Meet Steve Binnquist from Youth With a Mission (YWAM), located at 357 Ellis Street. While life moves forward with a “before Covid” and “after Covid” scar down its middle, Steve’s “be safe, be whole” mantra is one that has carried him through. Steve Binnquist works at YWAM, a religious organization that has served marginalized individuals both before and since Covid. He lives and works in the Tenderloin, and finds the diversity of the neighborhood is a gift that he gladly shares with his family.
Steve is originally from Rancho Cucamonga, a suburban Southern Californian neighborhood. From there he took a trip with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) that changed his life and opened his eyes. “I had a sheltered upbringing that admittedly came with biases…I was really impacted by what I learned from the Tenderloin, even just in a short time. I initially moved to San Francisco to work at YWAM for six months. Seventeen years later…I’m still here.”
In those seventeen years, Steve has met his wife Kayla, who also works for YWAM. They have two kids, Oliver (who’s in kindergarten) and two-year-old Maggie. Between Kayla and Steve, they juggle a work-kid-life-balance that can be hectic but also works. In their free time Steve plays guitar and writes music, Kayla is an outstanding baker, and the kids like to play at Macaulay Park and now at the YWAM playroom.
“We really want to raise our kids in this neighborhood. The diversity and vibrancy is such a gift. I know there are challenges and difficult things to navigate but the benefits of raising our kids downtown and amongst diversity are so much greater than not. I want to give my kids different experiences. By having neighbors from other countries we want to show them how to love people that are different than us, be good neighbors, and get to hang out with people from different cultures…to not just be raised on meat and potatoes, I guess.”
Pre-Covid, YWAM was primarily defined by their drop-in center and programs built around finding community—because, as Steve describes, “In that place of community, that’s where healing can happen.” Since Covid, they can no longer use their drop-in center the same way. No more movie afternoons, shared popcorn, or pool matches—but they still offer that sense of community that is essential for so many.
Thinking back to the start of shelter-in-place, Steve recalls their thought process: one based on the needs of the neighborhood, safety, and faith. “We got together as a staff to decide what do we want to do, what can we do, how do we this as safe as possible? Our neighbors don’t have a safe space to wash their hands but we have the showers, so let’s help with our showers.”
Armed with masks, cleaning spray, and the verse “love your neighbors as yourself” they continued to offer their services.
“How can I shelter in and be true to my faith if I’m not actually helping? If my unhoused neighbors don’t have the same privileges? I remember someone in the neighborhood saying, ‘man, shelter-in-place is such a privilege,’ and thinking how true that was. It all came down to the fact that we need to be careful and safe—but there’s a responsibility to care and love our neighbors.”
Since the start of shelter-in-place YWAM has moved their food distribution streetside and have increased the number of days that they offer shower services from two days a week up to four days a week over the summer, and now currently at a steady schedule of three days a week. The 300 block of Ellis St is also closed off to traffic and serves as a resource hub for services in the neighborhood.
“When someone has hit a wall they often want to throw it all out the window. Having someone in your corner saying, ‘Keep going, you can do this. Let’s grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat. Let’s do this together.’ can often be that missing piece. ”
“One of my wishes is for people to understand the intrinsic value that all humans have. We love the neighborhood and being part of the community. There’s so much that this neighborhood brings to the city.”
Thank you, Steve! If you see Steve at YWAM on Ellis Street, be sure to say hello. Find out more about YWAM here.