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Redwood City: Homeless residents to spruce up city as volunteers in new pilot program

Palo Alto homeless charity provides work programs

In an effort to benefit the city and homeless residents, officials plan to spend about $757,000 over the next two years to spruce up city streets and offer 200 homeless residents job opportunities, non-cash stipends for basic needs and volunteer work.

The two-year pilot program is another attempt by Palo Alto-based Downtown Streets Team to both beautify downtown streets in Bay Area cities and offer homeless folks the “necessary skills to get jobs” as well as have access to employment resources and “intensive case management.”

Volunteers will pick up litter, empty trash cans and identify vandalism and graffiti in the downtown area. If successful, the program will expand to other parts of the city.

The hope is to help out the estimated 221 unsheltered individuals in Redwood City that were counted during the San Mateo County One Day Homeless Count in January this year.

But that money won’t be going directly into homeless people’s pockets: Redwood City Streets Team Project Manager Matty Shirer said the 25 participants or so will be offered gift cards for things like gas, food and shelter, as well as individualized services to help them find jobs and learn about other available support programs in the area.

Paying the homeless for beautification work isn’t new. San Jose pays about 25 homeless people $15-an-hour and offers similar services in conjunction with the Downtown Streets Team and Goodwill of Silicon Valley.

Downtown Streets Team Chief Program Officer Chris Richardson said the focus in Redwood City will be to build up a base team to spearhead future partnerships with other cities in the Peninsula. A “strong foundation” is part of how the organization was able to pay homeless people in San Jose, Richardson added.

“We’ve talked to a couple of other communities in San Mateo County and on the Peninsula over the years and we’re certainly open and willing to explore expanding,” Richardson said. “Our teams tend to be stronger if we’re able to have an impact in more than one community.”

He also added that his organization doesn’t believe in a paid model unless it’s associated with the Downtown Streets Team which provide access to other social services.

“We’re happy to do it in other communities,” Richardson said of the paid model. “But we’re operating the [Redwood City] program through our social enterprise model, so right now we’re concentrating on building that. We’re mainly focusing on finding external employers for team members.”

Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain said in a statement that he’s excited about the partnership because it produces results, noting similar programs across the bay that have housed or found jobs for over 1,900 people.

“We chose this program because it was recognized in the 2018 Homelessness Task Force Report as one of five evidence-based best practices for addressing homelessness in the State of California,” Bain said in a press release. “It’s vital we empower our homeless community to be a part of the solution to their struggles, which is a major part of their successful transition back into work and housing.”

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Feb 05, 2022

Downtown Streets Team is a great idea and I hope it spreads to other cities.

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