Recovery Café San Jose Grieves and Celebrates the Life of Andre Ellison

By  Dana Bainbridge 

Andre Ellison was the kind of guy who could light up a room with his joy and enthusiasm for friends, music, and art. Andre always wore a crisp, stylish suit and often had a guitar in his hands. His contribution to Recovery Café San Jose was beyond measure, as a friend, a member leader and as part of the staff team. But what he was most of all, to those who knew and loved him, was an encourager and source of light and joy.

Last December the RCSJ community was heartbroken by the news that Andre had died after an illness that developed quickly. RCSJ and Urban Sanctuary held a Celebration of Andre’s Life and people from organizations across San Jose came and spoke with deep gratitude for the ways his life and story impacted them.

On March 16 one of those partners, Destination:Home, announced that they had created the Andre Ellison Equity Fund. RCSJ shares this story with our friends in the Recovery Café Network, with gratitude for the shared journey of living into our Sixth Core Commitment together, as we “work to end systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality so every person can thrive.”  We also want to celebrate that Nueva Vida Recovery Café, founded by Carry the Vision of Gilroy, California is one of the first recipients of a generous grant from this fund. Here is a portion of the remarkable story, told in Destination:Home’s newsletter, of how that fund came to be and how it will honor Andre’s legacy for years to come:

Destination:Home Announces the Andre Ellison Equity Fund

Ending homelessness requires collaboration across our community, and we have to do more than simply invite participation to reach everyone in need. Structural racism has led to the systemic underfunding of nonprofits led by people of color – often keeping organizations and individuals with valuable lived experience from having decision-making power in improving their community. In fact, a 2020 report found the unrestricted net assets of Black-led organizations are 76% smaller than their white-led counterparts.

We think this is wrong. 

In order to create a state-of-the-art supportive housing system in Santa Clara County, we must invest more resources directly in the leaders who understand what it means to not have a stable place to live.

With this goal in mind, we are thrilled to announce the first grantees of our new Andre Ellison Equity Fund. We’re committing a total of $2.75 million over a 3-year period to 7 organizations. This fund has been developed to support the outstanding work of organizations led by people with lived experience of homelessness and/or people of color – those who best know the needs of their community.

About Andre Ellison

This fund is named in memory of our friend and colleague Andre Ellison. Andre was a renaissance man: a brilliant mind, artist, United States Air Force Veteran, musician, activist, and wonderful friend. As a Black man who spent 12 years street homeless, Andre is emblematic of both the successes and challenges we face in ending homelessness. Andre was successfully housed by the Santa Clara County Supportive Housing System, an early success of our community’s shift to prioritizing housing and supportive services to the most vulnerable. He found community, belonging, and purpose at the Recovery Café and Downtown Streets Team and was loved by many. As a founding executive member of the Lived Experience Advisory Board, Andre was a staunch advocate for improving local systems, despite the challenges they posed for him. Yet a tragedy in his early 20s and years of ensuing trauma and mental illness limited Andre’s ability to gain meaningful employment and broad acceptance in society, and he ultimately succumbed to health conditions exacerbated by his life experiences.

The Andre Ellison Equity Fund intends to share power with those most impacted, elevating new solutions and perspectives previously left out. We remain committed in this fight in honor of Andre.