San Rafael Downtown Streets Team Helps Keep Marin Working
Homeless populations are a problem in nearly every major city in the United States -- but in the city of San Rafael, people without permanent housing are part of the solution.
That’s the idea behind San Rafael’s newly formed Downtown Streets Team (DST), an offshoot of the Palo Alto based non-profit that also operates in Sunnyvale and San Jose. Started by former Napster CEO Eileen Richardson, and run with the help of her son and program director Chris Richardson, DST hopes to replace the common cycle of charity and dependence with a system of multi-faceted support and empowerment.
Here’s how their work-first model operates: Streets Team members, those who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless, volunteer to help clean and beautify their community, while working with case managers and employment specialists towards a goal of permanent housing and employment. In return for their service, members receive food, housing vouchers, and access to vital services they need in order to integrate back into society and lead self-sufficient, productive, and happy lives.
San Rafael mayor Gary Phillips brought in DST with the hope that a change in both tactics and thinking might pay off for all parties involved. So far, the Streets Team project has proven that it is up to the task.
Since it officially kicked off in July 2013, over ¼ of the homeless population in San Rafael has attended one of the Team’s Weekly Success Meetings! The 25-person team volunteers an average of 400 hours per week, Monday through Friday, working on various cleaning and beautification projects that span the entire city. The San Rafael Team even has a consistent wait-list of about 10 people eager to become a part of the positive experience, with the average wait time to join about six weeks.
And it’s easy to see why. The project has already helped many of members to find jobs and permanent housing, and provides both compassion and guidance to the more than 130 people that consistently attend weekly meetings. Success stories, like that of Alexis Gonzales, are not out of the ordinary. Gonzales, 21, is a graduate of the Downtown Streets Team, who transitioned from living jobless at the Mill Street Center shelter in San Rafael, to a permanent residence and a job she loves at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, after only 3 months with DST. Program employees even drove her to the interview – which she nailed on the first try.
Centered on the idea that positive change in a community can be achieved through positive changes in the lives of its often marginalized and neglected citizens, the Downtown Streets Team program is leading the charge, working proof that every member of a community has something to offer.
Here are some of the projects that the San Rafael Team is currently working on:
- Working with the Sustainability Department of San Rafael to place an organic food cart at the San Rafael Transit Center;
- A cigarette butt removal drive sponsored by Bellam Self Storage: The Team has already collected over 120,000;
- A set-up and clean-up contract to aid the San Rafael Downtown Farmers Market;
- Projects with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Leadership Group;
- Involvement with Marin County’s Homeless Management Information System Selection Panel.
To get involved or to find out more information about Downtown Streets Team, please visit their website at www.streetsteam.org.