Bineta Camara was still new to San Francisco, when she and her 1-year-old son became homeless in 2014. Only two years before, as a newlywed, Bineta had moved to the city from Senegal to live with her husband. Now, in the process of divorce, she was facing challenges associated with being both an immigrant and single mom in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
As part of a custody agreement, Bineta had to live in San Francisco to retain primary custody of her son. She remembers, “I kept hearing that I had to apply for housing all over California and that I would not find housing anywhere in the Bay, but my ex-husband said, ‘If you leave the city, I will take him.’ I didn’t have a choice. I had to find a place in the city.”
Bineta also knew that the long-term stability of her and her son would depend on her becoming financially self-sufficient. “In Senegal, I was a dentist,” she says. “I thought I could go to school to become a dental hygienist here.” For a homeless single mom, however, the demands of the housing search, childcare and school are always competing for time. It would take some time before she could see what work was the best fit for her.
By the time she came to HPP, Bineta had been taking classes at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and searching for housing almost two years. “My son and I were staying in a garage, and I had a month to find another place,” she says. At the agency, she met Family Case Managers Antoinette Fort and Vivian Harris, as well as Founder & Executive Director Martha Ryan. “They gave me the hope I needed,” she says. “Antoinette said, ‘You will find it,’ and Martha said, ‘You’re in good hands,’ and I believed them. I finally felt safe.”
Through HPP she found temporary housing, first at the Hotel Tropica then at the home of a friend of the agency who briefly hosted her and her son. Ultimately, it was only a few months before she secured permanent housing in the city. “Vivian found an apartment for me and my son, and HPP gave us beds, sheets, pots and pans—everything we needed for our home,” she says. After months of asking his mother when they would be going home, her son stopped asking. “He said, ‘We are staying right here.’”
Today, Bineta lives with her 4 ½ -year-old son in the Excelsior district of San Francisco. Her son attends a highly-rated, French-immersion school on a full scholarship and speaks fluent English, French and Wolof (a language commonly spoken in Senegal). Bineta continues to further her own education and plans to attend an intensive interpreter training program provided by the city in 2018. She hopes to eventually work as a French/English interpreter and help other immigrants like her through the African Advocacy Network. Most importantly, she looks to the future with confidence. “I’m going to succeed in this country with my son,” she says. “I’m going to support myself and my son.”
More than 7,500 companies offer matching gift programs to their employees and some offer the option to retirees. These companies match, double or even triple the amount an employee gives to a charitable organization. The Homeless Prenatal Program is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, under Federal Tax ID #94-3146280, and your year-end gift could qualify for a match. Contact your human resources department or call Kristin Hatch at 415.546.6756 x383 for more information.