KAREN M. KINNEY
Two bulky desks and two huge filing cabinets barely allow two people to sit down in Cloud Hall's Room 205, the office for the Homeless at Risk Transitional Students (HARTS) program.
Nestled in the corner, wearing a sweater vest and jeans, 50-year-old Program Director Chris Shaeffer peers through his glasses at his laptop.
Shaeffer knows intimately the hardships homeless students face as they deal with the bureaucracy of social services while looking for a home and a job, and going to school.
"I moved to San Francisco to get my Master's, but there was no financial aid available. So I painted houses to support myself," he said.
"I lived in an abandoned house in Potrero Hill, and I painted houses for a cool lady named Mrs. H. I used to work so much that I went to class with paint splatter on my glasses."
It wasn't until his second semester at San Francisco State University he was awarded financial aid.
"In those days, financial aid was not a check, but only a work study program," he said. "So I got a job on campus. Getting a job on campus made a big difference for me to be there."
In 1980, Shaeffer started teaching at the SAN FRANCISCO? County Jail for City College, and moved to the Southeast campus in 1985. He started the HARTS program at the Southeast campus in 1992. The program moved to Ocean campus in 2000. Shaeffer believes the point of the program is to begin with individual services.
"People feel better when they talk," he said. "We offer a place for people to feel like they are a part of something. It's important these students know someone is listening to what they are saying."
The secret to the HARTS program is its simplicity. It offers two primary services: free Muni Fast Passes and campus food vouchers.
"First, the students should be able to get to school and eat on campus like everyone else to feel like they are part of the community," Shaeffer said. "Having to search for food and go back to your homeless atmosphere makes school that much harder."
Dave Burns was at his wits' end when he walked into the HARTS office in 2000, referred by Jorge Bell, dean of financial aid.
"I moved here from Michigan in 1996 because I knew I wanted to be a visual artist," Burns said.
"I lost a sales job in 1997 and started to fall into homelessness. The struggle all my life has been having this drive to be an artist and create, and not being able to figure out how to fit my muse in my life.
"Because sales work was a violation of my character and my essence, I then became homeless. Without a phone or a place for mail, finding a job was virtually impossible."
Burns, 58, graduated from City College in 2003 with an associate degree in Liberal Arts. This year, he graduated from San Francisco's New College with a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Inquiry with a concentration in Mixed Multimedia and Creativity.
"Chris gave me a strategy," Burns said. "Transportation gets you there. Food keeps you there. City College allowed me to seek my muse. City College allowed me to see what I really needed to do and pursue what was in my heart."
Although being homeless was a terrible strain, the refuge of the HARTS program enabled Burns to find direction and snag his dream of being a visual artist.
"When you're homeless and walking the streets, you are in shock and people ignore you," Shaeffer said. "The healing begins when [homeless students] are surrounded by other students and have a sense of belonging."
Healing is exactly what single mother and senior student Lenore Hamilton was looking for when she went back to school full-time in 1999.
"When I came back to school," Hamilton said," I was not qualified for financial aid because I had too many credits. I was getting child support, food stamps and a fee waiver. I had no money for books. I was so grateful to HARTS for giving me a Fast Pass. I felt like I had some sort of support at school."
Hamilton has successfully stayed in school, and will be graduating with a word processing degree in the fall.
"Chris puts a rainbow in the midst of the storm," Hamilton said. "When everyone else said no, Chris said yes. Chris is what makes the program so good."
Shaeffer believes college is the road to success and encourages students to embrace their studies to gain the power to change their lives.
"Education changes you right away," Shaeffer said. "You've got knowledge you didn't have before. Every day you spend in class, you're learning something new, and you can change your outlook. A person coming from a bad situation sees a way out and change is possible."