VOLUME XXIII - “I SEE WITH MY SPIRIT”

Posted on June 29, 2018 by Streetsteam

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I was born and named Carl Frederick Minor Jr., which I resented because I was named after my father. I love him but I don’t like him. I was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York. I started doing art as a child and pursued art as a profession. I went blind at the age of 29 from detached retinas, the same thing caused my mom and my sister to go blind.

 

My family has a mixed cultural background, which is why I never learned to dislike somebody based on the color of their skin. When I get treated a certain way because of the color of my skin, it hurts. I take that hurt and I sing, dance and make dolls. The dolls represent people that might have hurt me or I create a whole new civilization of imaginary people who are not prejudice so it helps me heal. I’m passionate about collecting dolls and making dolls from all kinds of mediums such as yarn and ceramics. I’m good at designing clothes and doing hair so that comes into play with the dolls as well. I have over 3,000 dolls in storage right now in Texas that I’m trying to get over to San Francisco. My dream is to open a doll museum as well as a museum for the blind. I thank God I could see for 29 years because I was able to look at things in detail. I am very passionate about helping individuals who are blind get a full understanding of the world via touch. Although I have learned to thrive while being blind, I do miss seeing food, color, hair and magic tricks. I love beautiful things and even though I can’t physically see anymore I can see with my heart. I see with my spirit.

 

I was very young when my mother became completely blind and as a result we moved to New Jersey. She went to college and I used to go to her classes with her to take notes for her. It was fun because it made me feel important and it helped my diction later on in life. I am a dark man and I am tall and I’m somewhat flamboyant, especially when it comes to my hair, so I learned very quickly to keep a certain tone of voice when I speak because it keeps people from being intimidated or scared.

 

I came out to my mother and father when I was 13. When I came out my father told me I couldn’t drink from the same glass as him because he assumed I had AIDS. I believe God loves us unconditionally and no matter what. I ran away from my home in Jersey when I was 13 years old to be with my father in Jamaica, Queens. He was abusive and my stepmom was extremely abusive so as a result I got emancipated at 16 and lived in my own apartment in Harlem until I turned 29.

 

When I left New York, I moved to Texas because that is where my favorite aunt lived. Unfortunately children don’t realize who is who. If you only see somebody once or twice a year, it is easy for them to be nice to you and give you gifts. So when I got to Texas, my favorite aunt who I think is the prettiest woman in the world, started comparing me to her three sons. I’m openly gay and we are a very biblical family so there was tension. I didn’t want to hate my aunt so I decided to leave and come to San Francisco to find a mate that would be understanding and who could accept me for who I am.

 

I slept on the ground for 2 years outside of Hospitality Art Studio because I had artwork in the studio. It is a free space where residents as well as individuals experiencing homelessness can get art supplies and create artwork in the studio. My art is a part of me, I don’t do it to sell it, even though I have been very fortunate to sell some of my work. I have a photographic memory so any flamboyant, striking characters such as Betty Boo, Miss Piggy, Barbie, Morticia Addams from the Addams family, etc. I can recreate from memory.

 

I have this passion, I really love everybody, I mean it. When you have truly become enlightened in life is when you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but it is hard to do, especially if you have been hurt in the past. I was physically assaulted and abused a few times throughout my life as a kid and since I’ve lived in SF I have been punched, beaten, and kicked at least 10 times. Violence is ugly and it is a waste of time. I really love people and it hurts when I see someone being racist or bigoted.

 

Now that I have my own apartment, I am getting ready to do my own art show. Hospitality House is also going to give me an entire window to display my artwork in.

 

An acquaintance told me about DST and said they could potentially help me find a job. I showed up to a weekly success meeting and every Tuesday after that for about 6 weeks before I made it on the team. Some people were skeptical about what I would be able to do, but I knew that I could do so much more than what they thought I could do. There was a large percentage of DST that went out of their way to acknowledge my capabilities. I always tell people that DST is an organization that prepares you for the workforce by making you accountable. We are a unified family. It is a very powerful self-building organization. No matter what ailment a person may have, DST does not discriminate, this organization gives everyone a chance.

 

DST has helped me a lot. They call me and check up on and give me encouragement. Even today, DST is going to give me a crockpot for my new apartment. Some of us don’t have anywhere to go ever and DST is a very powerful entity that helps us and provides us with somewhere to go and something to do.

 

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VOLUME XXII - “I DO SOMETHING POSITIVE EVERYDAY”

Posted on June 4, 2018 by Streetsteam

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Hi my name is Greg and this is my story. I was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and left when I was about 10 years old. My dad used to work for the airlines so he transferred the family to California and I’ve been here for almost 40 years. I still have a lot of family on both my mother and father’s side in Cincinnati. I don’t get a chance to go back as often as I would like to see them, but I will eventually because they are getting a little older now so I want to spend time with them.

 

I went to grade school in San Mateo and I went to Aragon High School. I attended the University of California San Diego on a basketball scholarship, but I unfortunately tore my ACL and could no longer play. I could’ve kept my scholarship, but I wanted to come back home and start working to help pay for living expenses, but I wish I had stayed at UCSD. When I got back home after my injury, my dad got me a job with the airlines. I started working for United and American Airlines in the late 70s and worked there for about 18 years. I was a bag handler and then I graduated to being a sky captain, which is someone that checks your luggage in front of the airport. I loved working for the airlines. I was given the opportunity to move to New Jersey, South Carolina or Pittsburgh, but I didn’t want to move that far away so I took a buyout. I met a lot of interesting people doing that job like Oprah, the gentleman that runs Coors Light, Serena Williams, Carol Burnett, Santana and on and on.

 

After I stopped working for the airlines I took some time off. I did some side jobs like roofing, laying down sheet rock, and so on. My uncle had a hauling business so I used to help him out with that 3-4 days a week. I got married and I now have a son that is seventeen. He lives down in San Mateo and has gotten into cross-country racing. I wanted him to try basketball, but it is what it is. He’s doing well, his grades are good and he really enjoys running. My ex-wife and I still talk and I try to see my son as often as I can, though I don’t seem him as much as I’d like to. My mom lives about 10 blocks away from my son so sometimes she’ll go pick him up and we will all hang out together. I try to go to his cross-country events, but it’s a little difficult because I don’t have a car right now.

 

I started with Downtown Streets Team in March of 2016 around the time the program first launched in San Francisco. A gentleman who used to work here told me about the program. I signed up and I’ve been here since then and really enjoyed it. I work 6 days a week, Monday through Saturday in the Civic Center.

 

I went from a yellow shirt, to a green shirt, to a blue shirt. The blue shirt means I have a lot of responsibility, I am generally not a morning person, but I get up every morning and come to DST. I respect my team and they respect me. Sometimes, it can be a challenge because there is a mix of different personalities, but overall things are great. I enjoy the staff, they give me my respect and I give them theirs. Team Members come and go, which is a good thing because everyone is allowed to come back. I have a part-time job with Sunday Streets, in which I help them with their festival season, which started in March and goes until October. I make sure people are staying safe, I help set up and tear down the event and I really enjoy that as well. I get to meet a lot of interesting people through that and some of my fellow Team Members do it with me.

 

Before I started doing DST I would sleep in bed till 10am and then watch the Young and the Restless from 11am to 12pm. I didn’t really have a purpose, but now I get up and do something positive everyday. I get to meet nice, interesting people in Civic Center.

 

Part of what we do at DST is outreach and I’ve seen many people that I’ve connected with on the street come join the Team. Even better than that, I’ve seen a lot of people graduate from this program and find jobs or go back to school. I’ve seen a lot of people do something positive with their lives. Even now, I run into former Team Members on the street and it’s always nice to catch up with them. Former Team Members have a lot of respect for DST because of what DST did for them. People thank me and tell me how much they enjoyed working with me and that makes me feel great because I love to motivate people to reach their goals. My goal was to get a position with Sunday Streets and DST helped me fulfill that. Anything that I need support for, DST is right there to help me.

 

Everything is good, God is good and hopefully I wake up tomorrow and do the same thing over again. I appreciate DST, I enjoy my coworkers, and the staff. It is a great four hours out of my day, it’s something positive that I get to do everyday and I look forward to it.

 

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VOLUME XXI - “IT HAS BEEN INSPIRING”

Posted on May 23, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Perry and I’ve been with Downtown Streets Team for 2 months. I was born in Athens, Greece and my parents immigrated to the United States when I was 7, and I have spent the majority of my life living in San Carlos. I was an only child and close with my family. At the age of 18, I took up body building while also helping my family run the restaurants they owned for about 13 years. After that, I opened up a classic car dealership. I’ve done a lot of things in many different industries on top of what I have already mentioned.

 

I had a great job in Menlo Park, I was engaged, and I had a house, but all of that came tumbling down when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My mom’s medical bills kept piling up and I was paying close to $5000 a month to keep her in a home. I started a side business to help me afford my mom’s care, which got me in trouble and 6 years later here we are. I lost my business, I lost about half a million dollars, and I’ve lost the life that I had known. I’ve been humbled by the experience.

 

I wasn’t allowed to continue on with my business, but I needed to find a job per my probation. My case manager pushed me towards jobs that I felt I was really over-qualified for and I kept refusing which got me into more hot water with probation. I was given a deadline to find a job and my case counselor told me about Downtown Streets Team so I decided to pursue it. I wasn’t very receptive at first, but it’s been fun and my eyes have been opened by this experience. I like the people that I work with and the organization does a great service to the community. I know the city in and out, but I never realized how much trash there was around so I enjoy being able to be part of a program that helps make the city a bit cleaner.

 

Unfortunately, I also see a lot of mental illness on the streets, which is staggering and shocking. I come from an upper middle class background where we isolate ourselves from that. It’s tragic to see these individuals living on the streets. It’s not exactly warm here at night and people are sleeping on the cold sidewalk with a cardboard box around them as shelter, it’s sad. I think all of this could be relieved if people contributed and worked together on this cause.

 

I don’t think anyone wants to be homeless and I don’t think people realize how close most individuals are to being homeless. They are a paycheck away or a job away from being in the same position. Homelessness is not always the drug addict or the mentally ill, it could be someone that is living in a car that you don’t realize is also experiencing homelessness. Volunteering with DST has brought the homeless situation into the light for me. My friends and I used to think oh why don’t they just get a job, but it’s not that easy. I see the desire in so many Team Members to make a difference and change their circumstances and it has been inspiring.

 

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VOLUME XX - “I WANT TO CHANGE LIVES”

Posted on April 26, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Darryl. I was born and raised in West Oakland. West Oakland was a bad neighborhood, but we didn’t know it because our parents sheltered. I grew up like any other kid, riding skateboards and bikes, I was a boy scout and I played a lot of sports. I also came up very political, the Black Panthers were very popular when I was growing up and the whole community I grew up in was aware of what was going on around us. From 0-14 years old, my life was great, but then my mom died. When my mom died, I didn’t understand why she died and I started questioning God because I didn’t understand why he took her away from me.

 

I had an uncle that lived close by and he took over when my mom passed away. He was a contractor and I decided to follow in his footsteps. Starting at 14 years old I always had a hammer in my hand. After I finished high school, I got into the business. I worked with my uncle and cousin for about 7 years and then my uncle had a stroke so his son and I took over the business. We ran the business for about 15 years but then I left because owning a business took its toll on me.

 

I got married when I was 23 years old and we adopted two kids. One day I got a phone call that blew up my world. My marriage ended, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was emotionally damaged because of it. When you are young, you don’t realize that something traumatic really happened and if you don’t get any counseling you can spin out of control. Well, I didn’t get any counseling, so I spun out of control and became homeless. I hid it from everyone I knew because they were all doing well. I was doing well, but then my life changed in a blink of an eye. I used to think people who were homeless were lazy, didn’t want to get a job, were drug addicts, etc. That’s what I thought until I became homeless and saw everything in a different light. A lot of people end up homeless because they lost their job or got hurt. When I became homeless, it opened my eyes up to a new world.

 

One day I saw a friend that I used to work with cleaning the streets and asked him what he was doing and how I could get involved. I was busy from 9am-1pm but after that I had nothing to do so I wanted to fill the hours up. I joined Downtown Streets Team (DST) and I joined it for two reasons: to fill my time up and to make a little extra money. When I started doing DST I was worried that the wrong people would see me and think I had hit rock bottom. The more I worked and the more I talked to people, the more I liked DST. To be honest I never wanted to be the face of DST in San Francisco, I was always more comfortable being the person behind the scenes, calling the shots, making sure the message was getting out there without me being the one to deliver it. When I was asked to step up at DST it was a really big decision on my part but I realized this organization has the chance to really go somewhere and I wanted to be part of it. Before I knew it, I was talking in front of Team Members at the weekly success meetings, then I was going to tech companies and speaking and then I was speaking on the radio which I never thought I would do. Now what I’m really trying to do is get people into DST who are not in good situations and who want to better their lives. I want them to see if they take different steps they can be successful. I want to change lives.

 

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VOLUME XIX - “I NEVER GIVE UP HOPE ON ANYBODY”

Posted on April 10, 2018 by Streetsteam

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Hi my name is Donna and I came to Downtown Streets Team in July. I had always had a really good job, but I never prepared for my retirement, mainly because I never thought I would retire. I ended up tearing both of my rotator cuffs and had to stop working. I was still on payroll while I was recovering but then the company I worked for busted the union and closed down eight of their sites so I found myself without a job. I found a new job that I absolutely loved, it was perfect for me and I thought I was going to work there till I was 85, but two years later, the owner decided to close down shop. I found myself being a senior citizen with no opportunities and it scared me.

 

I always had enough money with my social security to pay all of my bills. Whatever was left over I used to pay my necessities such as laundry and food, but there was not much I could do with $250-$300 a month, especially in San Francisco, where doing laundry costs close to $40. I was doing everything I could do to save money like washing my clothes in the sink and going to Food Banks.

 

My neighbor Darryl told me about Downtown Streets Team. I showed up every Tuesday for five weeks until I got off the waitlist. I remember asking Brandon, the Project Director, if it was okay if I was there since I have housing and I receive a check, I just needed help. He said of course, everybody is welcome. When I got to choose my Team, I ended up choosing Union Square, which happened to be Darryl’s Team. I ended up loving the program so much and I would volunteer for as many shifts as possible. When I got my green shirt, Darryl told me he was really proud of me and I was so excited, but sad because that meant I had to leave my precious Union Square Team. I always believed that if you woke up in the morning and you wished you didn’t have to go to work then you are working the wrong job or doing the wrong thing. I love waking up and coming to work, DST gives me a purpose.

 

I was now the Team Lead at the East Cut and I was surprised with a blue shirt at a luncheon. Darryl was sitting there clapping for me and he was so proud of me, it made me so happy. Sometimes you don’t end up where you want to be, you end up where you are supposed to be. For so long I wanted to get a job, but I would never have loved it as much as I love this. The people here are wonderful and I don’t think people realize that, when they see the homeless, they just see trash bags and nothing else. I have met some of the greatest people I know and I feel so happy and blessed to have found Downtown Streets Team. This has made my life complete. I get up every morning and I never wish I didn’t have to go to work. I don’t have to be at work until 7am, but I get up at 4am and I get to the East Cut early so I can hang out with the people there. The people have treated us with such respect, but it took time to develop that relationship. My Team would always say hi to people as they walked down the street and for a long time nobody would say it back. Time went by and we received more exposure and started doing speaking engagements in the neighborhood and now people speak to us first. I hug every Team Member good morning and goodbye and I tell them I love them at least once a day. The Team means so much to me. Learning about the life they’ve lived makes me love and respect them so much. I’m very protective of my Team Members, I always hope people will walk down the street and be kind and polite. I hope the Team Members need me as much as I need them.

 

All DST wants is to help and get people on their feet. You can be another success story and that is our reward. You owe us nothing except to be happy and to be the best person you can be. I think there is hope for everybody that comes to the meetings and I never give up hope on anybody.

 

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VOLUME XVIII - “EVERYONE HAS THE WISDOM AND COURAGE TO HAVE A BETTER LIFE”

Posted on March 29, 2018 by Streetsteam

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Hi my name is Victor and this is my story. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family; my father was an alcoholic and a pedophile. When I was young I was molested and brutally abused and that turned me into a very angry young man. For relief, instead of letting somebody know what was going on, I turned to drug use – using meth, acid, mushrooms, anything that made me feel better. It worked for many years but the problem was that I have tendencies towards addiction; my life goes into a downhill spiral very quickly when I use.

 

The molestation stopped when I was 8 years old, but I never told anybody. I had opportunities to tell people, but anytime anybody got too close to me I thought they were going to hurt me so my idea to stop people from hurting me was to hurt them first. That was my life motto and it caused so much wreckage and I hurt so many people.

 

From the ages 12-17, I was in a boys’ prison. I was very young and very scared. There I learned about hate, racism and false pride. I was taught you don’t cry, you don’t talk about your emotions, instead you fight and you never tell on anybody. I got out of jail when I was 17 and my sister took custody of me because my parents had given up on me. At the age of 18 I joined a brotherhood and there I found my life. These guys were mean, angry, they liked to fight, they liked to smoke marijuana, they liked to drink and I felt like I was home. I finally found somewhere where I could fit in, but then again I still felt so alone. At 19 I was arrested for burglary and assault and I was sent to prison. In prison, the politics were the same; you don’t cry, you fight, you don’t tell on anybody, you hold back your emotions, etc. Prison was an easy lifestyle for me because I was used to it, yet I was still very young and scared.

 

I came to San Francisco in 2013 to get clean. I realized just how crazy this city is but then the strangest thing happened, I started to realize this is where I belong because there were so many people out on the streets who were just like me. Some of them were so far gone that they were unreachable but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t try. I had a couple of relapses on 6th Street, I lost a couple of jobs and lost my marriage.

 

One time I was at a rehab facility and I was reading a book about how your heart can be damaged when you are a child, especially if you keep things in. This book brought tears to my eyes and it made me realize that there could be relief in talking so I started talking to people. I came to find out that I wasn’t the only man out here who had these things happen to them as a child. I have a lot of close friends that can relate to me. I just celebrated 7 months clean and sober. This time around it’s different. I feel like I have to tell people my story, I have to let them know that they are not alone because for so many years I felt alone and lost. I felt like no one understood me. I thought people were going to make fun of me because I was molested. I have realized I have a great heart and a lot to offer people. Today I have no problem talking about my issues.

 

A friend of mine started doing Downtown Streets Team (DST) about two months ago and was housed as a result of that. I found it amazing how fast he got into housing so I decided to join DST. I used to walk by this building all of the time and I thought it was a soup kitchen, but I found out it was so much more. I can’t tell you how good it feels to walk through the Tenderloin and pick up needles, pipes and all of this stuff that played such a huge role in my life. I was one of those guys that would throw my meth pipe around, leave my trash on the ground and today I get to do just the opposite and I don’t judge the people who do it. I feel good about myself at the end of the day because it’s another day that I am clean and sober. I hope I am an inspiration to people. Today my life is a lot better than what it was before. I came here in need of a different lifestyle. I always remind myself that I can be just like them at the snap of a finger because I’ll always be an addict and alcoholic. Some people say it’s dangerous to go out there and work and be around all of these vices, maybe it is, but I think for me it has a different effect. I feel good going out there and helping the city of San Francisco because this city has so much to offer. I am so grateful and I walk down the street with my head held high. I used to be a dope fiend, no good, worthless, useless convict and today I have learned that’s not who I am, it’s just what I did. Today I found out that who I really am is a child of God, he has saved me and it’s my turn to give back. I hope I can help somebody.

 

If you are out there and you are feeling lost and alone, just know you aren’t alone. If a knucklehead like me can make a turnaround in his life, so can you. I believe everyone has the wisdom and the courage to have a better life, you just have to really want it, you have to reach down deep and find it.

 

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VOLUME XVII - “I'VE BEEN EVERYWHERE”

Posted on March 22, 2018 by Streetsteam

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Hi I’m Gary, and I was born and raised in Japan. I came to the States when I was 11 and we lived in Long Beach, CA. I had eight sisters, no brothers, no uncles, and no nephews. My sisters used to tie me up and tickle me until I peed myself, that was lovely for them, not as much for me, but I love my sisters. I was the dad of the household, it was hard running the house at 12, but it was alright because my mom was good at it. She had no faults at all.

 

I studied anatomy in school for three years, but changed my major to electronics. There’s a thousand things I could do, a thousand things I have done all my life. I used to play semi-pro tennis, I’ve done martial arts, and I even taught marital arts for a few years here in San Francisco. I also used to sing and taught a class on it. I used to work on the skyscrapers in downtown San Francisco. I drove trains for two years and then I got a call about working on a ship as an electrician and I ended up doing that for 30 years. I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything; I love my life.

 

I have two sons and I’ve been raising them since they were 2 and 3 years old. Their mom left so I raised them with the help of a nanny since I was working on the ships at this point. They are the sweetest kids; I never had to argue with them or make a nasty face at them. They love me like I love them. I see them every weekend.

 

I retired 17 years ago and everything went bad after that. I started hanging out with the wrong people, getting into dope, but it didn’t last too long. I did it for maybe 2 months. I could take a hit and go out and about acting normally in the world. I got sick after that and sat in the hospital for 8 months. I had a heart attack, was diagnosed with COPD and had to be put on dozens of medications. When you look at me, you would never think that I’m as sick as I am. I don’t trip on it though because it has been so long, I’m used to it. As long as I have all of my medications I am good.

 

I volunteered at Glide for three years and they wanted to hire me but I wasn’t feeling up to it because of my health. Now, I’m so much healthier than I was before even though I still have the same diseases.

 

After I got out of the hospital and stopped volunteering for Glide, I would just sit at home all day doing nothing, and then I met Mike. He lived in the same building as me, we became best friends and he told me about Downtown Streets Team. I used to come to this place before it was DST, they used to hand out groceries on the weekend and when they were getting ready to stop that they told us DST was going to be taking over the space. I thought the idea behind DST was cool and I also really liked Mike so I decided to join. I love DST, I like to stay busy so this beats sitting around the house all day doing nothing. DST helps me to take my mind off my health. When I’m here I just get to focus on enjoying the work and hanging out with my team. I always come with a smile and leave with a smile. I keep everyone smiling; I’m the so-called comedian of the group. I could do DST forever.

 

I’m a good guy and I keep people happy, that’s what God put me here for, to keep people happy and put a smile on people’s faces. If I can’t make you smile, you’re not from this planet. My life is good and I love it.

 

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VOLUME XVI - “WHAT GOT ME THROUGH LIFE”

Posted on March 13, 2018 by Streetsteam

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Hi, this is Michael and this is my story. I was born in Huntington, West Virginia and I went to a desegregated school. We were only supposed to go to black schools, but my sister and I had a dialect that could compare to whites so my parents felt it would be dangerous for me to go to a black school. I have four siblings, all of whom graduated from high school, except for me.

 

Growing up, my father loved his cocktails, while my mother was never satisfied. As a result, we would watch all kinds of things go down in the house. Dad would get drunk and would kick all of us kids out of the house sometimes. Some of the kids couldn’t handle it, so we would take them back home and beg for my dad to let those kids back in. There was a lot of abusing of the kids; it was hard growing up.

 

I dropped out of school and decided that I wanted to leave West Virginia. I thought the best way to do that would be to join the Armed Services because it would make everything more comfortable for me. But I couldn’t read or write so the Army said no, the Navy said no and the Marines said no. I don’t know how I passed school because I truly couldn’t read or write, they would just pass me to push me through. I learned all of my vocabulary from TV shows, specifically soap operas. I would listen to the way the characters spoke and the words they would use and I started mimicking them. I would use cool big words, I wouldn’t be able to spell them, but I knew what they meant and I would use them. That’s what got me through life.

 

When I turned 17, I finally left West Virginia for good and I went to Florida where I started my own business. I worked all over Florida and stenciled house addresses on people’s curbs. I would say the paint was iridescent and fluorescent and that it would light up at night, but that was a lie.

 

I started doing drugs when I was 26 and I moved to Los Angeles. In big cities you can be whatever you want, it was so different than West Virginia. After L.A., I moved to San Francisco and was introduced to more hardcore drugs. I felt that I needed to get into a clique and they told me to do these drugs, so I did. I went into a deep spiral; it took over my life. I lived in tent city when I was heavily on drugs and I was homeless for about 10 years, if not more. It took me a while to pull up out of it. I did a lot of jail time during those years and I was also sentenced to behavioral health court and violated my probation a lot, which meant I would have to sit in jail until they found me a program to go to.

 

I have been clean and sober for the last 14 years. When I became sober, I started working for a needle exchange program and that’s where I heard about Downtown Streets Team. When I was growing up, they didn’t have a place like Downtown Streets Team. A lot of people don’t know about DST, but it’s a great program. It’s fun working with people. It’s been a big change for me, now I’m a Lead and I’m happy about that. I have a great team and we all get along. I’m very grateful for DST, it’s a big help. I just got my apartment, meaning I don’t live in an SRO anymore and my place is in a nice area too. I enjoy working for the Streets Team because you get to meet some amazing people.

 

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VOLUME XV - “JUST KEEP PUSHING”

Posted on March 5, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Raymond and I was born in San Francisco. I lived with my mother, but I was a latchkey kid, she was never around much so I was at home alone a lot. I first went to Riordan High School, but I flunked out, then went to Abraham Lincoln High School and graduated from there. I met a girl at Lincoln and we got married right after high school. We had a son and I was with her until I was about 30 years old. Right as I split up with her, I ended up getting together with a girl from my neighborhood. We got married, her parents gave us a home in Sonoma County and I was there for the last 23 years raising our two sons and working as a mover. We lived in a very rural area and I hadn’t saved much cash over the years. When I was living in Sonoma I basically spent all of my time at the casino; that was my thing.

 

My hard times fell on me when my second wife and I got divorced. She had a heart attack in February 2016 and she blamed me for it. I gamble a lot, that’s my addiction. After we split up I moved back to San Francisco and I’ve been having a hard time ever since. I’ve been staying with my brother half the month and the other half the month I stay wherever I can. I don’t sleep outside on the streets, I always find a place. The most surprising part of being homeless is the unwillingness of family members to help me through this situation. My brother has been the only one helping me out, but his help is not free. I have to pay for it.

 

I talk to my sons everyday, they are both in Sonoma with their mom. I haven’t seen them since I left, but I talk to them all the time. I’ve been meaning to get up there, but I just haven’t found the time. I’ve been busy doing my thing.

 

I still gamble; I have to do something about that problem. I do little odd jobs to keep some money in my pocket. I cut grass, do some landscape, pick up garbage, clean up people’s backyards, whatever it takes. A former Team Member told me about DST and said it could supplement my income. Once I got here and learned what DST was all about I bought into it.

 

Now that I’m at DST my goals are to try to become independent. First I wanted to go home to my wife, but she didn’t want me there. Now my wife wants me to come home, but I don’t want to do that. I’m having too much fun right now. My goals are to become independent, find a job. This is the first time in my life that I am really on my own and that’s what I want to do. I want to do things for myself because I’ve spent the last 20 years doing things for other people.

 

The dream job, I don’t know. I want to establish some kind of income. Maybe some consistent income will lead to some kind of housing and then I’ll go from there. I want to be myself. I’m having a good time right now. I’m just doing myself.

 

I want people to know that life is full of ups and downs. You shouldn’t get too low with your downs and shouldn’t get too high with your ups. Just keep pushing, that’s what matters.

 

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VOLUME XIV - “I JUST HAVE TO KEEP IT UP”

Posted on February 28, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Wayne and I’m from Oakland, CA. My mother was heavily on drugs and Oakland at the time, was really rough, so my father decided to take me to Kansas to give me a new experience. Boy, the country life was different. Kansas is slow, it’s not like out here, there isn’t too much mischief out there. The only kind of mischief you can get into is playing in a creek where you aren’t supposed to be because you can get swept away into the river.

 

I stayed with my great, great grandfather in Newton, Kansas for 16 years while my father did his own thing. My father was in my life, but he wasn’t raising me. My great, great grandfather worked for the Sante Fe Grand Railroad for 57 years until he retired. He was a Christian guy, he went to church almost everyday and I’d go to church with him. I learned a lot from the bible, it was cool, but I was still young and wanted to play with my friends instead of going to church.

 

My father asked me if I wanted to move back to California and even though I liked Kansas, I just wanted to be with my father. It was sad for me to leave my life there, but I was excited for Oakland and knew it was going to be different. I went to high school and things became a little bumpy. I was hanging out with the wrong people and they influenced me to make bad decisions. I got into trouble by doing something I wasn’t supposed to do and had to transfer schools. At my new school I joined ROTC and I really liked it and did pretty well in high school because of it. I had a few small bumps because I was still hanging out with the wrong crew, but otherwise things were good. I graduated from Oakland High and my plan was to join the service. But I had just graduated and wanted to relax for a little bit so I ended up getting a fast food job and I also met a girl. I forgot about the army and got a security job. I did security, I had a car, I had a place, but it wasn’t enough for me; I wanted more money. I went back to bad habits and started selling drugs to get more income.

 

Eventually, I ended up going back to Kansas with my girlfriend and I got another fast food job. My girlfriend got pregnant and had our child. We stayed in Kansas for 2 years after our child was born, but then she started getting homesick. We ended up splitting up and she took our child. We had a place together when we were in a relationship and I had no savings. Once we split, I became homeless, but I wanted to start getting my life together. It was tougher because I was a little older now and things weren’t as easy as they were before. I was used to having somebody have my back, to be there to pick me up, and that disappeared when we split up. It freaked me out and I started using drugs. I couldn’t hold down a job. People started finding out that I was homeless and they didn’t want to be my friends anymore. I was by myself. When I’m down, no one sees me. I keep to myself, I become standoffish. I didn’t want to be seen until I could get myself together. I started going to jail, getting caught for possession; I was messing up. I was sentenced to a drug aversion program. At the program, I started progressing and I even became the house coordinator. Even though I was court mandated to be there for 8 months I only did it for about a month and a half. I made a mistake and they stripped me off my keys. It was a bummer, but I stuck with the program and got myself a job. I told the program director I was done because I had a job and was doing well. I left and found myself a place, I stopped using, and everything was good until the law caught up with me. I lost my job and I did a year in jail all because I left rehab. I knew it was eventually going to happen, I knew the law was going to catch up with me; it was just a matter of time. I did my time, got out, and was homeless again.

 

I usually slept in shelters, but there were a few nights I slept outside in the cuts with a blanket. I would come to San Francisco to be homeless because it was better. There’s a bigger homeless environment in San Francisco than there is in Oakland. In Oakland you can’t really squat places and it is much easier to blend in in San Francisco with other people.

 

I’ve been living in an apartment in Oakland with a roommate on and off for 10 years. I’m still trying to get my own place and that’s why I’m with the Streets Team. I have a caseworker, I have resources I didn’t have before, and I have a family. I consider DST family. DST keeps me going. I’m not doing anything illegal. I have some legal issues I need to get straightened out before I can find a job. If I would’ve known about it before I would’ve joined a long time ago. I’m here now and it’s great.

 

I’ve been with Streets Team for 8 months and I’ve been a lead for 4 months. At first, I didn’t want the responsibilities of being a green shirt because I didn’t want to mess up, but something in the back of my head told me I needed to advance. Plus I wanted to step up. The crew I had was great and they kind of asked me to be the green shirt. Everything is great and I have no complaints. I just have to keep it up.

 

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VOLUME XIII - “I KNOW I'M ON THE RIGHT PATH”

Posted on February 7, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Raymond. My mom and I never had a close relationship. She never really supported me; I really had to be on my own, be independent, and work hard. I worked for many companies like Lucky’s, Safeway, and Costco. She was running a store and I was managing it and helping her out a little bit. I took a risk, saved my money, and bought my own gambling machines. When her business hit rock bottom, I was able to become successful. I had three houses that I was paying for through that business. Making so much money changes people’s perspectives. A lot of people were there for me, but a lot were just there because of the money.

 

When I started making all of this money people became really jealous of me. They envied me despite the things I was doing to help them out. I was in a relationship and it became destructive for me because I started using and my partner was using. It was a mess. I couldn’t focus on my business. I felt betrayed. People looked down on me. People said so many bad things about me. People stole from me. People plotted against me. People wanted to bring me down. In a way it was my fault, with all that was happening to me, it became such a big burden in my heart that it made me become vicious and angry with everyone. I felt like I had been put in a maze and I was trying to find my way out. I went back to my place and would cry every night. All the fighting took my soul away.

 

In the middle of 2016 I hit rock bottom. My place was raided, the SWAT team showed up and I ended up going to jail for a few hours. I was broken. I started talking to Him, asking what was going on. A friend of mine bailed me out. I remember going back to my torn up apartment with just $100 in my hand. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had all these places I had to pay for. I isolated myself from everybody for two weeks. I stayed in my apartment, I didn’t go to my business, and I didn’t see anybody. I was looking up asking why is this happening to me? I wanted Him to take the burden away from me and to take all of the hate out of me because that’s not who I am. I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I just wanted to be happy and I wanted to let go of my anger. I remember praying and giving my heart to God and pleading him to take this thing away from me that made me vicious.

 

I started my business back up and within a month it was booming again. Things got easier. Talking to Him, gave me the vision of making things right. I started sending money to charities in the Philippines, to kids who had cleft lip palate, I sent money to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and I sent money to aid people in the war in Syria. Things started falling into place, my mom and I even made amends.

 

My partner ended up leaving me and the second he did I felt this feeling of ease, joy and happiness come over me. I was able to let him go without getting mad or upset. That burden that was inside of me was gone. I learned to accept the things I couldn’t accept before. I wasn’t angry or vicious, I wasn’t mad at everyone who had done me wrong. I realized this wasn’t my life anymore. This isn’t what I want to do. Even though I was able to bring my business back, I no longer had a passion for it, so I left it. I bought a car and Simba, my dog, and I went on a trip. We drove to Santa Cruz, to Carmel and we slept in the car. We stayed on the beach and I felt so tranquil and free.

 

My last destination was San Francisco. I remember getting down to the last penny and starting the new beginning of my life here. I didn’t have a job; I don’t know what the resources were here. The only thing I had left was my car. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I didn’t know how I was going to support Simba. I remember finding St. Anthony’s and that’s where I got my start.

 

I would walk from Twin peaks, where my car was, to St. Anthony’s everyday. I would go there for meals and one day I asked how I could get into volunteering. Volunteering at St. Anthony’s brought me so much joy; I constantly had a smile on my face. After about three months there, they put me at a station where I handed bags to seniors. I remember a lady walking in with a coat that was torn apart. I looked at her and I had tears. I thought about how blessed I was while this woman had this one worn down jacket that she wore everyday. I felt like I needed to do something more.

 

Volunteering at St. Anthony’s brought me so much passion, joy and giving. It prepared me for other volunteer work, but I realized I needed some kind of income to be able to provide for myself and others. One day I was going somewhere and my spirit brought me to Downtown Streets Team (DST). I asked if it was a volunteering program and Gloria, who was the first person I talked to, said yeah and that DST also helps with your basic needs. I went to the first orientation and from there I started coming and coming. I liked it. I started at Civic Center, and then I remember opening Tenderloin. I was happy in the Tenderloin because I felt like it was the place I was supposed to be in. I wasn’t just beautifying the streets; I was able to reach out to more people. The most amazing thing is that I feel like He has guided me through everything.

 

After working with DST, I discovered a passion for giving; it’s my purpose to serve people. The reason why I decided to work double shifts is so that I have enough money to feed the people. I know I’m on the right path. The reason why I’m here is because of Him, I’m enjoying the process. I’m in a shelter right now and I’m not in a rush because I had all of those things, money and my own house before, but it didn’t bring a lot of joy to my life so now I want to do this to honor Him. This is my way of saying thank you. I was able to become more of who I am. I want to be able to inspire others. It doesn’t matter what you are going through in life, you just have to believe that He will help you. In the future I hope to help a lot of people. I’d like to get into a nonprofit business and help out with charities; I have faith that this will come to be. I’m taking it step by step. I don’t want to rush anything. I still have a lot left to learn about myself and a lot more developing to do but I do know that everything I need to move forward is here at DST.

 

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VOLUME XII - “I'M JUST GETTING STARTED”

Posted on January 30, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Gloria and I’m from the Bay Area. Life for me started when I got pregnant. I had sex one time and got pregnant. I was 15 years old and then I had her and really I guess when she got to 2 years old is when I first experienced being homeless. That’s when my mom kicked me out of the house. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go, but I had a friend living in Oakland and so I called her and she said come on over here and stay with us. The apartment was kind of like a free-for-all except for my baby would be there. During that time we were all going to the club, we were partying and getting high. Everybody stopped doing that and I was still in that party mode. I ended up getting kicked out of that place. After that, we were sleeping in my car for almost a year. My mom finally broke down, well actually my stepdad broke down, and gave me the money to get an apartment.

 

My first introduction to crack was when we lived in that apartment. I gave my roommate money for the rent, to get the gas turned on and to get some food for the kids. I came home she was sitting in the dark with a crack pipe and I was like what is this that is so powerful that people get consumed by it. I decided to try it and that in and of itself kept me homeless for another 20 years. In the meantime, my mom came and got my daughter. That’s when I came here to San Francisco. From there, it became a snowball for me. I was living wherever I could. I was just here doing my thing, going day by day, just trying to make it, not even really having any kind of existence. I wasn’t being in the world.

 

I just got so tired of people walking past me and acting like I wasn’t even there. I wanted to have a place where I could go back to, where I knew nobody would be knocking on my door screaming “check out time”, which is what I was used to. It never failed that there was always somebody there knocking on that door putting me back out on the street and I just didn’t like that feeling.

 

Finally I decided, screw this, I’m tired of being in the shelter, it’s making me a little bit crazy. I got on some waiting lists and I got my place, I was clean-ish. I got tired of not doing anything and bouncing around all day everyday. I would be lying at home watching TV, get up, walk outside for 10-15 minutes and go back home. I started to feel like a lump of nothing. I had no goals, nothing. In the meantime though I was still trying to go to school. The first time I went to school I was studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor. I thought that was going to be my dream job but it was not like that. During that time too, I was clean when I was going to school and working there. That felt really good. That for me was the impossible dream because I always thought I’ll never be clean, I’m out here, I’m in this life and this is how I’m going to die. During that time, it was really enlightening for me. I got a chance to see myself doing these other things and I started realizing there was so much more out there to do.

 

I came to Downtown Streets Team because I needed something to do besides just laying there feeling like a lump of nothing. I’m glad I did. I saw somebody I knew from the shelter and that’s how I found out about DST. I saw her walking around with the Civic Center team and she stopped and gave me a flier and told me to come check it out. I let that flier sit there for a long time. Finally I decided to go down there and see what they were talking about. I got on the list and was on it for three weeks. I came back every Tuesday, got on the team. My Team Leads just made me feel so comfortable that everything worked out. Now I’m up at Union Square and I love my team up there.

 

Who as a kid thinks this will be the path they take? Drugs become almost a cycle you can’t break because you can’t see your way out of it. You don’t know anything else. I was in my 30s before I copped to having a problem with drugs and alcohol. I had so many excuses; it was always something or somebody else. It’s much easier now to claim who I am and where I came from. It takes a long time.

 

I still struggle with all of the aspects of my life, all of the things I’ve been through. I see a light, something I want to go for like with the Block by Block job. It took me so long, most people are looking at their retirement and I’m just getting started. I want to save people. If you have a chance to make your life better, take a chance. Don’t look down on yourself or second-guess yourself, just take a chance because you never know when somebody is going to say yes.

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VOLUME XI - “YES I’M HOMELESS, BUT I’M GOING TO BE A SUCCESS STORY”

Posted on January 22, 2018 by Streetsteam

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My name is Vernell; I came to DST roughly 8 months ago. I was looking for a way to make ends meet, to give me a purpose, to keep me out of the shelter system. I moved here from Savannah, Georgia via Arkansas. I was living in Savannah, GA. I was working at McDonalds, I was living with my sister and brother-in-law, it was going well, but then the hurricane hit and everything fell apart. After Hurricane Matthew I lost my sense of motivation, I kind of got depressed. I was 31 years old when it hit. It wasn’t easy. We lost everything, we were relocated to Augusta for 6 months and when we came back to Savannah we basically had nothing.

 

I came to California with my sister and brother-in-law. They wanted to live in Hayward and I came to San Francisco with $5 in my pocket and a backpack. I didn’t know if it was going to work or not. I didn’t know anybody; I was on my own trying to make ends meet. I thought I work too much, it’ll never happen to me and when I went through that I remember those words in my head. No one should ever think they are above it. You are always one situation away from being homeless.

 

After I got to San Francisco, I wandered the streets; I had to get my mind around it. When you become homeless it’s surreal, you want someone to pinch you. The first thing you say is “not me, this is not happening to me.” You think maybe I’ll go to bed and when I wake up and I’ll bounce back from it. But you realize you don’t have anywhere to go back to bed to. You are just bumming from spot to spot. I was camping out at the library during the day. I went to St. Anthony’s for lunch, Glide, places like that, hitting all the freebees.

 

Until you accept it you can’t fix it. You have to say, “hey I am homeless, this is me, but I wont let it define me. It can’t define me. Yes, I am homeless, but it is just a phase I’m going through right now. It’s the situation I’m going through. But I’m not going to lay down. I’m going to stay motivated and keep my head up high. I am somebody, I’m worth something and I’m going to make sure that the world knows yes I’m homeless but I am going to be a success story.”

 

Sometimes when you are homeless you don’t feel like a citizen, you feel like you are being disregarded. On average, most homeless people see 2,000 people a day and out of those 2,000 people, only 3 people will speak to them. But it’s those 3 people that speak to them that makes them keep pushing. I feel like I had that one-foot on the ledge, it’s surreal. I’ve come a long way and I’m so proud of myself for being in a city where it’s not easy. The cost of living is high but I’m doing it. I’m doing it one day at a time but I’m doing it. Everyday is like a dream come true; it’s my moment in the sun.

 

Since I’ve been in California things have been better. My health has made a turnaround, I’ve got the things I need, I have an ID, I have my birth certificate, I’m trying to get my health better. I’m working on losing more weight; I’ve lost 170 pounds since I’ve been here.

 

I am housed now, you’d be surprised by how four walls feel like a person, it makes you feel validated. I am still going after my goals, I’m working down my list. Last year I got my start so this year I’m hoping to be better off than I was. Steady improvement. Keep progressing. I want a better quality of life. In the near future I see me going back to school, getting my degree in criminal justice. I want to give back to people that are homeless like me and don’t have a voice.

 

I’m going to stick with DST because it’s not just a job, it’s not just a tool; it’s actually a great help to me. It gives me something to do, gives me a purpose. When people don’t have a purpose, especially when being homeless, it’s easy to lose sight of what the bigger picture is and to want to keep going. I know DST has my back till the end, they are going to hold me down and I’m going to make sure I have their back as well.

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EAST BAY GIVES

Posted on April 20, 2017 by Streetsteam

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East Bay Gives is a 24-hour online giving blitz supporting Bay Area nonprofits. We hope you’ll show support for our Hayward Team by donating.

 

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, East Bay Gives aims to mobilize Bay Area residents to give $5 million to support hundreds of nonprofits, and Downtown Streets Team is one of them.

 

Just last year, we launched a Team in Hayward, and since then we’ve had terrific success in rebuilding people’s lives. So far, 3 people have secured employment and our Team Members have collected and removed over 6,600 gallons of trash and debris from Hayward’s city streets. Wow!

 

To continue our work, we need support from the community. It takes everyone’s collaboration to end homelessness, and it begins in your town.

 

What To Do on May 4

 

  1. Give on May 4, 2017, in honor of your Hayward Streets Team. If you want to make an even greater impact, give during the 6-7pm hour and we could win $3,000!
  2. Join us for a Mixer. Get to know your Hayward Streets Team.

    World Famous Turf Club

    Thursday May 4, 2017

    5 – 7 pm

    22519 Main Street

    Hayward, CA 94541

 

Your Gift Helps People Just Like Caleb

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A refugee from Liberia, Caleb knows struggle and loss better than any of us ever should. Yet, he chooses to look forward with optimism and brighten the lives of the people around him. With assistance from Hayward Economic Development Division, we discovered job openings at Mission Foods. Thrilled by this opportunity, Caleb decided to apply — and guess what? He got the job and is now working as a Machine Operator!

 

As well as bringing pride and new purpose to his life, this new job will also allow Caleb to take care of himself and his ailing mother. He is filled with deep gratitude for all of those who supported him on this journey and wants to give a shout-out to the City of Hayward, Bad Business Model Bikes for providing him with new wheels so he can travel to work more easily. He also wants to thank his fellow Streets Team Members and Staff for their support and encouragement. We are so excited for Caleb’s success, he is a true inspiration to all who know him!

 

Give today to help end homelessness in Hayward.

 

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Vote to Help us Launch a Team in Mountain View

Posted on April 7, 2017 by Streetsteam

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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.  

  3. SHARE with family, friends, social networks.

  4.  

  5. 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.

 

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Providing Jobs, Housing and Hope

Posted on April 3, 2017 by Streetsteam

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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/Tenderloin Project, 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.

 

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City of Sunnyvale Welcomes the Street Café That’s Ending Homelessness

Posted on March 24, 2017 by Streetsteam

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It’s coffee with a karma catch: order your cappuccino at Downtown Streets Team’s (DST) KARTMA Street Café and know you’re paying it forward, because every cup purchased goes towards ending homelessness. The 100 percent electric coffee cart employs individuals transitioning out of homelessness and equips them with practical work experience and a competitive wage. March 22 marked the launch of its new location on the plaza of the Sunnyvale Public Library.

 

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To commemorate the grand opening, City Manager Deanna J. Santana welcomed the crowd while Vice Mayor Gustav Larsson enthusiastically cut the ribbon. Also in attendance were Sunnyvale council members Larry Klein and Russ Melton, as well as Thea Smith Nilsson from Microsoft, who presented five donated Surface devices for KARTMA point of sale technology. DST Staff and Team Members filled the crowd to celebrate this milestone for the nonprofit.

 

“A simple suggestion by City employees to offer coffee service at City Hall transformed into helping some of our most vulnerable community members gain valuable job skills,” said Deanna J. Santana, City Manager. “That’s not only great karma, it’s an inspiring example of Sunnyvale’s approach to service – collaborating with our community to find creative solutions that meet multiple needs.”

 

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Bailey DeCarlo, who was formerly homeless and now proudly works as Cart Lead for the KARTMA Sunnyvale location, spoke about how she joined the team because she dreams to one day open her own café. She expressed that working at KARTMA is helping her reach long-term goals.

 

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KARTMA is also on a green mission to up-cycle former street vendor vehicles. Several recently secured donated carts will be retrofitted for future KARTMA locations in other Bay Area cities. DST’s vision for its first social enterprise is to have a unique, localized KARTMA Street Café in each community to extend more job opportunities and amplify its impact.

 

“DST’s mission to offer hope and a pathway to recover from homelessness is at the center of everything KARTMA does,” said Maegan Lillis, Manager of Strategic Initiatives at DST. “We’re offering the community a way to be a part of this with their daily cup of coffee.”

 

Thousands of daily Library patrons and nearby city employees will now have a new source of refreshments from a business they can be proud of in their community, and one that’s helping them address the needs of their neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.

 

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The cart originally piloted in the City of San Jose in 2014, and since then seven Team Members have used the platform to gain barista and customer service skills. They encouraged DST to partner with the City of Sunnyvale to bring the cart to another community where Team Members have had success. City employees learned about KARTMA as they were exploring the idea of a coffee service to expand amenities at City Hall. Sunnyvale and DST already work closely together to support housing services in the community, making the partnership a natural fit and a great collaboration.

 

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The cart will serve coffee and other non-caffeinated beverages on the Sunnyvale Public Library plaza, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.

 

All photos are courtesy of The Family Album Project. View the full gallery.

 

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SCC Realtors Foundation Donates $25,000

Posted on January 27, 2017 by Streetsteam

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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.

 

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“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.”

 

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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.

 

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San Jose Mayor Liccardo Helps Remove 162 Bags of Trash

Posted on January 4, 2017 by Streetsteam

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Do you notice the trash and debris alongside San Jose’s freeway on and off-ramps (also known as gateways)? It’s a noticeable issue, and our unhoused Team Members and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo are working hard to clean it all up, one gateway at a time. There are 18 gateways leading into downtown San Jose, and we are determined to have a team beautifying each one.

 

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Photo Credit: The Family Album Project

 

We kicked off 2017 with a hugely successful clean-up alongside one of the gateways, near Vine/Almaden in San Jose. Mayor Liccardo joined us from 9am-12pm and altogether we filled 162 bags of trash! ABC7, KCBS, NBC Bay Area and KSTS joined us for the clean-up. View more photos of the clean-up.

 

Watch the NBC Bay Area story:

 

 

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Photo Credit: The Family Album Project

 

Mayor Liccardo spearheaded the San Jose Gateways project in partnership with Downtown Streets Team to provide an opportunity for corporations to be socially responsible, while also creating a pipeline for our unhoused, job-seeking Team Members to build work skills and feel like part of their community again by picking up trash and debris. Our board members, staff and Team Members had a blast beautifying our city alongside Mayor Liccardo. He’s one rockin’ mayor!

 

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Photo Credit: The Family Album Project

 

Become a San Jose Gateway Sponsor and Help End Homelessness

 

Currently, there are seven gateways sponsored by one of the following corporations: Ernst & Young, Comcast, Kaiser Permanente, Adobe, SunPower, Samsung, SuperMicro, Nexenta, TiVo, Signature Flight, Pinger, Caliva and Boston Properties. We are seeking sponsors for the remaining 10 gateways. Each sponsorship provides six unhoused individuals with the tools they need to find employment and housing, while also helping fulfill their basic needs. View the different gateway locations here.

 

Have questions about becoming a sponsor? Contact Shannon Robinson, San Jose Project Manager at srobinson@StreetsTeam.org or (650) 847-0523. Learn about sponsorship opportunities.

 

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Photo Credit: The Family Album Project

 

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VOLUME X - HAYLEY BENHAM-ARCHDEACON, DST COORDINATOR

Posted on December 23, 2016 by Streetsteam

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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.

 

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LinkedIn Interns Say ‘Hi’ and Raise 10,000 to End Homelessness

Posted on October 28, 2016 by Streetsteam

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In late March 2016, Downtown Streets Team launched its work experience model for unhoused community members in San Francisco, a city that we know and love for its diverse, creative, and charmingly gritty culture. Three months after our launch, we were thrilled to have the attention of the largest employment oriented social networking company in the world, LinkedIn.

 

Working with LinkedIn’s Interns for Good was a no-brainer for us. In fact, we’re humbled to admit that Downtown Streets Team attempted to make our own employment-oriented social networking site a few years back. Yeah, that failed. Not just because we’re social workers making a poor attempt at engineering, but because access to technology has drastically improved for the unhoused community enough to make LinkedIn a viable resource for folks living on the streets. There couldn’t be a more exciting time to launch our non-profit in one of the most innovative and tech-savvy cities in the world.

 

San Franciscans know life isn’t golden for everyone in the City. Everyday we’re faced with over 8,000 people experiencing homelessness, and while the problem at large is so visible, the individuals themselves seem to blend together. It takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves the folks we see struggling are people, not just “the homeless,” and that everyone has a different path that led them to the street.

 

In consultations with our Team Members, we asked them what the most distressing aspect of homelessness is. Their responses were not as you might expect, the lack of adequate shelter, food or a sense of safety. We were told that the most difficult part of homelessness is the lack of acknowledgement from other people. This led to San Francisco Downtown Streets Team’s Just Say Hi campaign.

 

LinkedIn’s Interns for a Cause took our concept and ran with it. They demonstrated an impassioned and thorough understanding of our goal to end social hesitation around acknowledging homeless community members. People want to help end homelessness, but they don’t know how. Everyone can start by simply saying hi. The interns did exactly they: they saw our Team Members (homeless community members) cleaning the street, and asked who they were.

 

From that first interaction, the interns designed a program where coworkers could send a simple hello to a fellow employee accompanied with a message and a treat in return for making a donation. More than 300 employees participated, raising $2,755 for us! This program was a proof of concept for us: when asked to be thoughtful and reach out to someone, employees were inclined to take action and make a connection. Once someone received a Just Say Hi message, they were inspired to send one themselves. It was even worth a donation on their part. You can’t put a price on human connection, and this program proved that positivity breeds positivity. This is something we’ve seen in our work as well: when you start treating someone with dignity, they will rise to the occasion. The interns’ Just Say Hi message program proved positive attention yields real results.

 

With continued organized efforts, the LinkedIn interns in partnership with the LinkedIn for Good team raised over $10,000 for our San Francisco Team. Given the success of the campaign, we hope to replicate it across our organization.

 

With this funding, we can grow our Team and provide more services to more people. Our San Francisco Team is the fastest growing of the seven branches DST has established across the Bay Area. In the past six months, we have helped 22 individuals find permanent employment, and another 16 find temporary employment. For many of our folks, this was a huge step. Having not worked for years, many Team Members at first don’t have confidence they could return to work. However, after a weekend gig cleaning up after Outside Lands and San Francisco Pride, they realized they do have what it takes to get a job, and began putting out applications and setting-up a LinkedIn profile.

 

When the LinkedIn Interns saw our Team and reached out to just say hi, we had no idea where it would lead. Here we are, together taking steps towards ending homelessness one person, one human connection and one job at a time.

 

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VOL IX – GREGORY MILLS, SAN FRANCISCO GRADUATE

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Streetsteam

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Hi, I’m Gregory Mills…

 

Can we do it like Paul Harvey? I just think it sounds more dramatic…

 

February 23 1977, I joined the Airforce with a six month old child. I was looking for something better career-wise, instead of being a janitor, my pride was too strong. I started as a mechanic, worked there for 18 years. Met some great friends. One of my friends there was Jaqueline’s Bouvier Kennedy’s cousins. We got stationed in Denver together, and we ate all of the hamburgers in the city. I lived in Korea for three years, great shopping if you get a chance. It was okay, but I was a family man. I was sitting there, thinking about how I was missing home. I was trying to do my time, I was counting every day, ready to go back home.

 

I met my best friend in the world, he was from Harlem. He brought this creativity out of me. I was kinda closed in, and he was kinda awkward, but we were goofing around and we started writing on people’s door. We had fun at night, we would go downtown to party, drink, laugh, and right before we would go in the base he would tap me on the shoulder and said “ I gotta go” and this man would disappear into the darkness.

 

I made a lot of friends, I wish I kept in contact. Sometimes I happen to see one or two of them in the Tenderloin. Keep in mind this is not a place I wanted to end up, but then you get the feeling, “Okay, I’m not the only one to get down this road.”

 

I retired early from the Airforce, I felt I was the missing entity in my Black family. There was a need for a Black male to keep some control in the community. So I moved back to SF, in Visitation Valley. When I got home, I represented this authority that my wife and kid did not want anymore… it caused a lot of problems.

 

One day my son tried to kill me. I had a 25th year anniversary Mustang. My son stole my car. I tried to discipline him. And then he stole it again.

 

I went back home to my mother’s house; it was like God intervened and put me back in my mom’s presence. I would listen to her stories, learn different things I did not know about her. Learn some cooking skills. At times, I questioned whether she loved me, but of course, she always did.

 

I remember the day I left for Korea, she said, “You want me to come to the airport with you?” Then it hit me. She started crying, and I thought, “I’ve never been this far away from you in my life.” I’ve been called a mama’s boy by so many girlfriends. She was everything to me. I learned a long time ago what loneliness is — and I know what being alone is, and it’s not the same.

 

My mother was my anchor. When my mom passed away, I started to feel like a ship without an anchor. It’s easy to burry your feelings in drugs. I think I was trying to kill myself. I started smoking crack. I was kinda like a soft smoker, I never stole from nobody. I was smoking but I was confused. I did not know what I was doing. One day, it seemed like I was on the verge of dying and I promised God I would not do it no more.

 

I ran into this lady who saw something in me, and helped me out. She would not allow anyone in my circle, so I couldn’t get out of it.

 

I worked for the Internal Revenue Service at the time. I did make it to work everyday, for eight hours a day. I was about to be hired for a permanent job, but then they brought up that I was ex-military and that I had a lot of guns, and they got paranoid. They did a warrant check and they found a firearm in my briefcase and some marijuana. It was a registered gun and I did not want to leave it at home at home, cause my niece was staying there. I got arrested for the night. I spent the night in jail, and when I went in front of the judge, he saw I was a good man, and he released me.

 

I had a two-year probation and had to stay in a special house. I was also supposed to stay away from drugs, and they put me in this area where I had to pass hundreds of people taking drugs on a daily basis. That was an everyday battle. All of the evil, I ended up right in the midst of it. Crack dealers everywhere. No matter how hard you try, you are always going to remember that drug, cause it can pull you right back into it.

 

But I managed to stay off. I got off probation. I don’t have any problem with the police. But I have a problem when they just call me, “Hey come here…” because I’m Black. With my military background, it feels unfair. I put my ass on the line, and the cops just have their jobs and act like they are heroes. I even had to file a complaint against an officer who harassed me. I’m a veteran, I don’t appreciate being talked to like that.

 

Calvin is one of my oldest friends. I saw him one day on the street, he was hustling, and he told me about the Downtown Streets team. I looked into it, did the process, signed up. Then I got accepted to the Team. I had to clean up stuff, picking up needles, trash, next to people who are using needles. It was hard.

 

Fortunately, through the Street Team, there are three other guys that I’m friends with. We support each other, look after each other. All of this is due to DST. I’m a great person, but I don’t always let it show. Me and these guys are so close. One of the guys just got a permanent job, and we were so happy for him. I’m not his father, but to see his smile, it’s priceless.

 

Then the need to work came, for my pride, to feel busy, and to make ends meet. A father does not like to see his family fall apart. My daughter started having medical problems, and that’s what put me back to work. She is like me, but she is tougher, smarter, harder, but she is me. Sometimes you don’t like to fail in front of yourself. My daughter does not want to see me fail. I was working for this car company. Now I live in a brand new senior building, an old Coca Cola factory. I have a glow to me now because I’m not homeless anymore.

 

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

Posted on October 6, 2016 by Streetsteam

 

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

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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…

 

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VOL VIII – EILEEN RICHARDSON, CEO

Posted on September 26, 2016 by Streetsteam

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • The Team Member had to want the change for themselves, but we sure could motivate them!

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  • 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.

 

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VOL VII – RICH MONGARRO, UNION SQUARE TEAM

Posted on September 20, 2016 by Streetsteam

 

By Rich Mongarro, Operations Director at Block by Block Union Square

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We all have our stories, both good and bad. It can be hard not to judge each another. Those living on the street are judged and written off based on their physical appearance and apparent status in life before their beliefs, aspirations or character ever come into consideration. In my experience providing employment pipelines for homeless individuals, I have met machinists, stockbrokers, singers, carpenters, professional martial artists, you name it. They’ve come from different places and taken different paths, but ended up in the same place. A place where a simple t-shirt and a smile can literally change a life: Downtown Streets Team.

 

My partnership with DST began more than two years ago in San Jose. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The company I work for, Block by Block, had just begun a collaborative program with the San Jose Downtown Association and Downtown Streets Team to provide supplemental street cleaning services in the downtown area. We branded the program for San Jose, calling it Groundwerx. We would be training and supervising eight homeless Team Members as they beautified the streets in exchange for gift cards for basic living needs.

 

I’ll admit, I had no idea what to expect from the program. I was skeptical in its ability to actually succeed in downtown San Jose the way the program had apparently succeeded in other communities across Santa Clara County.

 

At this point, I had served five years as Program Director of Groundwerx, downtown San Jose’s cleaning, safety and hospitality program. In that time, I gained an acute understanding of the landscape of homelessness in Santa Clara County and watched several programs come and go, with little or no effect in bringing noticeable relief to the homeless crisis that affected more than 7,500 members of the street population in the County.

 

The homeless were looked down on by their fellow community members as a nuisance, a problem that simply needed to go away. Yet there they were, sleeping night after night in whatever alcoves they could find, crafting makeshift shelters in doorways and public parks. Our staff would wake them up in the morning and many would disappear for the day, only to return later that evening and sleep until dawn. I saw very little success in watching these individuals get out of the routine they were now a part of. They didn’t have alternatives, any ways to break the pattern of homelessness in their own lives. During these five years I think I saw more people die on the streets than were housed.

 

So as I walked into the community center hall one warm July afternoon, I wasn’t expecting a lot. However, upon stepping through the door, two things instantly struck me: the first was the sheer number of people who were here to take part in the meeting. There was upwards of 70 to 80 people there, some in brightly colored DST shirts of yellow, green or blue. The others were wearing everyday street clothes; I came to learn these were the folks who were on the waitlist to get into the program. As the meeting got started, I felt a strong sense of excitement and empowerment. The individuals at this meeting were allowed to speak up and say what was on their minds with no one judging them or ignoring what they wanted to convey. It’s not often that homeless people are invited indoors to be a part of a conversation, to be celebrated for their small successes. Here, they all had purpose. They all had a voice.

 

As time went on after that meeting, I got to know Team Members on a more personal level. Every morning I’d come to work, I’d see our DST cleaners smiling while they worked. It was apparent they were not only enjoying the contribution they were making to the district, but appreciating the recognition they received, especially when they were thanked by the very same individuals who had once only seen them as a blight on the streets, and wanted them to just go away. They were part of the community once more and felt a sense of belonging that many had not felt for quite some time.

 

I spoke with them and learned their stories, all of the good and all the bad. Over time some would leave the program for their own reasons, but most of them stayed, and I’m happy to say I was able to bring on many Team Members as full-time paid employees with Block by Block. And for every employee I hired, I wanted to do a little something special to bring special attention to their success.

 

At that first Weekly Success Meeting I went to, I was impressed by the way new Team Members were welcomed onto the Team. When a person accepted a position with the Team, they’d be summoned to the front of the room with a drumroll and presented with their yellow shirt to thunderous applause from the attendees and staff. The smile on the faces of those folks was priceless. So when it came time to hire one of the DST Team Members to my company, I knew how I wanted to make it happen. I went to the next DST meeting, called up the individual and presented them their new uniform and welcomed them to Block by Block. Tears were often shed, accompanied by smiles and supportive applause from the DST staff as well as their fellow Team Members. I genuinely felt like I was changing people’s lives, and there is no greater feeling in the world than that.

 

In December 2015, I left the Groudwerx program in San Jose, and transferred up to my hometown of San Francisco to take over a new program in Union Square. Before I left San Jose, I was given a framed t-shirt, signed by DST staff and Team Members that I had worked with. I have received several awards in my career, but never one that meant more to me than that shirt. I took it with me to my new office in San Francisco, where it hangs proudly on the wall. Once I was here in Union Square I knew I had the opportunity to do something special again, and help bring Downtown Streets Team to the streets of San Francisco.

 

I’m thrilled to say that with the incredible leadership group at DST of Eileen Richardson, Chris Richardson and Brandon Davis, just last week we officially launched a similar program here in Union Square, one of the highest-visited tourist destinations in the entire city. When I handed our new Union Square Team Members their first shirts (a custom vibrant red for the Union Square District) a familiar sense of fulfillment came over me. I had been a part of something special in San Jose, and now we’ve brought that same magic to San Francisco.

 

After two months here, I’ve been able to hire three Team Members, and I’ve continued the tradition of giving out their uniforms in front of their peers. I proudly presented a Block by Block uniform to Sam at last week’s meeting, and I’m excited to present that bright red vest to Moses at this week’s meeting. I hope that small act brings a sense of reality to all the Team Members in that room, hopefully that anything is possible for them. I hope that when they watch their fellow Team Members reach their goals, they feel like they can reach their own.

 

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VOL VI – ANGELIQUE DIAZ, CASE MANAGER

Posted on September 12, 2016 by Streetsteam

 

By Angelique Diaz, San Francisco Case Manager

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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.”

 

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VOL V – LGBTQ AND HOMELESS BY LISA, TEAM LEAD

Posted on September 6, 2016 by Streetsteam

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This story originally appeared on Stories Behind the Fog.

 

I was born in Chicago. I don’t really know much about it, because I was very young when we moved to Colorado. I grew up mainly in Denver; then a small town called Slight. I’ve always been good with children. After I graduated high school I started taking childcare classes. I have something of a gift with kids. I’ve always gotten along with them, cared for them. They’re really special to me..

 

After my classes, I started working as a nanny in New Jersey. I worked there for two years. I always preferred the smaller setting of nannying, and it was really something. I got to travel all over with my families. I went to China, Cancun, Yosemite. One family took me on a cruise with them. I’m really thankful for those times. I traveled with one family for three months; that was really fun.

 

I would have kept doing what I was doing, I was doing good, but two years ago my brother asked me to move to Vacaville and help him take care of my nieces. I agreed, and moved from New Jersey to California. Things were going alright, but his wife and I never really connected, and she kicked me out.

 

I didn’t know anybody in California. My brother couldn’t do much, and the rest of my family was gone or turned me away. I didn’t have anywhere to go. That’s when I got into my first shelter, in Vacaville.

 

This place was hard. You had to do a lot: We had to do community service, take classes, and find a job in 30 days. It was a lot of pressure for me. I didn’t know yet then, but I have PTSD from my childhood and later, my mother dying. She died twelve years ago from a brain tumor, and I took care of her in the end. It was really hard for me to watch her die. I was living with my girlfriend, who left because of it. She couldn’t deal with the situation. I couldn’t leave though, I felt like my mom needed me. I couldn’t give up on her.

 

I’d have outbursts at the shelter and couldn’t do anything. I didn’t know why, so I just called it ugly. And it was ugly. I just wanted to get rid of it, but I didn’t know how. All I knew is that I wouldn’t get rid of it in this shelter.

 

I decided to take the money I made from my job — they made us save 90% of what we earned — and leave. I made a plan. I took the money I made and got a hotel. My plan was to stay there until I ran out and after I would take a bunch of pills. Fortunately, I am still here.

 

I was in the emergency room for three days. It was hard, because I didn’t have nobody there. After they released me, I went to a mental hospital then another homeless program in Vacaville. They were trying to help me with housing and work, but it wasn’t helping. For me, if I’m not connected with something, then I don’t feel like there’s nothing to live for. I needed something to belong to.

 

I’m a lesbian. I wanted to connect with that community to get back that part of me. I found a shelter in San Francisco, Jazzies. They’re the only shelter in the city for LGBTQ people, which is crazy. I wasn’t sure if I’d even get a bed, but I had to take a chance. I felt like my life depended on it.

 

I got in in February, but it wasn’t what I hoped. There’s not really any privacy, and the bathrooms are horrible. Men have come in and ripped the shower curtain open when I was taking a shower. It triggers my PTSD; it feels like the whole world comes crashing down on me. I’m trying to get the staff to fix it, because a lot of people don’t feel safe. I sometimes can’t shower for days because of it.

 

Luckily, though, I met Samantha living at the shelter. She told me about the Downtown Street Team. They work around Civic Center cleaning up trash and helping the homeless there. They hand out hygiene kits and other supplies, and you know, just give them someone to talk to.

 

I started volunteering with them. It’s really helped. I was the “participant of the week” the first week I was there, and they made me a team leader in the first month. It helps me stay connected. It helps give me a purpose. It helps keep me alive.

 

I’m happy to say that, it’s been months of trying, but on Monday I’m going to see a therapist. I’m hopeful that I can start to figure it all out, but I know that’ll take a while. My goal basically is go back to the nannying, but mentally I just wanna feel better.

 

There’s a lot of prejudice against the homeless. People treat us badly every day. Even though I’ve been able to get into the system, so thank God for that, it’s not easy. We can’t be at the shelter during the day. I try to find places to stay then, but you always end up getting kicked out. Nobody really looks at us, or cares. But we’re people. We’re good people. I am a good hearted person. One day I want to open another LGBTQ shelter. I want to give more people like me something to be connected to. I want to help save lives like the Downtown Street Team helped save mine.

 

 

Thank you to Free Range Puppies.

 

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VOL IV – JACLYN EPTER, EMPLOYMENT SPECIALIST

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Streetsteam

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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.

 

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VOL IV – JACLYN EPTER, EMPLOYMENT SPECIALIST

Posted on August 22, 2016 by Streetsteam

 

By Annette Visor, originally published by Medium.com

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I went to live in Houston, Texas in June, 1977, and I stayed four years and came back to San Francisco. I went there to get my life established because my son was young and I wanted to make a future for him. I used to work at a convalescent home taking care of elderly people.

 

I came back to San Francisco to see about my mom. She was living door to door and I put her in my house until she got on her feet. Now she has her own house. I helped her apply for apartments, because she had a 6th or 7th grade education — she’s smart but she can’t read too well.

 

I moved to the Chinatown Projects, and I stayed there for nine years. Then I moved to Oakland because I had a nervous breakdown because I had a friend who was in jail. I moved out of my place because I couldn’t handle it, and I moved to 98th St in Oakland. Then I moved to 61st Avenue, and then to Fruitvale with my play-niece. I still talk to her today; she says I’ll always have a place with her. After that, I got tired of living with people so I moved to the shelter for two years. That’s where I’m at now.

 

I wanted to get myself together, because I’m not a person who doesn’t care about life. I moved there so I can get on my feet and be happier. And I wanted to give the people who live at the shelter hope, and show them strength. They’re so proud of me now. I go visit them still.

 

I moved so much because I wanted to be in a spot where I’m comfortable. I want to have a bigger place so I can have my grandbabies visit me. I want to have a place where my family can come visit me.

 

My son got married and he has a four-year-old who loves the heck out of me. His name is Perry. I’m going to take him to the pancake house tomorrow over in Serramonte Shopping Center. I want to spend time with him and be a part of his life. His mom works, my son works, so I want to spend time with him over the summer. I’ve got to watch his back, though, because you know how kids run.

 

My mom sleeps a lot. I want to be with my mom, too, and that hurts my heart a lot. My sister says let her rest. We used to kick it together but we don’t do that no more. At least I get to talk to her on the phone, but I like to eat with her and talk about how we’re doing and stuff.

 

My whole family is here too. I lost my baby brother, and my sister just two months ago. One was a lifeguard, and he drowned. I’ve lost a lot of my family but you’ve got to be strong. They’re looking at you from Heaven, so.

 

I moved into the Projects on Eddy St when I was 16 years old, two years after my son was born. I was doing a lot of struggling. I was young, but my baby never got taken from me. He’s 39 years old now. He works at a partnership, helping singles and people with families get places to live, and he’s doing great. He helps shelter and feed them. I’ve told him be your own follower; be your own leader. And now he sees what I’m talking about. You keep that job!

 

The people who are getting up in the morning and always looking for a better future: they should have more attention paid to them, because they’re looking for something. You get to a certain age, you need to see something happy. You need something better. I want to help the people who don’t know how to help themselves, too. It’s good to have good leadership.

 

The guy I’m working with now, he says he’s going to adopt us a park. I hope it’ll be somewhere we like, like Dolores Park. I used to live over there.

 

I like to adventure! I like to explore, and to go places.

 

If you give people a way to help themselves without being stressed or pushed — because they already have a lot of anxiety in them; they’ve been through a lot — they will help themselves. You’ve got to help them so they can do it. I would like to see the ladies in my neighborhood do something with themselves because they’re beautiful. I think they’re really beautiful. But they need a push.

 

There are so many empty apartments. They’re not filled with the people who are doing something for themselves. It could be their foundation to grow. Instead they’re filled with people who are just going to be there for a couple of months, or washed out in a couple of weeks. That’s what I’ve been seeing. They don’t fill them with the people who want to keep it going on, who want to be paying rent.

 

I think they should go to the shelters and ask who really wants to pay rent, and who really wants to stay. People really want to help you. If you take a step in front of you, you’ll have one behind you. I see a lot of people in those shelters who have potential and they make them wait. I had to complain and complain before they started helping me. My money went so fast when I was in the shelter. I used to have to call my family and get them to bring me food. My son, bless him, brought me some food the other day. It’s so expensive out here.

 

Whatever I do, I want to be happy and have a smile on my face. I want to make sure I smile and be happy. When you wake up in the morning, it’s not so happy. But me? I want to be happy. I like helping people, and I’ve been like that all my life.

 

I study math, social studies, art and computers at Five Keyes. I just did a reading test, and went from 1.1 to 5.5. On my math test, I went from 3.0 to 4.4. I’ve still got all my grades! I gave Brandon, the supervisor at Downtown Streets Team, one of my cubic art pieces. He says it looks good, you should come and see it! I said, I know it does!

 

I miss my teacher at Five Keys. She taught me so much. She brought so much art out of me that I didn’t even know I could do. I want a studio where I can put all my art, and I want to have a little art gallery. I want to be able to pay the rent on it. I don’t care what it is: even if it’s $200 or $300 a month, I want it. I’ve had this dream since I was 17. I want to start again, and I want to be famous in my art.

 

My sister, Angel, is still on my mind, and I can’t let it go. Every day I feel like crying but I don’t let it out. I hope God will come to me and tell me it’s going to be alright. She’s in Heaven and I love her. I miss my baby brother Rocky, too. I hope my mom gets stronger so we can kick it and go places. Have a fish fry or something.

 

I’ve got a sister called Peaches who lives in the Valencia Projects. I miss her and I want to spend time with her. She’s still grieving over my sister Angel. I want to get together with my whole family and have a reunion. That will probably make it better too. On my dad’s side, in Midway, Texas, we always used to have family reunions, but since my dad passed away I haven’t been there.

 

I feel like this is the time to do something. My head used to be like a freeway, with thoughts going this way and that, and now it’s not like that. So this is the time to do something. If I don’t do it, it’s not going to happen.

 

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VOL II – BRANDON DAVIS, PROJECT DIRECTOR

Posted on August 15, 2016 by Streetsteam

 

By Brandon Davis, Project Director of San Francisco

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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.

 

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VOL I – JUST SAY HI

Posted on August 8, 2016 by Streetsteam

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In one of the most innovative cities in the world, San Franciscans are moving quickly towards solutions for many of the world’s problems, yet we do so on a backdrop of severe homelessness: the imagery of people living in dire conditions on the streets has become the standard background of life in the City.

 

In our current state of affairs, it’s easy to stop seeing unhoused community members as people, and let them blend into “the homeless.” It takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves that homelessness is an experience, not an identity.

 

When it comes to an issue so large, in a place so heavily entrenched, it can be hard to know what to do. We’re asking folks to start by just saying hi.

 

Why would we ask people to just say hi?

 

In consultation with our unhoused participants, we asked them what the most distressing part about being homeless is. Their responses were not, as you might expect, struggling to find food or adequate shelter. Overwhelmingly our Team Members shared that the most demoralizing part of being homeless is the lack of acknowledgment from other people.

 

Over the next 10 weeks, our DST staff, Team Members, Graduates, close partners and others will contribute to a SF Downtown Streets Team Blog, presenting their unique perspective on what we can do to address homelessness in San Francisco. Team Members will share their life stories, detailing how they became homeless and how they’re rebuilding their lives. The blog will be a platform for unhoused community members and the people they work with to show readers that no one’s path to homelessness is the same. Telling our Team Members’ stories is paramount: we can’t change the face of homelessness without them.

 

Everyone has a part in ending homelessness in their community. The first step is to just say hi!

 

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RODNEY WILL NEVER GIVE UP

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“The moral of the story is never give up. Stick with it,” said Rodney. He seemed to come to this realization after telling his story of how he became homeless for 30 years.

 

He was born in Detroit, Michigan. His mother was a secretary, and his alcoholic father was a Motown song-writer. “He was a rolling stone and wrote the song, too. Temptations, Marvin Gaye…everything having to do with Motown he was involved,” said Rodney. But years down the road, the IRS took everything his father owned, including royalties.

 

After five years, his mother left his father to go live with her parents. It wasn’t an easy transition for Rodney, who was getting picked on by kids at school. He believes this is why he became a bully. He also believes he had a focusing problem, which made school work tough. “It could have been drugs, but I think it was a learning disability,” said Rodney. “Nobody saw that so I started rebelling.”

 

Years later, they moved to Los Angeles to a house up the streets from where the Black Panthers were marching. All through high school Rodney witnessed gang activity but couldn’t understand it and thought to himself there was no way he would get involved. Instead, he focused on football and relied on his coach as a great mentor, who he still admires today. “Rest in peace now,” said Rodney. “He told me anything I ever needed, just let me know.”

 

Eventually he followed his mother up to Palo Alto with $300 in his pocket given to him by his step-father. But his inability to focus caught up with him, so he dropped out of school and moved out of his mother’s house. “I didn’t get very far,” he recalls. “I slept outside in the car. Sometimes I would sleep there all day long.” He was 16 years old when his life took a steep turn.

 

He began stealing to survive. “I had to rush my childhood,” said Rodney. “To this day I still believe that sometimes I still act like a child – it’s still in me. I’m not always responsible.”

 

Soon he was pushing a shopping cart filled with his belongings. He was homeless for years until he married at 21 and had his first son, Cody, “Eleven pounds, 12 ounces,” he recites easily – as if he was born yesterday. But when his wife left with his son, Rodney got back into drugs and was evicted from his home. “I was going crazy. I couldn’t eat or sleep for a year,” said Rodney. History repeated itself when his daughter was born, who he hasn’t seen since 1974.

 

All in all, Rodney was homeless for about 30 years. For 10 of those he lived at “the wall,” behind Palo Alto Medical Center, with many Vietnam veterans and also in Coyote Creek under the bridge. He experimented with heroine to stay warm and also turned to alcohol. “I started drinking and getting high to deal with all the things I was feeling,” said Rodney.

 

The first time he went to prison was for a burglary. “My hair was still long. I should have kept my hair, but it was a new start,” he said chuckling. Through the years he went back to jail for petty crimes – for four years each time.

 

“I don’t blame anyone for my lifestyle but the minister at the Red Cross near the Opportunity Center gave me hope,” said Rodney.

 

Once out of jail for what would be the last time, he joined Downtown Streets and was quickly promoted to a Team Lead (Green Shirt). “I started looking for work but I was getting discouraged because of my record.”

 

His persistence and never-give-up-attitude has literally paid off. Now he’s housed and hired and he can hardly believe it. “I’ve been working for Santa Clara Convention Center since May (2013). Never thought with my background I’d be working for a place like that,” said Rodney. “And they love me there.” His face breaks into a huge smile.

 

What kept him going through 30 years of homelessness? “I used my mama for inspiration. Through the whole time she never gave up, through all the moving and getting beat down. That stuck with me,” said Rodney. “When you’re feeing bad and its’ not working out, you gotta hold onto people saying ‘hold on – you’ll be fine.’”

 

Editor’s Note: Rodney is working full-time, married and housed.

 

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CONNIE LANDS DREAM JOB

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“Everyone at DST is truly dedicated to doing what they do and it inspires me to do the same,” said Connie – one of our Team Members who has always wanted to work for the City of Palo Alto.

 

Michelle, one of our Employment Specialists, helped him kick off the job hunt. “In November 2013 we applied to the Maintenance Assistant position that had just opened,” said Michelle. “I knew this was the perfect position for him since it was removing graffiti and he was already calling in all the graffiti into the city and assisting in getting it removed [as part of his shift with Downtown Streets Team].”

 

Sure enough, come January he had an interview and was hired a short time later. One of our staff saw him driving the city truck and he was grinning from ear to ear.

 

“When people tried but failed at life, DST is where they can put their life back together,” said a beaming Connie. “The door is always open for opportunity.”

 

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LEIF, A FELON, NOW CHANGED

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Leif understands that unlike him, some people don’t change. And even though he has changed, given his criminal record, “It takes awhile for [employers] to see my skills,” said Leif.

 

Leif was raised to be a productive member of society, but he was young. “I was going through life lackadaisical, not taking it too serious. I was drinking and selling drugs,” he said. “At that age, I was going through something every human being does: trying to find your identity. We all do things we wouldn’t normally do.”

 

Then one day his behavior caught up with him. With the Three Strikes Rule in full force, suddenly Leif was facing 10 years in jail. By the time he left, he was 38 years old and a felon.

 

“Now I’m taking life more seriously, but I dug myself into a hole,” said Leif. He is currently housed in San Jose and working in Palo Alto.

 

With plenty of security experience under his belt from working at a club in Stockton and currently as security guard during our San Jose Weekly Success Team Meetings, Leif is always looking for full-time work.

 

His cool demeanor paired with a somewhat intimidating expression (except when his face widens into a big smile), make him the kind of security guard who automatically garners the upmost respect.

 

Leif is thankful for his position with Downtown Streets Team. “I don’t know what I would do without this tool. Just having a job does a lot for self-esteem,” said Leif.

 

Update: Leif is now housed.

 

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DONS SOURCE OF PERSEVERANCE

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Don was living like many of us: gainfully employed and renting an apartment with a roommate. When Don lost his job at Fry’s his roommate, who was ill with cancer, became concerned about the liability of carrying the rent on her own. Being a standup guy with a strong sense of honor, Don left on his own accord because he could no longer pay the rent. With no where else to go, Don ended up living in his vehicle at Fair Oaks Park in Sunnyvale.

 

To make a change, Don said he needed to learn how to become more responsible and reliable. That’s where the Downtown Streets Team came in. Don worked beautifying neighborhoods as a part of the work experience team and worked tirelessly with his case manager to get to where he is today.

 

We’re happy to report that Don, his partner Kathleen and their dog Gizmo, are now living safely indoors in a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose. When we asked him what he did and what DST did in supporting him in recovering from homelessness he said, “Just being there for someone who was down and out… just being there,” made the difference.

 

With perseverance and support, Don is finally home.

 

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MIKE'S JOURNEY TO HOUSING AND SOBRIETY

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As with many homeless people, Mike Osteen’s back story is complicated and riddled with uncontrollable circumstances and struggles. Mike is a true testament to what hard work and perseverance can accomplish when provided with a stable and supportive environment.

 

With honesty and openness upon reflecting on the past 55 years of his life, Mike says repeatedly, “You’re a product of your environment.” This is true for him now, as he is working towards gaining a life of stability with Downtown Streets Team (DST), and it was true for him at the age of three when his parents divorced.

 

Mike grew up in a nice family, in a nice home and always maintained employment, yet alcoholism, divorce and other tragic events took their toll and Mike eventually found himself on the streets. His sister had close ties to motorcycle gangs, which didn’t have the best influence on him and when his parents divorced Mike recalls, “It was difficult not having my father in my life.”

 

His mother, sister and father were all alcoholics – and Mike became one, too. A self-proclaimed functioning alcoholic, Mike always maintained a good job, usually working with his hands. Following the American Dream, Mike bought a house in Santa Rosa and got married. Then tragedy hit again with his own divorce. He felt like the world was going to end and he recalls downing nearly half a gallon of vodka a day.

 

Looking for a change after his divorce, Mike moved to San Jose to be closer to his son, who now lives and works in San Diego as an accountant. To this day, Mike works hard to keep in touch with his son.

 

Life events weighing heavy on his mind, Mike’s drinking continued to spiral out of control and he could no longer hold down a job – something he had always managed to do. His work even sent him to rehab but he was hanging around “the wrong people” – many of who have since passed away – and so he had trouble succeeding. He admits, “I’m lucky to still have a brain that works.“

 

Around this time he nearly died and when he awoke in Stanford Hospital he thought to himself, “I’m lucky to be alive,” and decided it was time to take charge. “I went into rehab three different times and finally finished. But then my motorhome burned down and that was tough because of the photographs…I was with a gal and we were rebuilding our lives together. Then she got cancer and died.”

 

Losing everything for a second time, paired with the death of his sister, was too much to handle and Mike returned to the bottle. He had no home, no car, no hope and his dignity was teetering on the edge of disappearing completely. This downward spiral landed him on the streets for seven years off and on as he continued to seek out odd jobs, including six months felling trees at a place that also provided rehab. The program energized him for a moment and slowly he began picking up the bits and pieces.

 

While on the streets, he checked himself into rehab and pursued homeless services in San Jose, but it wasn’t until his friend invited him to a Downtown Streets Team meeting that his outlook and life began to consistently move in a positive direction.

 

“I attended a meeting in hopes to use the basic needs stipend to purchase a pack of smokes,” said Mike, laughing. This isn’t the first time a potential Team Member has looked at DST’s program as a short-term avenue to immediate needs, however they often end up finding something much more.

 

“I saw what was going on here – people transitioning and making major changes and that was pretty cool,” Mike said. “It inspired me to continue on and get things back – like my dignity.” More recently Mike had been sleeping behind a liquor store and in a friend’s backyard.

 

Mike is now celebrating three and a half years sober – a huge milestone and one that marks the longest he’s ever been sober in 43 years of drinking and doing various drugs. He has moved into the highest position a Team Member can garner, the Operations Manager, and oversees all teams and growth in future cities. During his time volunteering with DST, he has slowly regained his management skills and has gotten back on track to achieving his most immediate goals: a roof over his head, transportation, food in his stomach and communication tools, like a mobile phone.

 

The first goal he tackled upon joining the team was to get his independence back by obtaining his driver’s license, which he had lost after four DUIs. The only goal left on his “immediate” list is to get a roof over his head. Thanks to DST’s resources, Mike found out the day before Christmas Eve that he was housed. With a recent cancer diagnosis this last basic need was weighing heavy on his mind. Finally he can check housing off his list.

 

Despite the tragedies he’s endured, sometimes alone, Mike has a positive outlook and is keeping his focus. He says his goals have changed over time and now also include staying active, contributing to society and travelling – something he especially misses. By simply being part of DST’s team he’s already doing two of those nearly every day of the week.

 

“The volunteer stipends, resume building and help finding a job – what DST is doing… what a difference,” said Mike. “If people are ready to apply themselves.”

 

Mike still keeps in touch with his former colleagues in hopes of returning to the mainstream workforce once again. Before he became homeless he oversaw a crew of 75, made good money and was working in management. In 10 years time he’ll be 65 and wanting to retire. However his main focus now is his health – both mentally and physically – and making sure he has the support system to keep this positive momentum going, especially with cancer treatments on the horizon.

 

He talks with his son frequently and recently visited him in San Diego to go fishing. Unfortunately stormy weather got in the way, but it was still a nice visit. Mike dreams of perhaps starting a business with his son in the future.

 

The best part about overseeing DST’s teams and meeting each and every newcomer who walks through its doors? “I can give advice to people to not fall into the same place [as I did],” said Mike. “The [volunteer] work keeps me sober – this program will help keep you sober – and without my sobriety I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

 

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CHUCK ON LEARNING TO TRUST

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Nothing in the years that Chuck Jagoda spent as a student of ancient and modern Greek and an educator in New York City schools prepared him for the hardest challenge of his life: homelessness.

 

By the time he graduated on December 8 from the Downtown Streets Team, he could have written a book about surviving on the street. “I didn’t go to school to study it,” he said. “I had to learn it on the job.”

 

Praised by both staff members and other volunteers at the graduation ceremony for his “never give up attitude,” Chuck, 72, in turn praised the organization for giving him what he hadn’t even known he needed.

 

“The Downtown Streets Team turns out to be a perfect incubator to get yourself together and teach yourself things you need to know,” he said during a ceremony at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, where the Palo Alto team meets weekly.

 

“For years, people told me to join the Downtown Streets Team. But I didn’t, because I couldn’t trust. Now I know that whatever you’re here for, you’ll get, but you’ll get so much more than you bargained for. The Downtown Streets Team lives up to its word 150 percent of the time.”

 

Reared on Long Island, Chuck earned a bachelor’s degree in classical Greek language and literature from College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in classics and acting from the University of Nebraska. He acted in student and community plays, did stand-up comedy, taught at a Jesuit mission in Jamaica and then taught in New York City schools for many years.

 

Chuck found himself suffering from depression in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A 24-year-old nephew died in the collapse of Tower One. While he was still grieving that loss, his only niece, a 20-year-old college student, died in a kayaking accident on Cape Cod Bay. During the five-day search for her body, Chuck lost his temper and snapped at a student, which cost him his teaching job.

 

In 2009, he came to the Bay Area to be closer to his five grandchildren. He hoped to obtain housing in return for work, but it didn’t work out.

 

For much of the first year, he lived in his blue ’89 Dodge Spirit in an alley behind a donut shop in Palo Alto. Sometimes he slept on a friend’s floor, and sometimes on a picnic table at Cubberley Community Center or on a folding table at a Laundromat or on the ground at Palo Alto Square. Other times he paid an acquaintance $10 a night to sleep on his couch.

 

One year, he stayed from December through April in the now-closed shelter at the old Armory in Sunnyvale. He had two three-month stints at the Hotel DeZink, a shelter that rotates among churches in Palo Alto, and an activist in Santa Cruz took him in for the winter of 2013/14. “My steady plan for a long time–the last couple or three years— was to sleep across my back seat and park in front of the Hawaiian BBQ in Palo Alto, whose bathroom was a comfort late at night,” he recalled. Last winter, the Downtown Streets Team secured him a room in a motel.

 

Starting in 2011, when Palo Alto began considering a ban on sleeping in cars, Chuck became an unofficial spokesman for people who are homeless in Palo Alto, writing numerous opinion pieces for local publications and joining a working group that the city convened to provide advice. In 2013, the city enacted the ban, but revoked it in 2014 after a federal appeals court struck down a similar ban in Los Angeles.

 

Chuck joined the Streets Team in Palo Alto in 2013 after what he described as “years of resisting.”

 

“I’d been a garbage man and didn’t want to pick up litter on University Ave,” he recalled. “So I waited for a gig picking up litter on the soccer field at Page Mill. Then I added a gig laying lines down on the soccer fields at Mitchell Park. Then I was asked to help on University Avenue to get my hours up. It was all good and fun, and I liked it– even the University Avenue litter.”

 

In October 2014, a new volunteer opportunity arose through DST: helping with customer management for Mobile 4 All, which provides free smartphones and low-cost data and phone service to homeless and low-income people. Last summer, the volunteer gig morphed into a paid part-time job with Sparrow Communications, which runs Mobile 4 All. Chuck also works periodically as a substitute teacher in San Jose.

 

All through this journey, DST helped him in ways both big and small – sending him to a computer literacy course, paying for a transmission repair, helping him apply for subsidized housing. “In general, they do more helpful things than any of us have a right to expect,” he said. “Perhaps most important, they provided emotional support. They really do care about us.”

 

Since July 31, Chuck has lived in a subsidized studio apartment in the Parkside Studios in Sunnyvale, built on the site of the old Armory that until March 2014 served as a 150-bed winter shelter. “Ironically, I had argued against replacing the shelter with permanent housing,” he noted.

 

Chris Richardson, the Streets Team’s regional director for Silicon Valley, got to know Chuck a few years ago when he was speaking out regularly about homeless rights. “What struck me is how sincerely, intelligently and compassionately he advocated for others,” Chris recalled. “I knew he would be an excellent role model for our Team Members who were going through hard times.

 

“But that wasn’t Chuck’s plan! He’s a bit hard-headed and thought no one could help him but himself. When he eventually showed up to a meeting due to the encouragement of his friends on the team (which is why most people show up), he was ‘spiritually fulfilled.’ I think he had found an environment where he could help himself, but more importantly to Chuck, where he could help others succeed.

 

“In his time at DST he has managed to do both. He’s landed two great jobs and found an apartment. Even more, he opened up a new employment pathway for disabled team members to get back into work. As a Mobile4All rep, he is helping others on a daily basis and continues to encourage team members not to give up hope.

 

“I am so grateful for his time on the team and incredibly proud of his achievements. I know he’ll be a great DST graduate, mentoring others, and that he has a bright future ahead of him.”

 

Martha Shirk is a journalist in Palo Alto and the author of several books, including “Lives on the Line” and “On Their Own.”

 

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HOLLY IS UNSTOPPABLE

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“I was sitting there in jail thinking, ‘Give yourself one year and see what happens,” said Holly, a recent graduate of our program. “I can’t believe I will be one year sober from three addictions.”

 

This is just one of the life-changing goals Holly met after joining Downtown Streets Team over a year ago. Now sober, reunited with her daughters, housed and employed, Holly is unstoppable with her upbeat attitude and drive to move forward.

 

Now a graduate of our program, she is continuing to work hard to achieve personal and professional goals. She’s fighting for what’s important to her.

 

“It’s possible for your life to turn around. If you go after what you want, you can obtain it. I’m making more money than I ever have before and I’m living in my own place – that I obtained myself.” She adds, smiling, “I rearranged my bedroom the other day.” A simple, yet satisfying pleasure.

 

She credits her accomplishments to one thing: believing in herself.

 

“I didn’t believe in myself before – I had such low self-esteem.” She set goals too big to obtain, so now she’s starting small. “I’ve set a goal to lose five pounds. And maybe that will turn into five pounds a month. I walked 7.3 miles today. If I can do all these other things, I can lose weight.”

 

Recently someone said to her, “I like the old Holly.”

 

And she replied, “Well, she isn’t coming back, so you can forget about her.”

 

We can’t wait to see what Holly does next, and neither can she.

 

“I could end up anywhere. I’m not going to limit myself.”

 

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KEVIN'S HEARTFELT MESSAGE

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Kevin's baby boy, Mason

 

We often receive messages from our graduates. Kevin is one of our most active Facebook Fans, and he shared this sweet photo and message with us today. All we have to say is congratulations on his sobriety and beautiful baby boy!

 

 

“I wanted to thank eileen , chris, greg, Shannon and every single person I met along the way at Downtown Street Teams. When i gave up on my self they believed in me and never gave up. Today I’m clean and sober and have 958 days clean of drugs and alcohol. I am no longer houseless I am employable again and became a father again to a healthy baby boy mason glenn millard. Once again I want to say, thank you and I love Downtown Streets Team for being a voice for people who were lost and gave up “never give up never give in” I’m a lifelong supporter of DST.” — Kevin

 

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"WILL" WILLIAMS FROM A LIFE SENTENCE TO LIVING

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Will laughs with fellow Team Member Sandra

 

 

By Martha Shirk

 

For the first time in his 52 years, Norman “Will” Williams has a job, his own apartment and a car, symbols of self-sufficiency that he never dared to dream about when he was serving a 25-years-to-life sentence under California’s former “three strikes” law.

 

In 1994, following the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old in Petaluma, by a parolee, California voters had overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that mandated a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for a third felony conviction, even for nonviolent crimes. It was the harshest “three strikes” law in the nation because it was the only one that imposed a life sentence for three even minor crimes.

 

Williams had been convicted of burglaries in 1982 and 1992, and in 1997, three years after the “third strikes” law was enacted, he was convicted of stealing a floor jack from the back of a tow truck in Long Beach. At age 34, he was sent to a 54 square foot cell at Folsom State Prison for 25 years to life.

 

During his years in prison, Williams never had a single visitor; the ties between him and his 12 siblings had unraveled when they were put into foster care at age 9 because of brutal abuse. Because he was a lifer and regarded as unlikely to get out, the prison provided him with no educational or vocational training options beyond a janitorial course.

 

But he did get out. Eight years ago, the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project, then called the Three Strikes Project, took up his case. The project works to release prisoners who are serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes. The Stanford lawyers argued that Williams’ background made his sentence excessive; he had serious learning disabilities, had suffered terrible abuse as a child and had been homeless and addicted to cocaine when he committed his crimes.

 

Williams got out in the spring of 2009. Many former inmates face insurmountable challenges once they’re out, including homelessness, joblessness and friendlessness, which sometimes combine to lead them to re-offend. But the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project made sure Williams had a safety net. “They were the first people to show me that there was somebody out there who cared about me,” he said recently.

 

The Stanford folks introduced Williams to Eileen Richardson, founder and executive director of the Downtown Streets Team, which provides job training and assistance with housing, transportation and emergency expenses to homeless people. From the moment he got out, Richardson and the Streets Team’s case managers began helping Williams understand how the contemporary world works and facilitating his re-entry into the community.

 

Two days after Williams arrived in Palo Alto, he began volunteering for the Streets Team, sweeping the downtown streets, sidewalks and spaces between doorways where homeless people often sleep at night. He slept for three months at the Hotel de Zink, an emergency shelter that rotates monthly among 12 Palo Alto churches.

 

Streets Team caseworkers also helped him apply for Social Security Disability benefits. Besides learning disabilities, he has a back problem and a limp that he attributes to donating a kidney to a brother when he was 17 so that he could get off of dialysis. The Streets Team helped him move to an apartment in Sunnyvale and then, in 2011, to a subsidized apartment at the Opportunity Center in Palo Alto, for which he pays a third of his income.

 

For several years, Williams volunteered on a Streets Team crew at the Montgomery Street Inn, a shelter for veterans in San Jose. To get there, Williams had to get up at 5 a.m. every day and ride a bus for 90 minutes.

 

Then last year he returned to Palo Alto as a team leader, focusing on keeping the downtown parking garages clean. All the while, he attended the Streets Team’s weekly meetings, which combine pep talks and access to resources with comradery and a sense of community.

 

Early last fall, his Streets Team job counselor urged him to apply for a part-time job at Enterprise Car Rental, and he got it. “It’s my first job, really,” he said. He earns $10.50 an hour cleaning cars and shuttling renters back to their homes.

 

Last December, Williams graduated from the Streets Team’s work experience program. Graduation is met when a Team Member becomes housed and/or employed. When they first join the team, they receive a Yellow Shirt, signifying change and a new beginning. Graduation is marked by receiving a gray shirt with the word “Graduate” proudly displayed across the back.

 

“It took me a long time to get to a gray shirt,” he said, “but I hope I wear it proud.”

 

“I’ve been out of prison seven years, and I haven’t gotten into any trouble,” he continued. “The Streets Team has made a very huge difference in my life. It made me a better person. Without them, I probably would have been back in the penitentiary. With their support, I was able to get on my feet and stay on my feet.”

 

At his graduation ceremony, several staff members and volunteers with whom he has been paired spoke about their respect for him.

 

“One thing that the Downtown Streets Team has taught me is that all lives matter,” said another volunteer. “They gave him a big chance, coming from the place he did. They could have kicked him to the curb, and we don’t know where he would have been. It has been an honor to watch him grow up. I remember training him to be a team leader years ago, and when he got his first team, he pushed them. A lot of these folks have done very, very well because of his leadership. He’d do anything in the world for them.”

 

His most recent Streets Team partner said, “He has been my mentor. He showed me how to do stuff properly, how to lead properly, to lead by example. He’s a great man. It’s been a pleasure to call him my partner.”

 

In 2012, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act, which modified the 1997 three strikes law to impose a life sentence only when the third felony conviction is “serious or violent.” It also authorized re-sentencing for offenders serving life sentences if their third strike conviction, like Williams’, was not serious or violent and if the judge determined that the reduced sentence does not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. Since then, Prison Legal News estimates that more than 1,000 former lifers have been released from California prisons and jails, and more than 2,000 have petitions for release pending.

 

Martha Shirk is a journalist in Palo Alto and the author of several books, including “Lives on the Line” and “On Their Own.”

 

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I AM A WARRIOR

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My name is Michael. I came to California from Hawaii in 1974. I went to school in Eastside San Jose. I had a normal childhood, my parents provided everything we needed. We were very well off.

 

In high school, I was pretty athletic. My favorite sport to play was football. I was introduced to marijuana and tried to find other ways of how I could make money. I started selling weed at an apartment building in San Jose. I had a friend introduce me to her older sister. We got together. She moved me in. She was not only my girlfriend but she also raised me.

 

Years went by. I was taking care of her kids, being a father figure. Things were going well. Then she introduced me to cocaine. I would leave the house and disappear for days at a time. She didn’t know my whereabouts, thinking I was cheating on her. But really, it was the drugs taking over me. She was also pregnant with my daughter. So, then I started doing petty crimes to keep my habit. I started a trend of going in and out of jail with numerous parole violations, numerous drug programs. My longest sentence was three years.

 

One day, she came to visit me to let me know that she didn’t want me anymore and that she was with someone else. From there, I went on a downward spiral of deep depression and severe drug use. For three years, I ran the streets being dirty, homeless, and just basically not caring. As years went by, it got a little bit better, but better as in how to be homeless. It was more of [learning] survival skills to be homeless. If I wanted to eat shrimp that day, I ate shrimp. I was riding the bus every night to stay warm. I would use gas stations or anything with a sink to take a ‘bird bath.’ I would wear clothes then throw them away so people would not think I was homeless. All this while I was still using.

 

In 2014, I was arrested for petty theft. Some doctors came to see me and diagnosed me with Major Schizo Effective and major PTSD. I was put on medication and sent to Mental Health Court. They were monitoring me and making sure I was taking my medication. I also went to Drug and Alcohol out patient. I sat down one day and said to myself, “Why am doing this drug, because it is not making me feel comfortable in my own skin?” I was scared to leave the bathroom, scared to leave the house, scared of life. There had to be something better for me. So I graduated Mental Health Court in 90 days. Came to DST and a girl told me about their [Rapid Re-Housing] Program. Things started to turn around in my life.

 

Everything I went through with my daughter’s mother taught me how to survive because I was never really by myself growing up. It made me become a man. Even though my time with her was good and bad. I have a best friend who was always there for me, too. He helped me to change my mindset, “You can’t have certain people at your home, random women.” I didn’t see it. He saw it. If I didn’t straighten up, I would lose my place. I thank him for checking me to check myself.

 

My daughter and my grandkids are what push me to not be that person I was before. I have a home. I enrolled in college at age 50, taking the fire program. I’m the oldest in the class, but I love it.

 

I appreciate the things in life now. I keep my home clean, I hang my clothes, I do all the things my parents taught me. Everything I went through was a blessing in disguise. One of the blessings is I’m still alive. I put myself in situations that could’ve killed me or been killed. But I could put on my fire program shirt and feel proud of where I am at now. I am a WARRIOR.

 

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