Category: Uncategorized

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.

Launching “The Davidson Project”

Davidson Welcomes Downtown Streets Team

Downtown Streets Team is proud to announce its expanded contract with the City of San Rafael to clean Davidson Middle School, the Mahone Creek Trail, Albert Park and the surrounding neighborhoods! The new program comes after months of collaboration with concerned community members, school staff, and city officials and is our direct response to the community’s need for a safer, cleaner school environment. Team Members have already begun to work in the neighborhood and can be seen Monday through Friday working from 7am to 11am in the area. One of these Team Members is Nelson Moore, who is actually a Davidson Middle School Alum.

Nelson’s Story

When Nelson attended Davidson their mascot was the panthers, it was later changed to the cougars, and he was involved on all the sports Teams. Nelson had lived in Marin his whole life and after his service as a Marine in Vietnam he returned to our community, his home. At this point Nelson faced many personal challenges including drug addiction and eventually incarceration. Like many who have faced such obstacles, Nelson came to Downtown Streets Team to give back to the community and work alongside his peers towards a better future. Today Nelson can be seen tending to the Davidson Community Garden and encouraging other Team Members in his leadership position as a “blue shirt.” He explains that when parents and students compliment his work he wants to tell them “This is my school” and his community.

 

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Nelson Moore (student top left) attending Davidson Middle School.

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Nelson tends to the Davidson Garden, keeping it free from trash for the students.

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Nelson Moore, Vietnam Veteran, photographed above.

Stories of Hope from Marin

Everyday, and particularly this holiday season, Downtown Streets Team is proud of our Team Member’s successes. These stories give us hope as we work towards our mission to end homelessness in Marin. In Marin Downtown Streets Team currently has 56 graduates who have moved onto long-term employment opportunities including Isaac, Kevin and Sondra.

Sondra, recent DST graduate.

Sondra, recent DST graduate.

Sondra was homeless and struggling to maintain her two months of sobriety when she decided to join DST. Sondra reflects on her decision to join DST, “That started to change everything… I got to rebuild my life.” Once Sondra made the decision to change her life she immediately began to thrive on the Team. After four months of hard work and collaboration with our Employment Specialist in San Rafael we are proud to report that Sondra is now sober, working full-time at Goodwill, and no longer homeless. Although each Team Member’s success is unique Sondra’s achievements with Downtown Streets Team are not unlike Kevin or Isaac’s.

Isaac became homeless when he lost his job and couldn’t pay his rent. Another Team Member encouraged Isaac to join Downtown Streets Team and Isaac became a leader on the Team and flourished. Recently, as a direct result of DST’s program, he accepted a full-time position at PG&E in Marin! When asked how he felt about his new job Isaac said, “I am so happy, I hope it turns into a career.” Along with Isaac, our Team Member Kevin also found a job at PG&E. Although Kevin is now working full-time he explains, “DST has given me a sense of what it is to give back to the world,” and he wants to continue volunteer work to improve the community.

Together, Sondra, Isaac, and Kevin represent three of the many successes Downtown Streets Team has had in Marin that continue to give us hope in our mission to end homelessness. Sondra reminds us, “All homeless people want is an opportunity to prove themselves. DST gives them that opportunity to show up and work.”

Kevin, another successful DST graduate

Kevin, another successful DST graduate

Isaac works full time at PG&E in Marin!

Isaac works full time at PG&E in Marin!

Post #3: Yavneh 8th Graders Reflect on Volunteering With Our Homeless Team Members

Yavneh Day School 8th grade students are volunteering with our homeless and low-income Team Members on our San Jose Team, every Friday for just over a month.  After volunteering they write about their experiences and share their photos.  Their reflections are below. #StudentsInService

Gilly
Yavneh Day School 8th Grader

When I was younger I used to go to place called Happy Hollow. Little did I know that behind Happy Hollow lay a camp littered with graffiti and trash – and that was home to hundreds of people. As I was playing with my friends at the zoo, people were suffering literally right behind us. On Friday
October 9, 2015 our class visited Kelly Park, not to go to the zoo, but to pick up trash. We were also told that some big trucks had come by recently and spilled a lot of ink into the creek. The creek was so polluted with ink that it actually was purple and red. Also, there was so much trash around the creek and under the overpass – I was stunned. The creek smelled bad, too.

As we walked through part of the creek I saw a lot of graffiti. It was a beautiful contrast to see the colorful graffiti against a scene that was otherwise so sad and ugly. This visit and clean up work was a life changing experience. Remembering that I went to Happy Hollow more than once a month when I was little and never realized all of this was going on; this trip opened my eyes to what
is happening in our community.

Ben and Aaron
Yavneh Day School 8th Grader

We just spent another morning with DST members, this time working at the creek behind Happy Hollow.  The most interesting part was hearing the stories of the Team Members while we worked. One Team Member told us that she finally got a housing voucher and was going to have her own home that she could stay in – forever.  She explained to us about the vouchers and how she only has to pay a portion of her income to get to live in this apartment.  It was great to see how excited she was!   We also talked to a DST member who had experienced a lot of stress in her life. She used to be a drug addict like her husband, but now she’s divorced and living on the streets.  She has three daughters, some still in school and others not.  We hope she finds something that will help her life become less stressful.  Finally, we talked to a man about his experience in jail. He was released and is now getting his life back on track. He loves working with the Streets Team and told us that this organization is a big part of his being able to get his life back on track.  He likes giving back to the community.  All the people working for Downtown Streets loves their jobs and are grateful that DST is helping them get their lives back on track.

Read more reflections here: Students In Service

Students in Service Project Kicks Off!

Every Friday morning during the month of September a group of 8th grade students from Yavneh Day School will join our a San Jose Team Members to beautify our creeks and neighborhoods.

We have worked closely with Yavneh over the years and are always impressed with their hands-on approach to education, and how thoughtful they are with projects, giving their students a unique and rewarding experience through partnering with nonprofits and other socially conscious companies.  Our latest project with them, Students in Service (#StudentsInService), is something we hope to replicate with other schools.

 

Follow the Students’ Journey

During this project, students will snap photos and write about their experiences volunteering with our homeless folks, while also cleaning up the environment.

 

Check out the first photos and stories submitted by the students so far and follow the journey #StudentsInService

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Reflection #1

By Lily, an 8th grader at Yavneh Day School

On Friday September 11, my 8th grade class had the privilege of being the first kids in this age group to work along side volunteers of Downtown Streets Team. We split up into two groups as we started on our adventure to clean the streets. It was an amazing experience. Every time I found a piece of trash and put it in my bag, I just had  to smile because of the joy and happiness inside me; since when did picking up trash become something that felt so good?
The DST members showed their smarts the second we met them. My friends and I were impressed with the  creative ways they did what they had to do. For example, it was genius to put a stick in the lip of the garbage bag so that it will stay open!  My favorite part of volunteering with the team was hearing my amazing group leader’s stories. It was really scary to realize how fast one can go from shopping at Neiman Marcus to being homeless alongside your husband and not being able to pay your pile of your hospital bills.

Volunteering with DST was an eye opening and amazing experience and I am so excited to do it again next Friday!

Reflection #2

by Amanda, an 8th grader at Yavneh Day School

I know this sounds weird, but picking up trash is a lot of fun. It gave me a chance to connect with the community a little more. I got to hang out with friends, both old and new, as we helped around a less glamorous part of my own neighborhood (near Naglee Park). Okay, I admit, it was kind of gross, (especially when we found the dead bird), but that was outweighed by how great it was to do good things with good people.