Social Impact Team connects those unhoused with local resource providers

Property-Based Improvement District’s newly formed Social Impact Team is reaching out and offering assistance to downtown’s homeless individuals — and making a difference in people’s lives in a matter of weeks on the job.

“Our goal is to make contact with those who need assistance and connect them with resources,” said Debra Rossi, manager, who has previous experience placing individuals in homes in Placer County.

Team members take the time to listen and learn what the individuals need most.  In one success story this month, Rossi connected with a woman and helped her to get her clothes and blankets washed, and to get a shower herself.  In another instance, Social Impact Team member Danielle helped a person acquire legal identification.

The biggest score to date occurred when Danielle found a man who didn’t know he was entitled to a housing voucher because the housing provider hadn’t located him in two months. The voucher was set to expire two days later, so by finding that person in time, he was able to move into a home. In its first month, the team helped place two individuals in housing.

“We don’t do case management, and we’re not providing meals, clothing or housing directly,” Debra said. “What we do makes PATH and other resource providers more effective.”

Safety for the team member and the individual is the first priority of each interaction on the street, Rossi said. Patience and empathy are key qualities of Social Impact Team members.

“We build relations by finding some sort of common ground,” Debra explained.  “Talk about the weather, her blouse, food. Know your audience and treat them like you know them.  And, know when to listen. That’s so important because the people on the streets have been mistreated.”

Smiles are good signs from people who are typically stressed out, she added.  The team also knows that it may take more than one interaction to build trust.

“Today they may not be ready, but someday they will be,”  Rossi said,

Each member of the team has previous experience interacting with homeless individuals. Victoria showed a knack for helping the homeless during her work as a Groundwerx ambassador.  Danielle is from Dignity on Wheels and Marvin has advanced his career since providing outreach as an intern for Santa Clara County. The team seeks a part-time fifth teammate.

The team records meetups, records interactions and compiles stats about those they assist in getting into supportive services and permanent supportive housing. They also keep track of those who are not approachable and have mental health conditions.

The team works during the day seven days a week. Groundwerx cleaning crews now coordinate with the Social Impact Team when any sort of incident escalates. Likewise, downtown businesses and residents can call the Groundwerx dispatch line at (408) 287-1520 to report any sort of confrontation or conduct, such as being loud or throwing things.  Team members hope to be able to respond to a call within 15 minutes, Debra said, depending on how far away from the reported location they are.

Operations Manager Chris Arkley noted that the team will work out of an office across from St. James Park and that the area around the park, Santa Clara Street and along the Guadalupe River Park will likely receive targeted coverage.

The Social Impact program is funded through the PBID.  Downtown property owners voted last year to pay for this program, the downtown lighting program and other safety programs, along with continued Groundwerx cleaning services downtown.  Underlying the team’s efforts is an improved downtown for everyone.

“This job is not for everyone and that’s OK,” Debra said.  “I see people painting a wall, and I think, ‘No way I can do that.’  But this job is in my heart. I have the compassion it takes.”

SJDA CEO Alex Stettinski comments:  “I am so happy we now have a specialized team solely focused on our houseless population in our district.  They are proactively reaching out and connecting with individuals, one at a time, to get a better understanding of what is needed and where to get the support.  It truly takes a village to effectively and humanely address the homelessness and mental health issues we see, and our social impact team is there to support the great work the social service agencies are doing.”

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