If you wonder what positive steps are taking place to support homeless populations in suburban areas, you just need to visit the Downtown Streets Team Facebook page to see uplifting updates.There is Joe who used to sleep under stairways, who now sleeps in his own home with his dog Mollie. There is Jesus (aka “Chuy”) who gained employment in catering and food services and completed his first shift earlier in February. There is Keceziner (sounds like “Cassina”) who found permanent housing through Downtown Streets Team and is enrolled in classes to become a pharmacy technician.
The FB page showcases many more examples of successful transitions, dedicated volunteers, and progress in the mission to address local homelessness.
Meet Downtown Streets Team
Downtown Streets Team (DST) is an innovative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization envisioning creative solutions to addressing local homelessness. Looking beyond unhoused populations, DST collaborates with multiple stakeholders including social service agencies, government agencies, individual communities, private sector to empower, prepare, and equip unhoused individuals with the skills and resources that will make their transition a success.
Andrew shared a little about the history of DST, a for-profit social enterprise arm that he is working on, and what is ahead for the organization.
Interview with Andrew Hening, Manager of Employment Services and Social Enterprise at Downtown Streets Team
Q1 | Innov8Social: How do you define social innovation?
A1 | Andrew Hening, Manager of Employment Services and Social Enterprise at Downtown Streets Team: For me, social innovation is any for-profit/non-profit/hybrid/program/project/initiative that deliberately looks beyond the profit motive and disrupts the status quo in order to address a societal challenge.
It is not just a company, for example, using environmentally mindful production processes because it is cheaper or the PR Department recommends it. Rather, it is a company that explicitly embraces going green in the mission statement and is trying to introduce a product or service that fundamentally changes the way we think about our relationship with the environment.
Q2 | Innov8Social: What is the mission of Downtown Streets Team (DST) in Silicon Valley? How long has the organization been around?
A2 | Andrew: DST strives to end homelessness by restoring the dignity and rebuilding the lives of unhoused men and women. Appreciation of other people ‘s own autonomy is essential, and to that end, we simply do whatever it takes to empower individuals to embrace their own change.
The program was created in Palo Alto in 2005 with just four Team Members and a $25,000 budget. We are now in Palo Alto, San Jose, and Sunnyvale with almost 100 Team Members and a budget close to $2,000,000. Though more importantly perhaps, in every community we’ve entered, we have helped shift the dialogue away from the homeless being the problem and, instead, to them being seen as part of the solution.
Q3 | Innov8Social: What are the major barriers for homeless job seekers? How does DST address them?
A3 | Andrew: Homeless job seekers face an array of barriers, such as large gaps in employment, criminal histories, and/or mismatched skill sets due to changes in the economy. Fortunately, we have had a great deal of success with helping people overcome these challenges. In the past 18 months, over 40 Team Members have graduated into employment, including people who had not worked in 20 years, people who have multiple felonies for assault and theft, and people who have had to completely retrain themselves in a new career field.
The fact of the matter is, all of our Team Members have so much talent to offer employers, and the real challenge, really the most significant barrier we see, is helping Team Members realize that themselves. Our work experience contracts, our weekly success meetings, our Participants of the Week awards, our peer-based management structure, and our commitment to treating people with respect and dignity are all designed to help people see the best in themselves again or for the first time.
Q4 | Innov8Social: Can you tell us a little about the Social Enterprise initiatives of DST, such as the training class for homeless entrepreneurs?
A4 | Andrew: In 2012 DST ran two business-planning classes for our more entrepreneurial Team Members. The curriculum fundamentally aims to show our Team Members that there is more to a business than the idea itself, which is a lesson I have had to learn myself. During the four week class we work with students on creating a business plan that includes: market analysis, sales and marketing strategies, organizational structure, product description and research, and basic financial information.
Of the ten Team Members who have taken the class, two people are actually in the process of launching their businesses, which could more accurately be described as micro-enterprises at this nascent stage. A Palo Alto Team Member is using his experience in power-washing to start a small contracting business with local restaurant franchises, and a San Jose Team Member has already obtained his business license and seller’s permit for a portrait business. It’s incredibly exciting to see the progression from a raw idea to an actual money-making endeavor.
On top of helping our Team Members find creative revenue streams for themselves, we are also in the process of starting a “for-profit” arm of DST. We are working with an organization in Berkeley to launch a “triple-bottom-line” weatherization company that will employ Team Members with all types of backgrounds and barriers. The company will be working on weatherizing homes in order to reduce energy usage in the Valley, and all profits will be reinvested in the company, so we can hire more Team Members, or they will be donated to DST’s “non-profit” services.
Q5 | Innov8Social: What are goals for DST in 2013 and beyond?
A5 | Andrew: In addition to starting the “for-profit” arm, one of our major goals for 2013 is to launch a new team in San Rafael. If and when this happens, it will mark our first expansion beyond Silicon Valley and will be a major test for the scalability of our program. DST has witnessed amazing growth since our founding, and the success of these two initiatives will propel our mission and our operating values to previously unimaginable levels. Our entire staff is extremely excited about the impact that awaits.