Chris Richardson is the Director of Program Operations with Downtown Streets Team, a partner of Housing 1000. Through Downtown Streets Team, homeless men and women are given the opportunity as “team members” to rebuild their lives through an innovative work-readiness program.
Q: What does Downtown Streets Team do?
Chris: We place clients in work experience contracts in a variety of places, including corporate janitorial work, InnVision work, City of San Jose and City of Palo Alto clean-up work. Our most exciting new contract is with Manpower—our new workforce development program with them is so effective that our graduation rate has been going through the roof! That means a higher and higher percentage of our clients have entered permanent employment, sustainably turning their lives around.
We’re growing at a rapid pace right now—in just two and a half years, our operating budget has quadrupled. We’re also constantly pursuing innovative strategies and partnerships. For example, in addition to working with Housing 1000 we also won a grant to clean up Coyote Creek. The funding came from the Environmental Protection Agency, the City of San Jose, the Santa Clara County Water District, Destination: Home and the eBay Foundation. The goal is to clean up a portion of the creek where over 100 unhoused people currently live—and to help house the men and women living there, as well. By the end of the two-year project, we hope to house 50 people!
Q: What do you think is unique about Housing 1000?
Chris: It’s simply the campaign that is going to house the most people. We’re a work-first model, but the housing has to be there. So many of the social services agencies have bought into it. It’s the most coordinated effort to end homelessness I’ve ever seen.
Q: How did you first get involved with Housing 1000?
Chris: We weren’t originally sure how we would fit in to the Housing 1000 campaign, since we’re a “work first” model. But we’ve wound up being able to assist more work-ready individuals while Housing 1000 targets the most medically vulnerable. Housing 1000 is literally saving lives, and we’ve been able to help a great deal with outreach because we’re already out there in encampments, meeting people where they are. People who are hesitant to come into service centers or shelters actually tend to be more vulnerable, so it’s an important role. In the last month alone, we have surveyed over 200 homeless men and women.
Our case manager in Palo Alto is basically the only Outreach surveyor in North County—and at this point he’s administered the most surveys of any single person in the whole County. We’ve surveyed at the Boccardo Reception Center, and also at Coyote Creek and St. James Park. What’s really cool is that we’ve actually had our team members out administering surveys. It’s a very client-driven outreach effort.
We’re also involved through the Care Coordination Project, via our case manager Gina Matthews who works her tail off housing her Housing 1000 clients. It’s funny because we think of our typical clients as less “vulnerable” than theirs, but five of our team members have actually ended up in Housing 1000’s top 80 most vulnerable.
Q: You’re a work-first model. Housing 1000 is a housing first model. How does that work?
Chris: There’s been some pushback against Housing 1000 because it doesn’t fit into every agency’s model, and there’s only so much funding that programs can compete for. That’s what it means to be innovative and new—it hasn’t been done before. But what people fail to see is that we’re all working towards the same goals and most basically, when you house even one person you’re saving resources. It may be hard to see, but you are spreading the wealth and alleviating strain on government agencies, which actually makes it easier for you to serve clients in the longer run. Financial resources that come along with working with Common Ground are also helpful. The Campaign also unites agencies working independently, making us all more effective at fulfilling our mission to help end homelessness.
One thing that keeps people in homelessness is a lack of self-respect that comes from years of being marginalized. If we can serve clients with respect, in addition to housing them, they can have a hand in their own success, which makes it that much more sustainable. Our approach also aligns with the cost-effective model of Housing 1000—our work experience program more than pays for itself.
Q: What’s next for Downtown Streets Team?
Chris: We’re expanding into three new neighborhoods inSan Jose, soon. This summer, we’re also starting up a team inSunnyvale, so look for guys in STREETS TEAM shirts and say hi! If you want to see the stories of some of our individual clients, check out Housing 1000’s new site, Housing ONE. Many of the stories are about clients our case manager Gina is working with!
- San Jose city officials to temporarily reinstate homeless camp cleanups (mercurynews.com)
- Discharged to the streets: homelessness and the NHS (guardian.co.uk)
- Advocates fight to break homeless cycle (tbo.com)