A Compassionate Warrior — Our Friend, Margot Antonetty

The following is a transcript of the Eulogy given by HSH Interim Director Abigail Stewart-Kahn on Wednesday July 8, 2020

Peace and hello — my name is Abigail Stewart-Kahn and I’m the interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. I think Margot would remind us to use our pronouns — so, I use she/her pronouns. I want to start by offering the deep condolences on behalf of HSH and the City to Margot’s family, some of whom I’ve gotten to know in the past several weeks, and her friends, some of whom I hope I’m lucky enough to call my friends, and colleagues, and to our own City team and HSH. Its an honor and deep sadness to be with you all today. Margot visited me in my dreams last night so I feel she is here.

It’s a rare thing to meet a true warrior in this life. And, although it’s hard to quantify the exact ingredients that make up a warrior, you know it absolutely when you encounter one. For more than two decades, this City was blessed with a dedicated warrior in Margot Antonetty. Although Margot held many important roles and titles throughout her career, she was first and foremost an exceptionally compassionate human being with a seemingly endless capacity to connect with people left behind and left out in our community.

Margot devoted her 30 year career to issues of equity and was a passionate advocate helping people experiencing mental illness, HIV and homelessness. She worked at Baker Places for 10 years before joining the City and County of San Francisco in 1998. She was a true force in the creation of the division of Housing and Urban Health at the Department of Public Health before following her personal and professional mission that all people deserve a home to the newly created Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

Margot fiercely loved all the people of San Francisco and was a true believer in the possibility that San Francisco could be a livable city for everyone. She lived this belief, demonstrated it and dedicated her career and life to it. Margot showed up every day with an open heart for clients, partners, and colleagues alike. Add to that her gifts of humor and inimitable fashion style, and you had a one-of-a-kind natural leader and mentor who changed every life she touched for the better, myself included.

I have shared this story with HSH-ers but wanted to share here too. One cold San Francisco evening, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Mission. I had just begun my work in the City and was swimming in new learning. I was towards the back of the restaurant and was still cold from my walk. I looked up at the front door, and Margot walked in. She didn’t see me but I could see her. Before I could get up to say hello, I noticed what she was wearing some fabulous slacks, heels, a top, and a full length fur coat (or faux fur, I don’t know enough about such things to decide) with the collar popped. She and her friend surveyed the restaurant and everything got brighter and warmer as they did. They turned and left and it was darker and colder again.

Margot Antonetty, manager of San Francisco’s supportive housing programs, takes part in the Tenderloin homeless count in January 2019. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle 2019

At HSH we have something called a Learning Lab. This is a human centered design lab where we partner with community and people experiencing homelessness to develop innovative solutions that improve programs and meet needs. Margot was tapped to partner with me on the second one, which focused on aging in place in permanent supportive housing. When I first sat down with her, she said something like, “I’m freaking out, but I have no idea what we are supposed to do here, or what most of this means, but we need to do more for seniors, and we don’t know what that is, so we should just ask them. Is that the plan?” I laughed and said simply, “yes” and she said, “okay, I get it…or I get it enough…lets do it.” That learning lab led to a report which circled the country, and the ideas were immediately implemented by architects for a new building we will open next year. It included 7 seniors living in Permanent Supportive Housing, who represented diverse backgrounds, and whose voices and ideas are the center of the report which is helping communities do better. That was all Margot.

Our team, our City and its residents are poorer for this loss. But I feel very strongly that Margot trusted each one of us to carry on her work- That she believed that this team and this moment could be the catalyst for change built on a foundation of compassion, common sense, and courage. I know her legacy, in part, will be in the way we treat each other, our clients, and partners, and how we hold ourselves accountable to her standards of equity and compassion. It is a privilege to stand here today, in the sunlight of her spirit, to honor our colleague and dear friend, Margot Antonetty.

Through the provision of coordinated, compassionate, and high‐quality services, we strive to make homelessness in San Francisco rare, brief, and one time.