began when I was trying to fit in with the other kids, but my addiction got very bad. The bottom for me was when I was seven months into a pregnancy and I was using. I started telling God that I was tired. I delivered the baby, who was positive for methamphetamine. They took the baby from me right from the hospital. That automatically made me shut down.

"Later I got into the Salvation Army shelter with my three kids, but was kicked out after two weeks. I could not keep in touch with my CPS officer who thought that I had run off with my kids. One night at an Alameda shelter the police came and took my kids. That night was the worst night of my life.

"Now, I had to be really strong for my kids. My kids are still in foster care. They come back to me on February 18th. One of the reasons I will be able to have them is because I was accepted at Sankofa House. If not, I would have to be without them another six months. I don't blame anybody for the things I went through. God gave me a second chance to get my kids back, and I am going full speed ahead. I am on a different kind of mission now. It's an honor for me to be given a chance to be at Sankofa House.

"My future plans include getting my three-year-old twins into preschool. I want to get my GED because I want to go back to college for drug and alcohol counseling or to work with children. I was out there a long time and have been through so much. People tried to put doors up to stop me but I kept knocking them down. So to other families, I say, 'Never give up.' I want to thank God and the women at Sankofa House and to Pam for helping me get in."

Helimeka's Story

"I was pregnant and had a two-year-old son and I needed a permanent place for my kids."

"I went into the shelter because I did not want to live on the streets or at other people's houses. I was pregnant and had a two-year-old son and I needed a permanent place for my kids.

Being at Harrison House showed me that there were people who were willing to help families like me. They encouraged me to get my life in order. The parenting classes and other support groups really helped. Cornell and Carla really helped with housing assistance.

"I got into McKinley House by following the Harrison House program. Even though I was not in permanent housing, the transitional apartment at McKinley felt like home. It felt like I was on my own. It also gave me a chance to fulfill my goals and helped me to get ahead in life for me and my children.

"I recently got my Section 8 certificate and moved into a new apartment. It's new for me, but being at the transitional house gave me the practice of managing my own home. It prepared me for permanent housing by helping me to save and teaching me to budget. I am looking for full-time work and I plan to continue my education in the nursing field.

"To all the new Sankofa House families: If you really want help and if you really want to get out of your homeless situation, you have to want to help yourselves first before BOSS staff could help you. Going through Harrison House and McKinley has proven to me that there is a lot of help out there if you want it. My wish for Sankofa house is that all the residents will continue to appreciate BOSS and to get the help that I've received."

Courage and perseverance

The work has just begun for BOSS. Sankofa House is only the latest element of Ursula Sherman Village, a large development named after BOSS founder Ursula Sherman, a passionate activist for human and civil rights. Sankofa House is Phase II. Phase 1, completed in 2003, consisted of renovating the existing facility, Harrison House. Phase III, the final phase, will be the construction of additional new housing, Ubuntu House, and new activity centers for education, skill-building, and family activities.

I can vouch for the effectiveness of the BOSS program. I know where their heart is. Their priority is to grow with the needs of the homeless, educating themselves and their constituency on what it will take to return wellness to all aspects of life: emotional, physical and spiritual.

It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of courage and perseverance. This is the hard work and wisdom that gave birth to a beautiful loving environment called Sankofa House. This is the strength that over ten years ago surrounded my children and me on our climb from homelessness to permanent housing and wellness.

Janny Castillo is a former resident in BOSS programs. She now works for BOSS as a Community Organizer, Computer Instructor, and Administrative Assistant

Mary Duley, who took the accompanying photos, is the on-site photographer at the BOSS Harrison House shelter where she has worked as resident counselor for four years. She calls herself a photo-hobbyist, and spends a lot of her off time "chasing photographs" and capturing, through her lens, the beauty of life and nature. Her passion for photography has given her new strengths and an appreciation for life. Mary is a survivor and has overcome a 17-year-long drug addiction.

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