This story is a part of Business Insider’s “
Homeless In Silicon Valley” series reported by Robert Johnson and edited by Chris C. Anderson. Jill Klausen and graphic designer Mike Nudelman contributed to this series.
Silicon Valley’s homelessaren’t completely without resources.
The Downtown Streets Team (DST) helps homeless people get off the streets by putting them to work and allowing them to become self-sufficient.
DST is a great example of the good that can happen when tech insiders turn their attention to a problem.
Chris Richardson is DST’s program director and is the first to admit he’s an unlikely homeless advocate. “I grew up pretty privileged and didn’t get much exposure to this,” he says swinging his arm around at The Jungle where up to 175 homeless people live at any given time. “But my mum had a vision and we’re doing what we can to make it a reality.”
Chris’ mum, Eileen Richardson, was the first CEO of Napster and is a venture capitalist who volunteered with the homeless and realised it was a problem with a solution. Chris explains the family approach: “We come down to these camps three times a week and work with residents picking up trash and hauling out debris.”
“In return,” Chris says, the homeless “get food [and] housing vouchers and [access to] services that allow them to work their way into housing and back into society.” The Streets Team members work in the camps and on the streets of Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose, and San Rafael.
DST’s board includes prominent Stanford University officials and the Palo Alto Chief of Police. Chris tells us that their “participants earn everything they get from our organisation. We’re not a charity and that makes a huge difference to donors and to the people they help.”
Chris Richardson coordinates teams of homeless 'employees' throughout four Silicon Valley Cities to sweep streets, pick up trash, and perform janitorial work and other services in return for food vouchers and other necessities.
DST members meet here at 'The Jungle' three times a week where they haul away thousands of pounds of trash. The Jungle alone can generate several hundred pounds of trash per day, so there is always work.
Because many members are, or were, homeless themselves, they command respect out here where the disconnect between those trying to help and those needing help can often be immense.
Street Team members not only haul garbage, they keep on the lookout for potential fire hazards like this brush piled up for privacy in the fire-plagued fields of Northern California.
Other members work in the city sweeping streets and supplementing strained public service programs designed to maintain the public space.
The Streets Team also hires local artists to paint utility service boxes as part of their beautification of Silicon Valley project.
Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, and Emmylou Harris are among the performers and other artists who have donated their time and talents.
With a homeless population per capita to rival the country's largest cities, DST is an example of what can happen when the Silicon Valley tech community comes together and focuses on a problem in their own backyard.
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