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“Heart of SOMA” was born through a unique friendship, the love of music and a vision for bringing people together. Around Christmas 2009, a formerly homeless artist and a housing developer met. A mutual friend and fel ow musician brought them together to play drums and electric guitars in a project cal ed “music is a healing thing.”
The drummer, Matt Kowalski, had lived for 27 years on the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco as a homeless meth addict and alcoholic, working on what he cal s his “PhD – plenty of hard drugs.” Now sober for 12 years, Matt is a professional artist, certified addiction counselor, husband and homeowner.
The guitarist, David Kriozere, in 1990 first saw the striking site where he later developed in 2006 a 64-story tower at San Francisco’s entrance next to the Bay Bridge known as One Rincon Hil . When David and Matt met through their mutual friend, the musical chemistry – and the friendship – took hold, and creativity ensued.
The irony of their friendship is not lost on them. “Here is this high-rise developer on Rincon Hil ,” said David, “and this artist who had been homeless in the Tenderloin – two areas that don’t mix. And we’re not real y thinking about all these things -- we’re just going along, having a good time doing music.”
Their unique friendship inspired “Heart of SOMA 2010,” a celebration of SOMA, bringing the people who live, work and play in SOMA together to promote a sense of community. Heart of SOMA 2010 takes place on Tuesday, October 26th at the Terra Gal ery (www.terrasf.com) and will showcase a fabulous night of music, dance, art and culinary offerings from SOMA’s finest restaurants, highlighted by special guest the Rev. Jesse Jackson and emceed by “So You Think You Can Dance” star Mary Murphy – along with more special guest appearances to be announced.
Seeing the growth of District 6 in San Francisco with the bio tech and social media firms alongside of the high-rises on the one hand, and the Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods on the other hand, David had been searching for ways to connect the homeowners inside One Rincon Hill and other newer buildings with those in need in other parts of SOMA (South of Market Street Area).
“And then,” David said, “I had the crazy idea that if Matt was able to transform himself from being homeless to working, owning a home and being married, he must know what people need to do to experience that transformation. “I asked him, how did you do this?”
Matt’s reply: First, you need support in all areas of rebuilding your life. Second, you need to work – not only for money, but also “to feel part of the community, and to feel equal with people, and to
feel whole as a person.” It was programs like Hamilton Family Center that provided crucial support when Matt decided to get sober after spending many years homeless on San Francisco’s streets. The beneficiary of our event, Hamilton Family Center (www.hamiltonfamilycenter.org), has been working for 25 years to end homelessness in the Bay Area and is the largest provider of shelter, eviction prevention assistance, rapid re-housing, youth programming, and support services for homeless families in San Francisco.
“Having done some community development work in the past with starting a health plan in India for Tibetan refugees that the Dalai Lama inaugurated, I immediately got what Matt was saying,” David said. “So, I felt I have the ability, with my work being visible in San Francisco, to try to create a way that people could benefit from what Matt has to say. We talked about this Heart of SOMA event, which was just a crazy idea at the time. But so many people have felt the emotional connection with what Matt’s done it may help bring people together. It would be good for providing support for people, if they are touched by his story.”
As a client and then as a counselor in a San Francisco addiction-rehab facility, Matt has seen his share of charities come in and try to make lasting connections with the residents. Isolation was always the deal-kil er – and not just for the homeless clients, he said.
“It’s a disease of isolation on both sides,” Matt said. “The person in the high-rise is in a cell just as much as the person who’s walking the streets. They’re separated, living in fear of each other, and yet, they’re both the same – feeling the same isolation.”
Matt would like Heart of SOMA 2010 to be different – and he feels that will happen only if its organizers recognize that a real, lasting connection between these two communities would benefit the homeowners, entrepreneurs and donors just as much as the persons who are homeless. “Creating a safe environment for both is the key to this whole thing,” Matt said. “Where are we going to have this happy meeting place, this melting pot of people who want to help – and people who want to change?”
David said that while financial contributions are always appreciated by the charity, “we’re hoping people will get involved with the clients of Hamilton Family Center and other organizations. “If a company that’s leading edge in social media or biotech or graphic design can facilitate guided tours, this might inspire kids who are homeless to say, ‘This would be something real y great to do with my life.’ Then, to see if these businesses could mentor these kids, to find scholarships, to provide internships and so forth – these are ways that real y help.
David sees Matt as the Heart of SOMA’s secret weapon. “Hearing from experts is not the same as hearing from someone who’s been on both sides,” David said.
“I feel this is a good stepping stone to begin an awakening of people,” Matt added, “to invite people in. This is an opportunity to breathe life into an idea.”
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