When those who are left homeless by job loss, drug abuse or domestic violence arrive at Doug Biggs' doorstep, they are meeting someone who is familiar with tragedy.
Six years ago, Biggs — the executive director of Alameda Point Collaborative, a homeless services center on the island's former naval installation — lost a son to brain cancer. The 22-year-old Dhanu's battle forever changed Biggs' approach to life and work.
"You focus on dealing with the things you can deal with and have to accept the things you can't," said Biggs, 54. "If there is something I can't control, I accept it and move on."
That philosophy will undoubtedly serve Biggs well as fundraising pressures mount and he and other supporters of Measure B await the fate of Tuesday's ballot initiative to redevelop the naval air station. Biggs says the plan to build 4,300 homes and numerous retail and commercial businesses would provide more job and housing opportunities for many of his 500 residents.
Since his years in college, Biggs has aimed to be part of something bigger than himself. Born and raised in Los Alamos, N.M., where his father worked for the famed national science laboratory, Biggs left the United States in 1977 to work in Nepal for the Peace Corps, which sent him there to help farmers raise fish in the lowlands.
In the mountainous republic bordering China and India, he also worked for CARE International, helping to build suspension bridges. He stayed 10 years in Nepal, where he met his wife, Kamala, who is Nepalese, and where their sons, Dhanu and Jason, were born.
The family came to California in 1987, settling in Alameda close to his parents, who had retired in Oakland. His sons both attended Encinal High School.
Biggs worked for the San Francisco Conservation Corps, teaching job skills to inner-city youths, and then for Sojourn to the Past, a Bay Area nonprofit that takes children to landmark sites from the Civil Rights Movement, such as Montgomery, Ala.
Biggs said he has always been drawn to working with young people because, "in my experience, they respond to however high you set the bar. They are always capable of doing more than you give them credit for."
The same was true of his son Dhanu, who Biggs said accepted his illness with peace. The family, who along with friends raised money to build a library in Nepal in Dhanu's name, is grateful for the hospice care that allowed the young man to live his final days at home.
"It was incredibly traumatic," Biggs said. "You never really recover from it. There is never a day that goes by that you don't think about it."
It was about the time of his son's death that Biggs joined Alameda Point Collaborative as a resource director, raising money and doing community outreach. Last year, he took the top job.
Alameda Point Collaborative has 200 housing units for 500 residents, some of whom become permanent residents as they find work, overcome substance abuse, and recover from domestic abuse — in some cases while raising children. "Our residents are going through challenges, struggling to make a new life for themselves," Biggs said.
His biggest struggle: money.
The $3 million organization, which supports 50 employees, is funded by federal sources, foundation grants and the profits stemming from two work programs staffed by residents: a bicycle repair shop called Cycles of Change and the Ploughshares Nursery. Keeping the various funding sources flowing during tight economic times is an uphill battle.
"Give me a million dollars and my life would be great," he said.
The program takes new applications twice a year, with a priority for survivors of domestic violence or the disabled. Biggs typically receives 1,000 applications for 30 to 50 openings, which are filled using a lottery system.
For Jerrard Green, 20, living at Alameda Point Collaborative with his mother since 2001 has been a lifesaver. Biggs has showed him how to work in the garden and other areas of the 34-acre community.
"He is a good guy; we get along so well," Green said. "I'm always wanting something to do, and Doug points it out."
Biggs also serves on the city's Social Services Human Relations Board. When he isn't working, he and Kamala hike with their rescue dog, a bichon frise mix named Tashi. He will take off for Nepal this month, hoping also to traverse Malaysia and Cambodia.
Though he intended to slow down a bit last year, taking the executive director's job at Alameda Point Collaborative has only meant keeping a steady pace.
"What I do, I definitely don't do for the pay," he said. "It's really wanting to see this place succeed."