Nonprofit that helps homeless with jobs, housing has its eye on Modesto

FILE PHOTO — Members of the Downtown Streets Team work in Sunnyvale. The nonprofit helps the homeless find housing and jobs.
FILE PHOTO — Members of the Downtown Streets Team work in Sunnyvale. The nonprofit helps the homeless find housing and jobs.

A nonprofit that provides volunteer work and services for the homeless might come to Modesto. The Downtown Streets Team program started in Palo Alto in 2005 and has since spread to nearly a dozen Northern California communities.

The homeless people in the program can volunteer as many as 20 hours a week cleaning up parks, downtowns and other public spaces. DST provides the homeless with case management to connect them with services and an employment specialist who helps them find work.

The nonprofit does not provide the homeless with money. Instead, they receive what Downtown Streets Team Chief Program Officer Chris Richardson calls basic-needs stipends, including grocery store gift cards, or the nonprofit could buy a homeless person a cell phone or bus passes or pay for other essentials.

“It’s been a very successful program. A lot of people have transitioned out of homelessness,” said Rich Goldstein, who owns The Copy Shop and Printing Co. in downtown San Rafael. (DST expanded to the Marin County city in 2013.)

Goldstein said he was one of the business owners San Rafael asked to vet the Downtown Streets Team as part of having the nonprofit come to the city. He also serves on DST’s local advisory board for its San Rafael operation.

Goldstein said as homeless people get involved in the program, they start to see themselves in a better light and feel connected to the larger community. And he said the community starts to see the homeless in a better light. He said DST also is important because it teaches people who have been homeless for many years the importance of showing up to work on time, following a schedule, and other basics.

Homeless people make up “one of the most diverse communities out there,” Goldstein said. “You have people who really want to work and get out of their situation, and they just need help. ... Getting people to feel like they have worth again is priceless.”

Modesto and Stanislaus County officials are looking at bringing Downtown Streets Team to the Modesto area. Turlock officials have expressed interest in having the program in their community, too.

Richardson said DST is eager to come here, but the details need to be worked out, including the funding. He said it would cost about $400,000 annually to launch DST in Modesto, and his nonprofit would want a three-year funding commitment, or $1.2 million.

Stanislaus County and Modesto officials are looking at how they could fund this, as well as find partners to contribute funding. Those partners could include the Stanislaus Community Foundation.

Once partner funding is lined up, officials would ask the City Council and Board of Supervisors to approve the city’s and county’s funding contributions. That could happen in the coming months.

City Manager Joe Lopez and county Deputy Executive Officer Ruben Imperial briefed the City Council’s Safety and Communities Committee about this proposal last week, and it drew enthusiasm from council members Kristi Ah You, Jenny Kenoyer and Doug Ridenour, who serve on the committee.

Richardson said once DST gets established in a community, it is able to diversify its funding, including contributions from corporations, foundations, business owners, grants and other sources.

He said $400,000 would allow DST to establish a Modesto team of 25 homeless people, and he expects the team would serve 100 people annually as spots open up as homeless people drop out or transition into housing and employment.

Richardson said DST has worked with roughly 2,000 homeless people since 2009, and it has been able to place about 800 into long-term employment and roughly 900 into permanent housing. He said there is overlap among the numbers who have found housing and jobs.

He said homeless people who stick with the program are able to find housing and employment in about six to seven months.

Downtown Streets Team operates in nine Bay Area communities (it will be expanding to Oakland next month) and launched programs in Sacramento and West Sacramento this year.

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