Downtown Streets Team, a program in which homeless volunteers clean streets, receiving services and vouchers at stores like Safeway and Target, was created in Palo Alto by Eileen Richardson, a venture capitalist who served as the first CEO of Napster. It's since expanded to 10 cities with a budget of $6 million. Downtown Streets Team was first brought to San Francisco at Civic Center, thanks to donations from Dolby and Google, tech companies with mid-Market offices, and this week the Examiner covered the program's expansion to Union Square.
Officials say the Civic Center program picked up 13,200 gallons of debris and 5,500 used needles in five months. “Since they’ve been in Civic Center, there is a noticeable difference in the cleanliness of the city,” says Public Works Deputy Director Larry Stringer, whose department fields more than 30,000 street cleaning requests per year. “I am looking for Downtown Streets Team to move to a few more places.”
Also in those five months: 16 participants found employment and two found housing. “We are a gateway to the many awesome services that are often in a city already, especially this city,” Richardson told the press on Thursday. “You see these men and women here working so hard. All they wanted was a second or a seventh chance. And now they’ve got it.”
Participants spend 20 hours per week cleaning and receive case management and employment services to find housing and jobs plus $100 weekly stipends in the form of vouchers for stores like Safeway and Target. “Our wait list alone is a huge middle finger to people who think that homeless folks are lazy and don’t want to contribute to their own success,” Downtown Streets Team project manager Brandon Davis tells the Examiner. In San Francisco, he says, "we have the most demand out of all of our branches [here], and the greatest attendance of any of our branches. It’s a true testament to the fact that people need an outlet to suit their needs.”
In addition to resources and cleaner streets, Downtown Streets Team also provides its volunteers with confidence. For example, on the first week she volunteered with Downtown Streets Team, a woman named Lisa who is housed at the Mission LGBTQ homeless shelter Jazzie's, was thrilled to be made 'participant of the week.' In her first month, she became a team leader. "It helps give me a purpose; It helps keep me a live," she tells Stories Behind the Fog.