CCSF closure would mean loss of vital programs for underserved, vulnerable communities 

click to enlarge "St. Francis of the Guns," a statue made of melted-down guns, looms over the entrance to CCSF, which offers programs for ex-criminal offenders, the homeless and other at-risk communities. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • "St. Francis of the Guns," a statue made of melted-down guns, looms over the entrance to CCSF, which offers programs for ex-criminal offenders, the homeless and other at-risk communities.

David Holly realized after spending 19 months in jail that he'd had enough of the hard life he had led for 15 years. The 37-year-old didn't want any more drugs, check fraud or living on the streets — and certainly no more jail cells.

When Holly was released in 2008, he immediately enrolled in City College of San Francisco. In 2011, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA. And just last month, he graduated from UC Berkeley — again with a 4.0 GPA. Holly has been accepted to a graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University where he will study urban history, focusing on The City's Tenderloin neighborhood.

"In truth, my dream was to get my doctorate and come back to teach at City College and give back that which was so richly given to me," Holly said.

However, that dream might never be realized. CCSF is mired in an accreditation fight and could close down in less than a year.

The college's closure report, which details how students will be provided for, makes no mention of saving the program for ex-offenders that brought Holly his successes. It also does not mention the dozens of other programs that provide de facto social services for San Francisco residents.

Holly went through the Second Chance program, part of CCSF's Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which was established in 1970. The aim is to give formerly incarcerated people — or those on parole, probation or rehab — a chance to pursue higher education.

As part of its mission to be a community college instead of a junior college, CCSF has a number of social safety net programs, from the Homeless At-Risk Transitional Students program to a Veterans Resource Center that offers assistance to some 1,000 veterans annually. Even the Rams football team is seen as a way out for at-risk youths.

No one — including school, city or state officials — has offered a plan to resurrect or sustain these programs should CCSF close next July.

CCSF spokeswoman Jennifer Aries said the closure report was modeled after reports made at other institutions, but more details might come before the final deadline in November.

Until then, many of these social services remain in limbo. Though other Bay Area colleges have similar programs, none can match San Francisco in sheer size — CCSF is the largest school in California, serving 85,000 students.

And some of those students have already lost services.

Local nonprofit the A. Philip Randolph Institute contracted with CCSF to shuttle students through known gang territories in the Bayview district to campuses citywide to earn their GED diplomas, but that program has been cut.

"We'd do door-to-door services, pick them up, otherwise they would face gang members," said Jacqueline Flin, executive director of the Randolph Institute. "I had a student who opted to walk home and within a two-block radius someone pulled a gun on him."

At a CCSF board of trustees meeting in December, students from the program came to protest cutting funds for the shuttle service.

"I'll get shot, robbed, jacked and it hurts my attendance," said a student who identified himself only as Josh. "I want to get my money the right way, not the wrong way. Feel me?"

The programs that serve those students are often a key way out of gang life and other troubles, said Police Chief Greg Suhr.

"I can imagine the disappointment for the young people counting on [City College]," Suhr said. "It's a natural progression for those who want to get an education and stay out of trouble."

One of those outlets is the Rams football team, which Suhr himself played for in 1977. The team is coached by George Rush.

"We get a tremendous number of students in football," Rush said. "They come from, I don't want to say dysfunctional backgrounds, but they're deprived of things socially, economically. There's more to this than winning football games; we really turn their lives around."

Aries said the true count of how many San Francisco residents would be affected by the loss of social services CCSF provides is impossible to measure.

"I hate to put a number to it, there are just so many," she said. But the number of students who use services that provide free and low-cost shelter, food, language and tax services, legal help and more is in "the thousands," she said.

Part of the problem with preparing the closure report is that CCSF has no historical precedent to work off. The only other example of a California school losing its accreditation is Compton College in 2006.

When that happened, students left in droves. The school's population went from 12,000 to about 6,000, according to data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office.

What that means for CCSF remains to be seen. But in his 2011 graduation speech, David Holly stated one view.

"The small investment made in me and all the graduates here today will pay huge dividends in the future," he said. "For me, instead of being someone in jail draining the state's resources, now I'm in a position to contribute. And how cool is that?"

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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