Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 41 / 12 October 2017
 

St. James executive director leaving

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Stephany Ashley. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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The executive director of San Francisco's St. James Infirmary, which provides free medical services, HIV testing, food, and other assistance to sex workers, is leaving to take a job at Tipping Point Community, an organization based in the city that works to fight poverty in the Bay Area.

Stephany Ashley, 32, said in response to the Bay Area Reporter's emailed questions that she's joining Tipping Point because of its efforts that include, "creating more supportive housing" and "strengthening services to prevent homelessness at key moments of opportunity," such as mental health, criminal justice, and child welfare.

Ashley added, "Through this work, we are also aiming to reshape the public conversation about homelessness away from one of blame and towards one of collective responsibility and solutions."

Ashley's last day at St. James will be October 20. She'll start at Tipping Point October 23.

In a statement to the B.A.R., Rachel Metz, Tipping Point's director of policy, said, "We have an ambitious goal of cutting chronic homelessness in half by 2022. A vision like this needs to be supported by a team of people who are knowledgeable about the issue and understand individual experience, all while being tenacious and optimistic. Stephany's work and leadership fit exactly what we needed. Her on the ground experience working with the population and within city government, and her ability to build coalitions and inspire action will help us design effective strategies and build the political will and public support critical to the success of our efforts."

Along with her work at St. James, Ashley also once served as a legislative aide to gay former Supervisor David Campos.

St. James has about 5,000 community members enrolled in services at its clinic. Additionally, the nonprofit's street outreach and syringe access programs serve thousands more, said Ashley, who identifies as queer and who's served as executive director for four years.

"Objectively, my biggest achievement as executive director at St. James has been ushering the organization through destabilizing circumstances and into a period of growth," said Ashley.

Along the way, she said, "major challenges" have included the clinic's displacement. St. James had to move last year after the building where it was headquartered was sold.

Despite those hurdles, "in the last four years the SJI has tripled our staff, tripled our services, and expanded the political framework of our organization," said Ashley, who first joined the nonprofit 11 years ago.

She said she's proudest of the nonprofit's transformation "from an exclusively direct service center into a hub of community organizing and social justice."

St. James has partnered with the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, which helps people who've been incarcerated. It's also supported the creation of projects like Trans Activists for Justice and Accountability (TAJA's) Coalition, which was founded after the 2015 murder of transgender San Francisco resident Taja de Jesus, and the Compton's Transgender Cultural District, which would be the first of its kind in the country to recognize the historical significance of a neighborhood to the trans community. It takes its name from Gene Compton's Cafeteria, where LGBT patrons rioted against police harassment in 1966.

A post by St. James' board and management team on the nonprofit's website says, Ashley "has provided remarkable advocacy, insight, strength, and LOVE to our organization and the Bay Area sex worker community. Her work included enhancing our social justice efforts, moving SJI services into our new home on Eddy Street, forging new and innovative community partnerships, securing health benefits for staff, and increasing our organizational budget to over $1 million."

Despite the progress, Ashley noted that the problems St. James works to address remain.

"The biggest challenge that St. James always faces is the criminalization and stigmatization of our community and of our work, and under this current administration, that challenge is greater than ever," said Ashley, referring to Republican President Donald Trump. "Thankfully, we've learned to be incredibly creative in our 18 years of existence, and we are more resilient now than ever before."

Johanna Breyer, St. James' founding executive director, will step off the group's board to serve as interim executive director "to facilitate the process of hiring a permanent ED," said Ashley. "Johanna will be assembling a hiring committee composed of staff from all levels of the organization to ensure that we get broad buy-in when choosing" Ashley's replacement.

Ashley said she capped her salary at St. James at $70,000, where it's been for at least three years. She declined to state what her Tipping Point salary will be, saying that the nonprofit doesn't share employees' salaries.

 






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