To donate to Taking it to the Streets, please visit https://handup.org/campaigns/tothestreets.
The non-profit Taking it to the Streets is in the middle of a campaign to raise $30,000 during the month of July. Through the fundraising platform Handup.org, Google.org will match the first $10,000 proceeds raised.The non-profit organization helps keep more than 35 homeless youth off the streets, and helps them develop job and life skills. It has tripled in size in the past year. The current goal is to increase support to match the number of people requesting to join the Sweepers Program. So far there have been many people who have been able to secure work and to move on to their own place. One original sweeper has been with the program for 18 months. There is no assigned exit date for anyone who joins the program.
The program has also changed the relationship between the neighborhood in Haight Ashbury, which can be seen in many ways, including walking outside, or reading posts on Nextdoor and Facebook by community members.
One resident, Michael, explained what makes T2S so successful:
“This program is doing it better,” he said. “It’s not a camp site. We work for our housing.” Editor’s note: for this issue, I asked the sweepers of Taking it to the Streets to take full freedom to express themselves on the pages with their artwork. Some pieces were created for the issue and some are pieces they have been working on.
The home of 18 T2S sweepers in SoMa is located near Sixth and Mission streets, one of the more precarious corners of the city. Inside the walls, however, the residents have created a warm community and strong support network. Many have dogs, which help them thrive. They help each other care for the animals and bring them along to work when they are sweeping. One resident, T.H.C., has a rat, Ziggie Stardust, which she rescued from rattieratz.com. T.H.C. explains they support each other because they both had a rough past.
To get home, there are several gates and a few flights of stairs. The building has a uniform interior of pastel pink walls and deep red carpeting. The common areas are kept clean and used for hanging out. Inside the rooms the residents have decorated with their own art, umbrellas, wreaths, and other bits of warmth and color.
Many residents are musically talented, including Pizza, who plays guitar, and Kenzie, who can play the banjo, ukele, guitar and accordion. It is common for music to be on in the background. While visiting, Shea brought out her guitar to the stairs and everyone paused to hear her perform a song she wrote. Spines were chilled.
This SRO opened four months ago. The residents volunteer Tuesday through Saturday with Taking it to Streets from 12-6 p.m. and receive housing and $35 gift cards to Trader Joe’s in exchange. On Mondays they are able to schedule job interviews or receive help with resumes and applications.
Almost every day you can find Christian Calinsky and Carlie Leduc, co-founders of T2S, and Sunny from Jammin on Haight in front of Mom’s Body Shop Tattoo & Piercing at Haight and Masonic checking people in for the day. As for success, the program has been able to grow so quickly due to many reasons: the kids relate to Calinsky, who spent much of his young adult life living in the park, the straight forward nature of the program, and because many sweepers were friends before the program and encouraged each other to join over time. A few wonder if they will return to life outside, but they are utilizing the program fully to remain housed and working. Some aspects are difficult, but the youth work together to figure it out. For example, at this SRO in SoMa, the room with a kitchen is occupied temporarily, so the youth work together to share the few mini refrigerators, hot plates and microwaves they have.
“I figured out how to make scrambled eggs on my electric grill the other day!” explained one resident who goes by T.H.C. There is also frequently noise (music), but they are able to lock themselves into their rooms if anyone needs privacy.
Michael explained the strong sense of creativity in the Sixth and Mission SRO community:
“If you’re passionate about your art you’re going to busk to make it work,” he said. “Until I get a job, why should my art be dead?” Michael makes wire wraps and is highly knowledgeable about west coast minerals and rocks and creative landscaping. He collects the minerals to incorporate into his artwork. One creative objective he has is to design landscapes for backyards with intricate work, such as mandalas between trees.
“I’m a hardworking ae and I’ll build their hippie sh*,” jokes Michael. “We support ourselves with our independent businesses,” he explained, going on to say that by strengthening his situation through the T2S program he will be able to go on to help others in the future. Local businesses such as Blick are helping the T2S team by donating art supplies, which are expensive and add up quickly. When you can sell something for $10 that costs $7 or more to make, the choice quickly comes between sustaining artwork or sustaining life.
Currently the Taking it to the Streets program is assigning some sweepers to patrol the bathroom at Stanyan and Haight streets. If the program is successful after six weeks, the Department of Public Works may hire from the program to patrol the bathroom.
Calinsky is rapidly expanding his network in the city to support as many youth between the ages of 18-34 as possible. The cut off age was chosen by Calinsky because that is the age he got off the streets.
In the future, Calinsky envisions the program expanding by training some of the current sweepers to take on leadership roles (and with more funding). To donate to Taking it to the Streets, visit https://handup.org/campaigns/tothestreets.
Another program in the Haight, Larkin Street Youth Services, is staffed by workers, including “Momma Teri,” Haight resident, Teri Cutler. The program differs in the style of service, but they all work together as the Transitional Age Youth (TAYSF) collaborative to bring comprehensive support services to the youth accessing their programs. Other programs include Huckleberry Youth Center, Third Street Clinic, Mission Bay, and Homeless Youth Alliance (which is currently seeking support for a permanent residence).
At Larkin Street Youth Services, many see Cutler as the mother they never had, though she does not tell anyone what they should do. “My role is to be a cheerleader or an advocate,” said Cutler. Like many of the youth, Cutler has her Grateful Dead wings, which are handed out at the Gathering of the Vibes and by elders of the Grateful Dead community. The Dead Family is a concept of peace and caring.
Cutler worries that some of the Grateful Dead culture has become violent in the Haight, though others see a different picture. There have been many cultural shifts in the past two years, but many things have been attributed to this including interactions with police enforcement and local law.
Cutler explained that Larkin Street has seen a decline in user ship in recent months, but they are trying to figure out the precise cause, and believe that general safety for the kids may be a strong factor. The decline has been as drastic as going from 75 youth per day when they would nearly run out of food down to 10 people per day or fewer.
In terms of safety, in general, the kids patrol the area and keep people away who are using hard drugs. Cutler explained that sometimes people come in to the neighborhood and try to distribute heroine or meth just to see what will happen. Violent crimes occur as well, but the kids work together to protect each other.
Cutler works for Larkin Street to pay it forward, as people helped her when she was younger. She says she meets youth who are very talented and educated, but do not have proper support. Her social work began originally when she ran an equine therapy center. There are not many alternative therapy programs provided in San Francisco, though dogs are used for therapy.
In the Haight, many programs exist to help youth, but they are understaffed and underfunded, and could be strengthened by private donation and volunteer work. To contribute to the Taking it to the Streets campaign, visit https://handup.org/campaigns/tothestreets..
Some additional services include distribution of safety kits, food and snacks, dog food, sleeping bags, backpacks, tents, and more. Donations of these items are always accepted by Larkin Street Youth Services.
“One guy collects items to donate and always drops off loads of clothing,” said Cutler, mentioning that shoes and socks are also highly coveted donations. Others currently donate or have in the past, including Faletti’s, the deYoung, churches, Love of Ganesh, and “the banana man,” (who brings a box of bananas by often).
While Larkin Street Services is supported by a combination of public and private donations, programs such as HYA are completely funded by private donations.
Cutler also explains the narrative of the “street kid” needs to change to see real change happen in the Haight.
“The police need to take interactions less personal,” said Cutler, explaining that some situations escalate between youth and officers when they are confronted for sit lie violations and other purported anti-homeless laws. “In some cases these kids have been traumatized and that is impacting how they communicate. They won’t respond positively if they are addressed by someone saying ‘you’re a drunk’ or ‘you’re just a dirty kid.’”
Individuals can help change the narrative by interacting with everyone in the community
If you would like to get involved in a community action group to brainstorm solutions and support for the homelessness crises in our city, please email email@example.com.