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.
Extending help to homeless residents of Silicon Valley does little if the people on the streets refuse to hear the offer. To overcome the disconnect and bridge the trust between outreach workers and the people they help, EHC Lifebuilders in Silicon Valley often hires workers who have been homeless themselves.
On our final day visiting Silicon Valley in mid-July, these four outreach workers took Business Insider into the field to meet the people they work with every day. The women had all been on the street prior to arriving at EHC’s shelter, and after months volunteering had been offered full-time jobs.
“It makes a huge difference in how people see us,” Anita, who overcame breast cancer only to find herself on the street, says.
Spreading her arm out to the group of homeless people around us on the ground, she says: “We have this in common. It’s the hardest thing in the world to go through, and to understand it, you really have to have lived it.”
These four formerly homeless women from EHC Lifebuilders in Silicon Valley confront their past each day going to homeless camps.
The women take on the challenge of convincing homeless people with immense freedom, to exchange that freedom for the rules of the Boccardo homeless shelter.
Teresa was homeless for three years between the ages of 18 and 21 because she didn’t want to stay at home and follow her parents’ rules. “I was stupid,” she says. “Now I try and convince other people to follow rules, like at the shelter. Life is crazy.”
Where they once slipped past fences, EHC workers now have keys. Many of Silicon Valley’s homeless camps line riverbeds, and the county water authority gives EHC workers access to areas where groups of people are camped.
They walk into the most grizzled camp sites without any judgment. They offer the homeless help getting shelter and even wordlessly deliver things like pet snacks.
“It makes a difference out here that we’ve gone through the same things they have,” Anita says, while sitting on the curb. “It really does.”
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