Category: End Homelessness

Vote to Help us Launch a Team in Mountain View

Downtown Streets Team has been recognized as a FINALIST for Inspire Mountain View, a collective of tech companies and committed community partners who are offering significant dollars to preserve the diversity of the community and strengthen the quality of life in Mountain View.

Beginning today thru April 21st, we are asking for your VOTE to expand our model of ending homelessness to the community of Mountain View, which has seen a 99% increase in unhoused individuals between 2013- 2015.

What $100,000 Will Help Us Accomplish

Through this $100K funding ask, we will launch our eighth Streets Team and offer employment opportunities in the field of culinary arts, serving approximately 13% of the community’s homeless population.

There are 8 total finalists in the $100K category, and the PUBLIC determines the winner!

 

Make Your Voice Heard

 1. VOTE today! (it only takes a moment)

2. SHARE with family, friends, social networks.

3. VOTE only once in the $100K category

Thank you for helping us rebuild lives through the dignity of work. With your vote today, we’re closer to ending homelessness.

Providing Jobs, Housing and Hope

Written By Mayor Edwin M. Lee

If someone ventured down to the Dolby Laboratories headquarters on Wednesday, they would have immediately noticed a large group of people decked out in brightly colored yellow t-shirts. These individuals were impossible to miss, and they had every right to be recognized. They were all members of the Downtown Streets Team, and each of them were working to turn their lives around.

The Downtown Streets Team is a non-profit that connects jobs and housing opportunities with men and women dealing with homelessness. The organization, which partners with public agencies and private companies, marked its one-year anniversary in San Francisco on Wednesday, and we were happy to take part in that celebration.

Through the Downtown Streets Program, each participant is given a job cleaning and maintaining city streets. Since the launch of the initiative, 28 residents have received jobs and 13 have been placed into supportive housing. Additionally, they have helped remove some 206 tons of debris from San Francisco’s streets. The program recipients enjoy the benefits of employment and housing, and City neighborhoods gain from having cleaner streets and sidewalks.

Most of the cleanup efforts to date have focused on the Civic Center and Union Square — with special attention devoted to areas linking Market Street to City Hall. Following the success of those endeavors, the Downtown Streets Team plans to expand to the Tenderloin and other neighborhoods.

The initiative is able to grow due to the support from partners such as Dolby, which provides funding for the Downtown Streets Team. This partnership is another example of the city working together to pursue policies that benefit all our residents.

That was our mindset when we started the Central Market/Tenderloinproject, an initiative that invests in new public spaces, helps small businesses and supports art installations in the area. The Downtown Streets Team complements those efforts. It creates housing opportunities, offers resources and services to homeless residents, and works on addressing quality-of-life issues in San Francisco’s neighborhoods. That mission is carried out with compassion, dignity and respect.

I can see firsthand how much it means for the workers to take part in the Downtown Streets Program. They are proud to have jobs, and are looking forward to finding a place to call home. Every San Franciscan deserves to have that feeling, and we are working hard to make that a reality.

This post was written originally for Medium. View the original post.

SCC Realtors Foundation Donates $25,000

 

Earlier this week, the Santa Clara County Realtors Foundation (SCCRF) surprised all of us at Downtown Streets Team (DST) when they presented a $25,000 check at an evening event hosted by Santa Clara County Association of Realtors.

 

 

“Myself and Annette Hancock, an extraordinary volunteer and long-time board member, were overwhelmed by the foundation’s generosity, and Annette was brought to tears, ” said Meta Townsley, Chief Development Officer of DST. “We are greatly appreciative of our new partnership with the Santa Clara Association of Realtors.”

 

By working hand-in-hand with housing organizations and property managers, we have successfully secured permanent housing for over 600 people across the Bay Area.  Building these partnerships is essential to our success in ending homelessness in our lifetime. The SCCRF’s commitment to helping us reach our goal is significant and will bring hope to many people who are ready to get off the streets for good.

SCCRF is dedicated to bringing real estate together by investing in our neighborhoods with compassion, foresight and action.  DST’s check was one of two checks presented that evening.  Family Supportive Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to ending family homelessness, was also presented with a $25,000 check.

View the official press release.

 

Volume X – Hayley Benham-Archdeacon, DST Coordinator

By Hayley Benham-Archdeacon, DST San Francisco Coordinator

Something our Project Director says is if we could just get everyone in the room with our Team Members, we would end homelessness. I fully believe that. They are the most human humans. I don’t know how else to say it.

While of course the breadth of personalities and life stories is as wide as possible across our Team, I can speak in some generalizations: our Team Members have been through it. They’ve had the worst cards dealt to them but show up on our doorstep ready to play their hand the best they can. They have a sense of humor about life and themselves, and they’ve used it to survive. Our Team Members are embodiments of perseverance and redemption, the ultimate human qualities. How could you not love them! I couldn’t imagine anyone placing judgment on our Team Members after taking the time to hear their stories. You’d realize how much human potential we are letting go unrealized, and you’d work as hard as DST to help our people into lives of stability.

The start of my time with Downtown Streets Team came with an expiration date. I knew I would show up for a few months, inevitably bond with charming and unique Team Members, and then leave full of regret. That was the plan.

I have a policy background, and have always admired DST from that perspective. There’s this forever unanswered question in political science: does culture influence policy, or does policy influence culture? I’ve always viewed DST’s work as filling a policy gap: there are policy systems for homeless people, and systems for employed and housed people, but nothing connecting the two. We have shelter systems and free meal programs that get people off the street and somewhat fed day by day, but keep unhoused individuals in the same status of life. Then we have systems that continue to privilege the already privileged: when you apply for a job, they ensure sure you’ve never committed a crime or experienced large lapses in employment. If you want an apartment, they check your credit score and housing history. These policy systems keep everyone where they are, and as a result keep most resources and opportunities inaccessible to homeless individuals, even if they’re at a point in life where they’re ready to make a change. You can’t just tell a person sitting on the sidewalk to get a job when as they formally stand, institutions offer no bridge from the street to a stable life. DST is that middle ground, the system that gives displaced people steps to elevate themselves off the street.

It’s the difference between mitigation and reform: we do need beds and meals to ease short-term suffering, but we can’t rely on shelters and free food as transformative agencies. We can’t only treat the symptoms and not treat the cause.

Many of us think homelessness isn’t relevant to our lives. There is us, and then there is “the homeless,” that one thing that happens to that one group of people. But realistically, all paths lead to the street: mental health, substance use and job loss, sure, but also domestic violence, freak accidents, hospital bills, the end of relationships, or even the loss of a bank card and an apathetic landlord.

Homelessness isn’t good for anyone. Not to diminish the experiences of homeless folks themselves, but it isn’t easy to walk by that much human despair everyday. Even if you pretend you don’t see it, it gets in. It takes energy to block yourself off from compassion, to look at someone in suffering and tell yourself not to feel bad because they must have done something to deserve their circumstance. I understand why people do this. We think we’re saving ourselves the time and mental wellbeing it’d take to worry about those people as if they’re human, but really, it’s taking more out of us in the long run. Shutting down the compassionate parts of ourselves takes a human toll on everyone.

But I get why it’s hard to let yourself feel fully if you also feel like you have nowhere to go with those feelings: it’ll do no good to simply feel bad in the face of a problem as insurmountable as homelessness in San Francisco.

We can rightfully blame a lot of systemic failures for mass homelessness. HUD, Reagan. But as individuals, we can change things by changing our priorities. Basically I’m tired of those conversations. I’m tired of looking for who to blame, and I’m interested in who will help.

Before my time here, I remember thinking of homelessness as just another social issue, almost a fringe cause. “Homelessness” wasn’t the clickbait that got me. I was caught up in the newest, freshest social issues, how crazy Trump was getting and what the hell Rachel Dolezal was thinking. Homelessness didn’t appeal to me because it felt like a permanent problem, something I could never do anything about.

I see that people want to change things, and they want to have a part in it. Especially people with social, racial and economic privileges in San Francisco: they feel a heightening self-consciousness, and want somewhere to go with it.

Right now, I mostly see this expressed in discussions about how movie casting responds to race, or how not enough women are CEOs of the corporations we don’t even like. These are all valid observations, and legitimate reflections of larger systemic patterns of marginalization, and they all deserve a conversation. However, I feel the need to say those talks do not on their own qualify as effective political action. Our Team Members don’t give a shit about those discussions. The truth is I care more about that than they do, and it’s because I have the luxury of thinking that far removed and symbolically about “the system.” Anyone having a conversation about movie casting is doing so from a place of privilege (myself one thousand percent included) and that type of discourse is very different than action.

What would happen if instead of only divulging in symbolic conversations about race or gender when it has to do with HBO’s Girls, we actually all mustered up the courage to spend the same amount of energy looking at homelessness, epidemical drug abuse, and mass incarceration? What if conversations about homelessness became as common in your Twitter feed as intricate discussions about the new Ghostbusters? Again, let those Tweets flow, but please realize the homeless individuals we work with will not thank you for it. They’re too occupied trying to renew their shelter bed, figuring out where they’ll get their next meal, making sure they have tampons when they need them, and deciding if they can risk going to sleep that night without getting their stuff stolen.

Say we do immerse ourselves in those realities. Say we weren’t satisfied with only discourse and decided to spend some time in real life tackling reality. Right now we’re dipping our toe in, but we won’t take a step.

What if we all take a leap of faith that it would be worth it, because if we truly commit ourselves to change things as large and all-encompassing as homelessness, the rest will follow. If we pick people up out of the cracks in the system that leave them without homes and means to sustain themselves, marginalization in entertainment, employment, and everywhere else will begin to correct itself. 

It can start with you in your city, on your daily commute. If you’re not happy with the human strife you see everyday, make it a priority. You don’t have to quit your job and work for DST, but you can devote your time to funnel resources to organizations tackling the realities you care about. No one has to be just one thing in life: just because you’re a tech employee doesn’t mean you can’t also organize events or fundraisers to raise money for organizations doing the work. It doesn’t mean you can’t make demands from your representatives to prioritize homelessness as a policy issue, along with affordable housing and income inequality generally. If that all feels weird and out of your depth, I recommend talking to some of your community members who are living on the street.

Seriously. Say hi. Stop for a minute on your way home. Ask them what they think about things, ask them how they feel about their city, because hint: more than 70% of unhoused individuals in SF are from here, and they probably know more about the City than most of your fellow commuters. Hold community meals inviting the folks you see staying outside your home or work every day to come eat. Don’t be scared. It’s not worth being scared.

Seriously, respond. If you don’t like seeing homelessness everyday, respond to it everyday. Don’t go home from work, win a Facebook comment war, go to bed, wake up and walk by the same homeless people you saw yesterday and not respond. That person doesn’t know you just raked a racist over the coals on the internet. You didn’t help them at all. Go ahead, have the Facebook talks, but then do the real life walk.

Homelessness is becoming a cultural centerpiece in San Francisco. It’s undeniable now, by nature of its intense visibility and ever-encroaching presence in our communities. Instead of letting it creep into our consciousness as that big problem that will never go away and letting “homelessness is really bad there” become San Francisco’s narrative, why don’t we take it upon ourselves to be the San Francisco that took control of its homelessness problem, something we all have a role in. We can be the city that came together across all social strata and industries and started demanding responses. Let’s do this World War II manufacturing style, and get behind a common goal we can all reasonably agree on: get human beings out of the elements and into lives of stability so they can fully develop themselves the way so many of us have been lucky enough to do.

San Francisco is home to the richest history, world-changing innovations, and the smartest, most conscious and action-oriented humans in the world. If we let ourselves take on this fight, if we make the fight for a human’s right to a life out of poverty part of San Francisco’s culture, with signature policymakers and well-backed agencies to represent that, we can solve the human crisis pervading all our lives.

If it can happen anywhere, it’s San Francisco.

SanJoseInside – Op-Ed: Vote ‘Yes’ on A for Affordable Housing

This op-ed piece was originally published by SanJoseInside.com; written by Eileen Richardson/September 13, 2016

Measure A would authorize Santa Clara County to spend $950 million on affordable housing for the homeless and other vulnerable residents. (Photo via Facebook)

Measure A would authorize Santa Clara County to spend $950 million on affordable housing for the homeless and other vulnerable residents. (Photo via Facebook)

This November, Santa Clara County voters will have the opportunity to make history by voting “yes” on Measure A for Affordable Housing, a $950 million affordable housing bond that will create thousands of new affordable homes for hardworking families and vulnerable communities across Santa Clara County.

We all see on a daily basis that Santa Clara County’s housing crisis is real. The Bay Area is home to some of the wealthiest and most expensive places to live in the world, all while thousands of people are homeless and many thousands more live below the poverty line on the verge of homelessness.

This affects all of us. We’re worried about our friends, family, and community members being able to find an affordable place to live. And we’re deeply concerned about helping those who have already lost housing find a way to get back on their feet and gain access to a safe, healthy, affordable place to call home. Read more…

Vol. VIII Eileen Richardson, CEO

 

Looking back, I’m embarrassed at my naivety. I raised two kids as a single mom, all the while climbing my way up the corporate ladder. I became a successful Venture Capitalist, and then took the helm as CEO of Napster and another high-tech startup. After that, I thought solving homelessness would be a breeze. Give me six months, I thought, and I’ll spread the model across the country and call it a day!

Well, it’s a decade later and I’m still at it, even if some days I’m ripping my hair out at how hard this work is. I have a bad day now if I hear someone has died on the street before we were able to reach them. But I’m still hopeful. I’m still optimistic that in my lifetime, or at least in my kids’ lifetime, there will be an end to homelessness in America.

Homelessness is more complex than any product or business plan could ever be. You see, when you have a product—no matter how complex—it’s still just a product. You work to get it to the place where you can worry about sales models and distribution channels, but the product remains stable and finite. When working with people, there is no solid, singular product and the trials and tribulations are infinite. It’s very personal.

I am excited to say that homelessness in Palo Alto is down nearly 40% since we started, despite average rent increasing from $1,695 in 2010 to $3,105 in 2015. Across Santa Clara County, the home of our first three Teams, homelessness is on the decline as well. In the last two years, homelessness is down 14% despite increases in most other Bay Area counties.

When the first four Team Members and I started with Downtown Streets Team (DST) in 2005, I was so green. I thought it couldn’t be that hard to find someone a job and housing if I just addressed the obvious roadblocks. I ran the Team the only way I knew how: like a high tech startup, rather than a social service—action-oriented versus service-oriented. We improvised, tried new ideas and constantly corrected our course. I learned so much from the Team Members and from the early successes we had.

Early lessons:

  • I found that if you hold people accountable and place trust in them, they rise to the occasion.
  • Everyone’s path into homelessness was unique. So how could a cookie-cutter approach to homelessness work for everyone, or even most people? it doesn’t.
  • The Team Member had to want the change for themselves, but we sure could motivate them!
  • Dignity is often looked at as a by-product of housing, employment, or success. I learned that if we started with dignity and used it as a tool instead of an end result, we were hugely more successful.

We gained a lot of traction early with this new approach. We forged partnerships with unlikely stakeholders, including local businesses and government agencies outside of Human Services. We even won recognition from Harvard University’s Ash Institute as one of the top 50 Innovations in American Government.

We earned attention quickly, and it’s carried us far. We’ve received transformational support from funders like the Peery Foundation, and made headway in communities across the nation. We launched franchises in Gilroy, CA and Florida, and then we got a call from San Jose Councilmember and now Mayor Sam Liccardo. The launch of our San Jose Team quickly followed in 2011, with Sunnyvale (2012) and San Rafael (2013) close behind.

All the while we were looking over the horizon at San Francisco. We watched as the status of homelessness escalated and rents kept increasing. When a few community members first approached us about a San Francisco Downtown Streets Team, we were excited.

But rapid early success has already proven that our award-winning model can work here too. In our first month alone, three Team Members transitioned to employment. We have a full staff of dedicated, passionate and innovative people forging a paradigm shift for the homeless community and our partners around Mid-Market. We’ve gained the support of the local business community, like the Civic Center Community Benefit District, the Union Square Business Improvement District ,and funding from Dolby Laboratories, Cisco and Google. Most importantly, our Team seems energized and hopeful.

DST will keep doing what it does best: creating a pathway for the hopeless to change their lives through the dignity of work, and acting as the gateway to other programs and changing the community’s perceptions of who a homeless person is, and what their aspirations are. And so importantly, making communities believe there is a solution and shattering their preconceived notions about what homeless men and women want and are capable of.

I don’t proclaim that DST can do this alone. Quite the opposite, actually. To end homelessness, we need to collaborate to increase our affordable housing stock. We need to engage folks at every possible point of entry. We need to bring more corporations and businesses into the fold. Yes, people need homes but almost of equal importance: they need to feel like a positive and contributing member of their community once again. Collectively, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

I always joke that if I’d known how hard it would be, I would have never taken that ‘six-month leap’ to begin this work. This has indeed been the hardest job I’ve ever had. But as of today, we’ve celebrated over 1,000 success stories!

So, a decade later and implementing our unique working model, we are ready for San Francisco – and mark my words – 10 years from now, we will be celebrating 10,000 people moved from our streets into lives of joy and independence.

 

 

VOL. VI – Angelique Diaz, Case Manager

By Angelique Diaz, San Francisco Case Manager

I am continuously asked, “What is case management?” If ya ask me, it means being a housing counselor, personal assistant, liaison, scheduler, cooking instructor, house cleaner, mold inspector, mover, driver, legal advocate, and alarm clock.

I grew up in Brownsville, a small city in South Texas, and although it was a poor border town, homelessness was rarely seen. Growing up, I didn’t even know homelessness existed. Now I speak as someone who has been in the nonprofit world working with the unhoused and low-income community for 10 years, which is my entire adult life.

I fell into this field. I just knew I wanted a job that would make my family proud. My father was a disabled Marine Corp veteran, so when I was offered a position at a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans in Phoenix, I thought it was fate.

Before coming to DST, I worked at large well-known non-profits in multiple states. Lots of programs felt “cookie-cutter,” with staff that worked in a “one program fits all” mindset. We were bound up in a lot of red tape, and it felt like the main focus was on what we were NOT allowed to do, instead of focusing on what action we could take to help people.

I remember the first Downtown Streets Team (DST) meeting I attended. At the time, I was working with dual-diagnosed homeless veterans in San Jose, I did presentations to agencies and recruitment with veterans in homeless encampments. I was directed to present at a DST weekly Success Meeting in San Jose. I imagined I’d give a presentation and leave.

On a warm sunny Wednesday, promptly at 12:30 p.m., I arrived at a musty church basement where DST held their weekly success meetings. Although the basement room had minimal light, I could feel the sunshine of DST radiating from the room. It was such a supportive environment with endless cheering, compassion, and most of all the clapping. Never have I ever seen a social service organization that had so much clapping. The roomful of smiles was so contagious, I could not help but feel uplifted, and I decided to stay for the whole meeting. When I went back to my office cubicle I immediately felt depressed and envious, because it was no DST. Throughout the months that followed, I could not stop thinking about the joy in that room.

It was just my luck that when I was ready to leave my job, a position opened up with DST. In my interview, our CEO and Executive Director Eileen Richardson looked at my resume and told me I was “institutionalized”.

Institutionalized. What the hell does that even mean?

Later, I would come to know what she meant. At DST, we welcome everyone onto the team, for there is only one requirement to be at least 18 years old. We dedicate our time to listening to people’s stories and most of all, we celebrate all successes big or small, which is something that rarely happened at the other non-profits I worked for.

It’s been almost three years since that interview. My first position with DST was working in Santa Clara County on a homeless encampment project. There, we partnered with the City of San Jose to house over 80 individuals and we convinced landlords and property owners to take a chance on our folks. The project’s high housing retention rate blew the national average out of the water.

Now I work as a case manager in San Francisco, which has been incredibly frustrating and disheartening at times. Currently, the wait time for a shelter bed in San Francisco is five weeks. Affordable housing waitlists range from two to five years. Housing is scarce and unaffordable; lists are long, housing lotteries are few and far between. It feels like everyday my Team Members tell me horror stories about uncooperative service providers and never-ending waitlists.

But as I continue to chug along, establishing relationships with property managers, homeowners, and other nonprofits to seek out affordable permanent housing in the Golden City, I try not to let our Team Members become discouraged because their number hasn’t appeared on a shelter or permanent housing waitlist. Instead I focus on the things that I can help with: sometimes it’s getting them an ID, a pair of glasses, dentures, or helping squash an active arrest warrant that can hinder their efforts to gain employment and housing. Because as my Team Members’ case manager, I cannot let them down.

Looking back at the first Team Member I housed, he once had his own place where he was living on a fixed income. Then his wallet was stolen. Without his bank card, he couldn’t pay rent on time, and his property manager wouldn’t accept his past due rent. He was evicted and lived on the streets for nine months. He joined DST in March 2016, and we immediately started our mission to rebuild his life. His housing was tied to receiving General Assistance fixed income, but when his housing was ready, his General Assistance was cut off. I called two different times and spoke to people at the GA office, asking them to reinstate his benefits, and they said no. I called a third time, and they told me that he would need to re-apply and wait 30 days. I asked for an exception, and they said no. Finally, with my Team Member by my side, I marched down to the GA office in person and demanded they reinstate his GA immediately so he wouldn’t miss this rare housing opportunity, and they finally helped us. The Team Member was understandably discouraged and hopeless throughout the process. Without our help, he would have had to wait who knows how long for his benefits to be re-instated and for another housing opportunity to come up.

We do everything possible to go above and beyond to advocate for Team Members and connect them to services. We’ve helped get ID-less Team Members on a plane to Los Angeles for job orientation. We’ve helped Team Members get housing when nobody else believed it could happen. These moments are what make everything worthwhile, when hope is found in what seems to be a hopeless situation. We support our Team Members’ efforts, and meet them where they are. Rather than studying statistics on paper, we look at and speak to the individual in front of us.

I am no longer envious of that marvelous day when I attended my first DST meeting because now, every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., in a bright room full of optimism, smiles and a great deal of clapping, San Francisco holds OUR Success Meetings, where I get to share my housing resources, community events, and a very popular Free Things to Do list with my Team Members every week… and I know I can say I am no longer “institutionalized.”

 

 

 

VOL IV – Jaclyn Epter, Employment Specialist

By Jaclyn Epter

Most people are excited about their birthdays. At Downtown Streets Team (DST), we honor our Team Members’ birthdays, but some responses I’ve heard perfectly highlight how life-altering homelessness can be:

“I haven’t celebrated my birthday for years,” one Team Member told me. “I’m just trying to get through the day.” Another Team Member, upon being offered a leftover slice of cake, declined. “I just don’t have anywhere to keep it.”

In my role as Employment Specialist with Downtown Streets Team in San Francisco, I work with people each day to identify and remove the barriers they face in pursuit of employment. Sometimes this means providing interview practice and resume support, but other times a Team Member just needs some consistent encouragement along the way.

Homelessness itself is a barrier, but access to consistent income is the only way we can move a person into permanent housing. We begin our work with that long-term goal in mind.

I started doing this kind of work in middle school, I just didn’t realize it. I was fortunate enough to have a mother very committed to volunteer work, and by the age of 13 I was volunteering at a thrift store that raised money for a women’s shelter serving victims displaced by domestic violence. I didn’t even know what domestic violence was. I was fortunate in that way as well. But I could tell that I was working with a staff that was not satisfied with the status quo, and together we were able to fund a vital resource for our community.

In college I chose to study Sociology and Social Work, with a concentration in inequality. We were a group of people who had never experienced much hardship, seeking to solve social problems by reading about them. Many students came into class with naïve questions: “Why don’t people go to college?” “How do people end up homeless?” Our patient professors had to do the tedious labor that it often takes to open minds to alternate life experiences. In most academia, the individual is reduced to the “problem” they represent. People are shuffled into demographics and published as a percentage.

I was in my last year of undergrad when I met Eileen Smith. My friend and I were looking into abandoned buildings in our neighborhood, and we stumbled upon a 68-year-old woman living inside with no running water or electricity. I ended up visiting her on my own periodically. I would bring her food from the restaurant I worked at and she would read my astrological chart. We became close and I became intimately aware of the lifetime of obstacles she’d overcome to survive. She set the goal to pursue social security benefits on her own, and eventually, she reconnected with a sibling that offered her housing.

Eileen showed me that people are truly capable of changing their own circumstances, if and only if they have consistent support and exposure to alternate pathways. Social justice is not theory and thinkpieces, it comes from hard work on the ground, face to face with the people who represent “problems.”

Our Team Members live everyday life on the streets like an obstacle course. Homelessness strips a person of their individuality, their psychological and physical safety, and their capacity for resiliency. Many people come into our program with little hope their situations will ever change.

But each morning, most likely just before the cops do their sweeps, something drives our Team Members to put on their Downtown Streets Team shirts and come to their shift. They travel from all over San Francisco in an effort to pursue new options and opportunities.

People ask me what keeps our Team Members coming back. We hear it over and over again from our Team: we provide a refuge from the streets, a space where people are seen as the individuals they are. You are not a case number with us, you are Linda, turning 40 today, and we heard you like funfetti cupcakes.

That homeless woman is someone’s mother

The little girl who drew this is about 10 years old. She approached our table at a community event where she immediately grabbed this question and a colored pencil. There were many questions on the table to choose from. As she began to draw, it became apparent what was weighing on her mind.

She was also accompanied by her younger sister and her grandmother, who is now raising the two of them.

Her grandmother spoke to us about her daughter’s struggles to get her life on track, to stay housed and employed. She was at a loss for answers, for her daughter has made many attempts but is continuously faced with adversity, including a recent divorce. The little girl interjected her comments as her grandmother spoke. We were surprised by her matter-of-fact tone. She was immensely focused on completing her drawing, but also wanted to share the facts with us.

We gave the grandmother info about one of our teams that we hope will fit the needs of her daughter. The girl’s younger sister tugged at her grandmother’s sleeve, demanding she was ready to go home.

“She’s autistic,” said the grandmother. “So there’s a lot going on.”

Even so, they did not leave until the little girl was done with her drawing. We talked with many people at the community fair that day, but none of them shared with us in the way this little girl had. In a split second, she forced us to see how her struggling mother was affecting her and her family. We, in turn, were struck by the reality that hit us. We talk to people every day who are homeless, but not often do we hear it from a child’s perspective.

When we talk about homelessness, we need to talk about all aspects. Homelessness impacts us all and it will take all of us working together to solve it. The next time you see a homeless person on the street, think to yourself, “That could be someone’s mother, or someone’s brother, or uncle.” Then do something, even if it’s simply looking them in the eyes and saying, “Hi.”

VOL. II – Brandon Davis, SF Project Director

By Brandon Davis, Project Director  of San Francisco

In a letter from Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King declared that…

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through tireless efforts…and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Every Tuesday at 12:30 pm, in a modest Quaker Meeting Space, there’s a room brimming with the positive energy of homeless community members who have rejected inevitability, united in eagerness for self-transformation. Since Downtown Streets Team launched in San Francisco three months ago, we’ve had no shortage of folks determined to earn a life of stability, starting by volunteering on community beautification projects and working side by side with our direct service staff on their housing and employment goals. In fact, San Francisco is home to our quickest growing Team, built solely through peer-to-peer outreach and a high-spirited presence in the community.

It doesn’t take a Medical Social Worker to discern that my compassion for the unhoused community is deeply rooted in personal experience. As a first generation child of deaf adults (CODA) I experienced the marginalization of a community and felt its effects on my family. Through watching families in the deaf community struggle to find support, my empathy for others in similarly alienating circumstances has grown. My parents’ disability disqualified them for a majority of employment opportunities, dealing them major economical disadvantages. The social disadvantage of deafness often excluded our family from teacher conferences and medical appointments, which potentially negatively affected our health and well being. I’ve seen how being “othered” can turn marginalized communities even more inward and isolated into groups of only those who share their experiences.

Adversity has shaped our way of identifying with the world and those around us. One of the largest controversies within the deaf community is whether or not parents should procure operations to restore a deaf child’s hearing. The dispute stems from a deeply rooted pride that members of the deaf community hold in being subversive, and surviving the world without assimilating and developing strong culture in the face of marginalization. The same controversy transpires around adults who opt for progressive surgery after a lifetime of living in deaf subculture.

That might come as a surprise to most people. But while both hearing and housing might appear as objective, undeniable advantages to most, assimilating after a lifetime without them has to be some real earth-shattering shit.

Provided the offer to hear, for instance, my father would be offended. On the other hand, my mother who was born hard of hearing was recently giggling to me about testing a newly-released hearing device in a public restroom, asking me “is that what it’s always sounded like in there?”

I don’t blame my father. He carved out a life with what he had and learned to cope with the support of his community. Perhaps their difference in approach to assimilation can be traced back to the way their parents handled their deafness: my mother was taken to Northwestern University multiple times a week to participate in studies that trained her to interpret speech in the hearing world, completely opposite my father, who was shipped to a boarding school for the deaf at age five, where he spent most of his life until he was an adult.

Deaf adults qualify for disability benefits that pay a fixed income. My dad would never vilify someone who used those benefits in a time of need, but he made the decision to work and gained a strong sense of self-worth rooted in the contribution he was making. Shortly after I was born a deaf friend of my father referred him to the United States Postal Service who took a chance on him, paying five dollars per hour. He’s been there ever since, working an additional job in the stock room at Sears and taking less than a handful of sick days in his 40+ years. He retires this year!

I recently attended a meeting where I heard someone label an overwhelming percentage of unhoused community members “service-resistant” and I wanted to jump out the high-rise office window. Instead I ruminated on the reality that is our consistently packed room of unhoused community members, and imagined them with their middle fingers high in the air at the phrase “service-resistant.” I envision a similar response from members of the underemployed and undervalued deaf community. They are great at hand signs.

It felt like an unaccountable cop-out. It’s true there are individuals who take longer to engage but it’s rarely because they are lazy or disinterested in a secure, dignified life sheltered from the elements with access to a toilet and a belly full of food! It’s more probable that we’ve failed to mold our services to the needs of those members of the community that have been consistently failed by institutions.

Anyone who has given their best attempt to communicate with my mother can tell you that she’s sweeter than a Midwest lemon bar. But to this day, she doesn’t invest time engaging with people who won’t make the effort of meeting her and try to communicate with her at least partially on her terms. My parents don’t respond well to not being included in conversations that take place in the same room as them. They often worry conversations are being had about them, without them. It might sound paranoid, but I’d imagine it can be justified by their previous life experiences. Same rules apply to our Team Members: they show up for shift everyday, and tell us where they want to go from there. We don’t make decisions about them, without them.

That’s why I fell in love with Downtown Streets Team’s individualized, peer-run approach. A Team Member recently put it better than I ever have: …it’s like we are all in the same boat, and society for the most part may have counted us out, but you guys [Downtown Streets Team] haven’t counted us out, we didn’t count ourselves out, we’re still alive and kicking!”

Every morning the majority of our Team Members awake exhausted from a lack of shelter and security, ready themselves to the best of their ability, and join their peers in beautifying their community. If that isn’t work ethic, I don’t know what is.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to humans. We are each multifaceted and evolving. DST will be the first to admit we don’t have all the answers, but our Team Members are helping us find them. San Francisco is in a state of crisis, with over 6,500 human beings unhoused. The time is ripe and together as a Team accountable to one other, we’re inching further in the right direction everyday.