Tag: homelessness

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vol. VIII Eileen Richardson, CEO

 

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

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

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

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

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

Early lessons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

VOL. I – Just Say Hi

By San Francisco Staff

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!