The Living Room Project

Take a moment and think about your living room. Most likely you use that space to chat with friends and family, watch movies and play games on TV, and take naps on the sofa. How would it feel if you didn’t have a living room?

The rising cost of housing in San Francisco has resulted in families living in single-room occupancy (SRO) buildings because that is all they can afford. Most are paying $600-$900/month and some landlords are asking as much as $1,200/month. There are approximately 145 SRO buildings (6,343 units) in Chinatown and at last count, nearly 500 families live in a single room and share a bathroom and kitchen with other residents.

The Chinatown YMCA and Chinatown CDC developed a new program to improve the quality of life for SRO families. Funded by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the SRO Families Program started in November 2016 at the Chinatown YMCA to give families the use of the community center as their “living room” in a home away from home. Families also have access to special programs including use of the swimming pool and fitness equipment.

There are activities and events to help families connect with other families who live in similar conditions. Many of the families are recent immigrants and they enjoy being with new friends and feeling part of a community. They look forward to family dinners twice a week, swimming lessons, tutoring, civic engagement workshops and a fun field trip once a month. The field trips expose the families to outdoor and educational resources in San Francisco and around the Bay Area. On one trip to the East Bay, it was the first time some families had crossed the Bay Bridge.

One requisite for participation requires parents of each family to volunteer four hours per month. They sign up to help with grocery shopping, cooking and child care.

The program currently serves 68 families comprising of 98 youth and 150 adults. Due to its popularity, there is now a waitlist with 32 families. One mother said, “my son asks me every day if we can go to the YMCA. It has become his second home.”

Photos provided by Chinatown YMCA

May 2017


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