Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

SF housing advocate involved in LGBT shelter plans dies

Many in San Francisco are mourning the dearth of Eric Quezada (seen at left), the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services. He died Wednesday, August 24, according to a Facebook post by his wife, Lorena Melgarejo.

Quezada, 45, had been involved in plans to open a space designed to be welcoming for LGBTs at Dolores Street Shelter.

Brian Basinger, director of AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, said he’s “saddened” by Quezada’s death, but the LGBT-welcoming space will still become available.

He said it’s “fantastic” that one of Quezada’s “final gifts to humanity is to wholeheartedly work with us on opening the world’s first LGBT adult shelter. It’s really so characteristic of what we should all hope for in a straight ally.”

Basinger said Quezada was one of the first people he’d approached when he came up with the idea for the shelter. He indicated he didn’t think Quezada’s death would have much impact on progress toward opening the shelter.

Continuing to refer to Quezada in the present tense, he noted that he “has been struggling with cancer for a while, and so the appropriate steps were taken. This is not a surprise.”

Basinger and others have been working on establishing the shelter space for more than a year.

At a Board of Supervisors committee hearing in March 2010, dozens of people testified about harassment in San Francisco’s shelters.

In a January 2011 email to the Bay Area Reporter, Trent Rhorer, executive director of the city’s Human Services Agency, said that late February of this year would be the earliest the beds might be available.

Basinger, who said this week he hasn’t heard anything about a projected opening date, also said he’s hoping for about 24 beds at the shelter, which is at 1050 South Van Ness. He said he didn’t anticipate plans being “substantially altered.” Quezada’s illness had “slowed down our timeline only because there are fewer hands to do the work” at Dolores Street, he said.

“I wish he would have lived to see the opening of the shelter because I know he would have been really happy and proud,” Basinger said.

One hold-up has been renovation work, he said.

“It’s just that when you have to do the remodeling, and anybody who’s had to do rehabilitation work in San Francisco knows, it can take time.”

The bathrooms pose a particular challenge.

“We need to have a shelter and bathrooms that are thoughtful about transgender folks and are upgraded,” he said, adding that work is also being done to accommodate the needs of disabled people with HIV and AIDS.

“I wanted to have as much bathroom capacity and shower capacity as possible,” Basinger said.

In response to emailed questions, Wendy Phillips, who’s been Dolores Street’s acting executive director since Quezada went on medical leave in May, said his death wouldn’t impact plans for the shelter space.

Marlon Mendieta, Dolores Street’s director of shelter services, will continue leading the process of creating the space, she said. There’s no exact opening date, she said, but organizers are “moving forward in the process of selecting a contractor and getting the rehab done so we can open as soon as possible.”

The board of directors hasn’t decided who will be the permanent executive director, Phillips said.

Phillips described Quezada as “a deeply principled and thoughtful political strategist, a grassroots community leader, a dedicated husband, father, and son, and a beautiful friend – not to mention an excellent soccer player, D.J. and budding musician.”

She added that he always insisted people shouldn’t engage in “oppression Olympics.”

“In all of his work and political activism, he was always building bridges and standing up for excluded and oppressed communities,” Phillips said.

In 2008, Quezada, who once described himself as “mostly straight,” sought former Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s District 9 seat on the Board of Supervisors. Ammiano, who  was termed out that year, is now a state assemblyman. Quezada lost to David Campos who, like Ammiano, is an out gay man.

Gabriel Haaland, a political organizer and transgender activist, was also mourning Quezada’s death this week.

In a Facebook post addressed to Quezada, Haaland wrote, “I know your journey will be peaceful, and the legacy of love and justice that you leave behind lives on. Words fail me in expressing the intensity of my admiration for you and how you lived your life. Much love, light and peace to you brother.”

A celebration of Quezada’s life will be held from 2-5 p.m., Sunday, September 25 Horace Mann Middle School, 3351 23rd St., San Francisco.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, August 25, 2011 @ 7:30 pm PST
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