“We can’t cure homelessness,” said Pastor Megan Rohrer. “But we can still be present and be visible out in our community. That was a big part of why we wanted to start having these gatherings.”
Rohrer helps to organize the San Francisco Faithful LGBTQ Meetup. The group comes together weekly for everything from bison walks in Golden Gate Park to wine tastings to wonton-making demos. But its most visible contribution is on Sunday afternoons, when members make 150 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and distribute them to the Castro’s homeless.
“It’s an opportunity for us to wear matching T-shirts, to let people know that people of faith are LGBT, and that we can be doing good things,” said Rohrer, who was the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran church. Rohrer has been an advocate for homeless LGBT San Franciscans for more than 15 years.
“We really wanted to make it a safe space for anybody of any faith to do good work,” said James Rowley, who co-organizes the Meetup with Rohrer. Within a few days of creating the group, over 75 people had signed up; about 12 people turn out for any given meeting.
The group decided to distribute PB&J "because it’s nutritious, it doesn’t spoil, and we can give [the homeless] two or three of them and leave them with them, whether they’re sleeping on the side of the street or we have a conversation with them.”
The nutrition is particularly important for homeless people who are HIV-positive. "They need protein, and a lot of the ways that they can get really sick is if their muscles kind waste away,” Rohrer said. “We wanted to make sure that there was a lot of protein, but also to respect the crunchy lesbians who also wanted something vegan.”
The group gets most of its supplies—bread, peanut butter, jelly, sandwich bags, hand wipes—from Grace, although the Meetup is not affiliated with the congregation. “It’s not costly, peanut butter and jelly,” Rohrer said.
The Meetup group gathers inside St. Francis Church, located right across from the Safeway on Market Street, on Sunday afternoons. “We walk up from the Safeway at Church Sr. and then we go all the way down to Castro and 18th. By then we’re usually out of sandwiches,” Rohrer said.
"That neighborhood has more homeless people than other parts of town, because San Francisco figures out how they’re going to divide up homeless services based on police districts," Rohrer said. “The neighborhood that gets the most complaints on the non-emergency police number gets the most homeless resources for that month.”
“The reason why we start at Church Street is because that’s the dividing line between four different police districts. A lot of people gather in that neighborhood because instead of getting pushed along too far, [police will] say, ‘Cross the street, that’s the other police district, and then they’ll have to deal with you.’”
Rohrer and Rowley say this area also attracts a lot of LGBT homeless people, who want to be near the company and safety of fellow LGBT individuals.
However, not every sandwich is given to the homeless. If the group gets to 18th Street and still has sandwiches, they head to Dolores Park. According to Rowley, mothers with fussy children have stopped members of the group and asked for a sandwich. “We’ve stopped a couple of tantrums at 4 in the afternoon,” said Rohrer, laughing.
“The whole event is two hours: an hour to make [the sandwiches], an hour to give [them] out to people, and then we spend an hour having a drink together at Harvey’s,” Rowley said. “We’re not preachy.”
Rohrer is no stranger to the neighborhood’s homeless population. The transgender pastor goes out from 10pm to 4am with other local pastors about three times a month, as part of the city’s night ministries. “When I go out, I usually walk through the Castro, so I know a lot of their names and their stories and what they look like when they’re not wanting to be talked to. So I usually can give a little heads-up.”
“With all the hate-filled rhetoric that’s happening in our world right now,” Rohrer said, “it feels good to have a positive outlet. What I’ve noticed working with the homeless in San Francisco is that whenever there’s homophobia or transphobia in other parts of the country, we get more LGBT homeless folk in San Francisco. They think 'At least they won’t discriminate against me there, even if I can’t afford the housing.'"
“We’re trying to think of ways, particularly as people of faith, that if there are people that get kicked out of their homes or churches that are not being supportive of LGBT folks in other parts of the country, ways that we can care for our community and make it so that they don’t have to get to the rock-bottom lowest space before they’re able to figure out their housing situation,” Rohrer said.
If you’re around the neighborhood on Sunday afternoons between 2-4pm and you see a group of people passing out sandwiches and wearing blue t-shirts that say “Live Generously” on them, don’t be confused. The Meetup is always looking for new members.
“We’re trying to get other people involved,” Rowley said, “to get together, go out to Harvey’s afterwards, and have a good time.”
The San Francisco Faithful LGBTQ Meetup's next peanut butter and jelly gathering will be this Sunday, May 22nd. Check out the group's Meetup page for a list of events.