A rapidly growing work program under the auspices of the Downtown Streets Team is creating full-time, paying transitional jobs for its formerly unhoused clients, often leading to permanent employment.
The venture, Streets Team Enterprises, is going well beyond its foundational model of the Downtown Streets Team. The nonprofit, which started in 2005 in partnership with the Downtown Association of Palo Alto, provides vouchers and gift cards to support basic needs such as hygiene, food and rent to clients who perform tasks such as cleaning city streets and parks through the Volunteer Work-Experience Program.
The Streets Team Enterprises program takes the model up a notch, according to Streets Team staff. Enterprises team members can earn from $18 to $32 an hour working on projects that can turn into full-time employment with organizations such as Caltrans.
The jobs program is helmed by a man whose life experience mirrors that of his team members. Gregory Nottage, the executive director of Streets Team Enterprises, once lost everything and started over. His success today, he said recently, is the result of hard work — a model for the team members who are also working to reclaim their lives.
In 1995, Nottage was a successful businessman. At 26, he was wrongfully convicted of the first-degree murder of his stepfather. He spent 19 years in prison before being exonerated after the killer confessed to the crime, he said. Nottage was released from prison on June 20, 2014. He landed on the streets of Berkeley with only his prison sweatshirt and $200.
"I lost everything," he said. But he didn't lose hope.
"I lived in transitional housing. When I made $10 an hour, I thought I was killing it," he recalled.
Nottage enrolled in college at San Francisco State University and received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and corrections, then a master's in clinical, counseling and applied psychology, he said.
He became intake coordinator at Options Recovery Services in Berkeley, then resident services manager in the Tenderloin for the Community Housing Partnership in San Francisco, rising to its senior programs director. He joined Streets Team Enterprises in November 2020.
"Supportive employment is a passion of mine," he said.
When he joined Enterprises, the organization also was starting from scratch.
Streets Team Enterprises had been a for-profit business that Downtown Streets Team CEO Eileen Richardson started seven years ago. It was a three-wheeled vehicle converted into a mobile coffee shop to train Streets Team members as baristas. It failed, Nottage said.
Then COVID-19 hit. The city of San Francisco reached out to request a 30-person outreach team to talk with the unhoused and get them care and resources during the pandemic. The team was composed of people who were familiar with homelessness, Nottage said.
The Enterprises management team soon realized it couldn't get grants it needed to help its clients as a for-profit business, so they turned it into a nonprofit. Streets Team Enterprises was folded under the Downtown Streets Team, creating a supportive model that includes training and a transitional paying job.
Changes in leadership
The Enterprises program is part of an effort to grow the nonprofit Downtown Streets Team organization, which itself has faced donation losses and a hit to its reputation after members of its executive team, including CEO Eileen Richardson, were accused of sexual and workplace harassment in January 2020.
The nonprofit also settled a wage-theft lawsuit last August after allegedly failing to pay 72 employees for uncompensated overtime and failure to allow meal and rest breaks. The allegations claimed millions of dollars in losses.
Richardson announced her retirement in June and the organization is seeking a new CEO. Owen Byrd, who was the chair of the board of directors during the controversy, is also leaving the board, according to Kama Fletcher, senior director of development. Fletcher joined last October, and she is hopeful the organization is turning the corner. The Enterprises program is part of that healthy shift.
"I feel like Streets Team Enterprises is our Act 5," she said.
Just as the Downtown Streets Team grew from a Palo Alto street-cleaning program for the homeless, the Streets Team Enterprises is expanding and creating diverse work experiences for its clients.
After proving their mettle in the Downtown Streets Team volunteer program, team members can join Enterprises. They are building social skills by interacting with the public while assisting at fairs and public events, and they can become safety ambassadors working night watches in lots and properties, such as a program in Richmond, while being paid.
An entry-level fellowship program in Redwood City, Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland offers paid, on-the-job training to be liaisons between the unhoused population and the community and to assist in waste management. The program leads to working with an employment specialist to find full-time work, Nottage explained.
A peer counseling, street maintenance and hospitality program in Oakland offers three-month on-the-job, part-time training that leads to more permanent employment.
Through a partnership with Solano Transit, the public-transit agency in Solano County, team members keep 363 bus stops clean and free of graffiti that were being used by unhoused people for shelter.
Caltrans has also partnered with Enterprises. B2W, a Back to Work Caltrans program administered by the Butte County Office of Education, sponsors highway clean-up jobs in San Jose, Fairfield, Santa Rosa and Napa, employing up to 700 people. Nottage said there is interest in starting a crew in Palo Alto.
A contract in Santa Clara County keeps U.S. Highway 101 and state Route 237 cleaned of trash and debris; team members also do light landscaping.
The Enterprises teams also have a direct link to getting full-time Caltrans jobs afterward.
Besides pay, the operational word in the Enterprises model is "supportive." People in the programs receive case-worker support and other services. If they have a setback, they aren't booted out of the program. Instead, they go back to an earlier position, where they can gain confidence and skills and work their way up in the program again, Nottage said.
The program has had encouraging success stories: A man who lived in a Berkeley shelter joined the Downtown Streets Team and excelled; then he joined the Enterprises janitorial services program in San Francisco. He was later hired full time with benefits by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.
"Two weeks ago, he moved into his own unsubsidized apartment. He's not on the taxpayer's dollar," Nottage said.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2022 at 3:08 pm
on Aug 26, 2022 at 3:08 pm
DTST is bouncing back in Palo Alto. Great news.
That Eileen Richardson is finally gone and Owen Byrd will soon follow is a huge positive. Talk about having twin 500 lb anchors weighing down a good organization.
I’m sure our community confidence in DTST with its good mission and hard workers will now rise.
on Aug 26, 2022 at 5:35 pm
on Aug 26, 2022 at 5:35 pm
The Road to Hell is paved with idealistic, unrealistic, and naive "good intentions". This will not end well but rather become another failed permanent entitlement. IMHO, of course. My politics? I'm an angry moderate Independent who can't stand being in neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party. The both have too many kooky and ignorantly idealistic bad ideas.
JLS Middle School
on Aug 28, 2022 at 2:48 pm
on Aug 28, 2022 at 2:48 pm
Exploitation. You can chop off a couple of the snakes' heads but two grow back in its place. I once happened to be at one of their fundraisers which was not much more than a backslapping affair where the snakes congratulate themselves on making a lot of money. I suggested to one of them that I have some experience in advocacy where the goal was "housing first" and then help people become self sufficient through supportive services, and said I would be happy to speak to any of them to share my experience. They didn't want that. They wanted a contract, or contribution. Their "workers" pick up litter all day and get a $20 target or walmart gift card and they have to "move up" in the organization via continued presence on the street, working all day for $20. Real jobs and housing rarely are the outcome. They need a constant supply of people to fulfill their contracts and that money does not filter down to the people on the streets doing the work. Just a year ago they settled a wage theft claim. Good time for the top snakes to shed their skin and go to the bahamas or someplace really nice. Look up "Downtown Streets Team settles wage theft lawsuit for $170K" at this publication -- and those are just the people who have desks and errything! Nobody is standing up for the exploited people who fulfill the contracts.