SEIU 1021

San Francisco’s community ambassadors rally to save vital program
The mayor cut them out of the budget. Sup. Dean Preston is on a mission to save them.


Community ambassadors working for San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs provide invaluable services to their communities every day. Most of them are multilingual, prepared to provide information to and help navigate residents and visitors in their own languages. They provide safety escorts, do wellness checks, de-escalate situations involving mental illness and substance abuse, reverse overdoses, connect unhoused people with resources, and help merchants and residents address street conditions affecting them, such as people sleeping in doorways or in crisis. They are widely praised by merchants, residents, visitors, and the supervisors of the districts they work in for performing important functions that might otherwise fall on police — sometimes with unfavorable outcomes.

So why did Mayor London Breed cut the 14-year-old Community Ambassador Program, by all accounts highly successful, out of her budget for the next fiscal year?

Last Tuesday, June 18, CAP ambassadors and their supporters, including small business owners and nonprofit organizations in their communities and union members, rallied outside City Hall ahead of District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston’s introduction of a resolution to protect the program.

“We are like organs in a body—each one of us is essential to the other. We need the community and the community needs us,” said District 5 Team Leader and SEIU 1021 member Daniel Abera at the rally. ”We’re here today because our jobs are at risk of being cut by the city but we believe our work is essential and makes a difference in our community.

“OCEIA has over 60 ambassadors actively working. We are not just a job or a program, but we are beyond. We don’t stand on the street waiting for miracles to happen. When we report hazards to 311 like needles, we want to make sure our kids are safe, without judging those who are battling addiction. We offer resources, wellness checks, check pulses, save lives, and administer NARCAN to reverse overdoses — because we are skilled, trained, qualified and proud.”

Sup. Preston made the point that the program not only provides invaluable services to the neighborhoods it operates in, but also provides good jobs and a pathway to other careers for some of the city’s most vulnerable.

Community ambassador and SEIU 1021 member Lee Anne Pankey spoke to the program’s impact on her own life: “I came to San Francisco during the pandemic on an invite and ended up on the streets homeless. Thanks to OCEIA, I’m no longer homeless. I’m currently living in one of the shelters and going to transition into more permanent housing, which is one of my dreams.

“Before I became a community ambassador, I was struggling to find direction. This program has been a beacon of hope for me in regaining control of my life. Many of my colleagues come from similar situations. With hard work and dedication, they have secured permanent housing and improved their lives. OCEIA is truly remarkable and has given my colleagues and me a chance to thrive.”

SEIU 1021 Executive Board member and Social and Economic Justice Committee Chair Nicole Christian spoke in support of the ambassadors at the rally as well. “Make no mistake: You are vital, essential city workers. You are SEIU members, and we protect our own. Maybe instead of sourcing pandas, we could have found a way to save this community advocacy program.

“Because that’s what you do day in and day out. You were out on the front lines with many other city workers during the pandemic. You didn’t get to do your job from home…I will fight and continue to fight with our Board of Supervisors to make sure this program does not go away. You cannot call someone essential and then cut their job. We will not stand for it. Never stop fighting.” 

Budget discussions are ongoing this month at the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors Shamann Walton, Connie Chan, Hillary Ronen, Joel Engardio, and Aaron Peskin co-sponsored Sup. Preston’s resolution to reject the mayor’s slashing of funding for the program.