Oct 29, 2018
Downtown Streets Team
Oct 29, 2018
By Damon Connolly
Founded in 2005 in Palo Alto, Downtown Streets Team (DST) has developed an innovative model for ending homelessness through the dignity of work. Now in twelve Bay Area communities, including San Rafael and Novato (and recently expanded beyond the Bay Area), DST’s model is structured to be a one-year transitional program into permanent housing and employment. Premised on the idea that treating people with dignity and empowering them to be part of the solution to their own struggles is a major factor in their ultimate success, DST challenges homeless individuals to take an active role in their own recovery by working on beautification projects such as street cleaning and creek restoration.
Referred to as “team members,” these individuals are either experiencing homelessness or are in extreme poverty. During their time with DST, team members are held accountable and trusted to complete tasks, show up on time and work well with others. In return, team members receive a non-cash stipend to help cover their basic needs and are able to take advantage of case management and employment services to find housing and a job. In the process, they find rejuvenation, restore their dignity, rediscover their self worth and rebuild their lives.
DST currently works with nearly one thousand individuals throughout the year. In Marin County alone, DST is encouraging and supporting anywhere between thirty and forty-five team members during any given month as they overcome barriers preventing them from securing employment and housing. One of those barriers is something most of us take for granted: staying clean. In March of this year, DST started Marin Mobile Care, a mobile shower program with host sites in Novato and San Rafael. Over 1,200 showers have been provided to over one hundred people experiencing homelessness. Marin Mobile Care has afforded DST the opportunity to hire some team members directly into employment. Former team members, now on staff, greet shower guests with smiles, warm towels, socks, and shampoo, conditioner, and body wash donated by Marin-based EO Products for the life of the program.
In addition to meeting with a case manager to work on obtaining housing and employment, if team members face legal barriers, they can connect with Marin County Bar Association member Elissa Lasserre of New Beginnings Law Center, who volunteers her legal expertise and guidance to help with record expungements and resolving traffic violations. Elissa will often represent team members in court and/or connect them to Community Court, where individuals can use their time with DST to clear those hours. Therapists from Community Institute for Psychotherapy also volunteer their time to meet with team members weekly, working on any trauma or mental health challenges.
The basic needs stipend takes the form of non-cash gift cards, which helps team members get out of survival mode and into goal-setting mode. This offers the opportunity to take a break from worrying about their immediate needs and regain an intrinsic motivation to seek employment with the support of DST’s employment specialist, who helps build resumes, practice mock interviews, and secure employment.
Team members who have been resistant to connecting to services often reclaim determination to become self-sufficient through these available opportunities. For example, Mr. D became a team member intending only to serve community service hours required by the court to clear his legal record. He met that goal within the first week. Upon his check-in with his DST case manager, he decided to stay with DST. He wanted to see what else he could accomplish. He has since connected with a primary care physician, gotten his first pair of eyeglasses in 15 years, been instrumental in the success of several peers, been promoted to a "Team Lead" and is now preparing to find employment with his updated resume. It was the support he felt by his peers and case manager that encouraged him to stay and continue working on his goals.
To date, 1,619 team members have secured housing and employment throughout all of DST’s Bay Area locations. In Marin, we have seen over 110 team members secure employment and 63 secure permanent housing. Every month, team members self-report in a survey, which recently showed that 96% have improved self-esteem, motivation and hope; 86% have fewer negative impacts from law enforcement; 73% were using fewer substances since joining the Team; 92% seek or maintain mental health treatment; and 100% are interested in pursuing education or employment.
Mr. B is a shining example of what the shock of homelessness can do to someone and what being part of a Downtown Streets team can do to counter the experience. For him, the team offered support as he practiced resilience and perseverance in reaching his employment goals. When he joined, he hit the ground running in search of the perfect job. However, without instant success, his drinking increased, and he started to question his job search efforts. He then suffered a traumatic brain injury. His fellow DST peers were some of the only people in his world who made regular visits to the hospital during his recovery. After Mr. B was discharged, the first thing he did was rejoin the team with a renewed sense of self and determination to find employment so he could move past his experience of living and sleeping outside. He immediately met with the DST employment specialist and sent out dozens of job applications. He went to numerous interviews and landed an amazing full-time job. He checks in regularly to let staff know he is doing great and is maintaining his sobriety. Throughout his employment, Mr. B has been staying at the local emergency shelter working to secure permanent housing. His newest goal is saving his paychecks, so he can put down a security deposit on a place to call home.