By Lana Harrison | Downtown Partnership News
Homeless outreach coordinators take to the streets
Nearly 800 people experiencing homelessness have reconnected with their support systems since June 2017, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Clean & Safe Homeless Outreach Coordinators and support from the San Diego Housing Commission, SHARP HealthCare, Travelers Aid, and so many others.
On May 17, Ketra Carter, Jill Kernes, Latara Hamilton, and Keturah Jackson exchanged their distinguishable Maui blue polo shirts, worn every day in the field, for fancy dinner-reception attire to receive the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s 2018 Public-Private Partnership Award for the Family Reunification Program.
Reunification isn’t the only work they do, though. Their presence in the temporary bridge shelters, at Travelers Aid, and on the streets everywhere Downtown gives them the opportunity to not only act as a resource conduit for all kinds of needs, but also lends them crucial insight into what is actually needed to address homelessness in Downtown San Diego.
They see systems, but they also see people. And they talk about how listening to people is one of the most important things you can do to help others. In that spirit, we thought we’d hear directly from them what their experience in the field is like as a team.
What services does your team provide to the homeless community?
Ketra Carter: We provide people with the resources to ultimately end their homelessness. Our biggest and most important program is the Family Reunification Program, which we have the ability to maximize through what we’ve been offered by the San Diego Housing Commission. In addition, if we have clients who don’t necessarily qualify for our program, we do try to get them connected with whatever resources fit their needs.
How do you go about building relationships and rapport with the people you serve?
Jill Kernes: It’s amazing how saying “hi” can open so many doors. After doing this for a while, you become good at reading which people will be receptive to a conversation and who won’t be. Then you remember the ones who aren’t, and you slowly develop that relationship. Trust is hard to come by on the streets.
Latara Hamilton: At the end of the day, we are all just ourselves, we are caring and compassionate when we talk to individuals. Most importantly, we listen instead of assuming we know what people need. I recently had someone ask me why I wear this Maui blue shirt. I let her know I am part of the Clean & Safe homeless outreach team, then chatted with her about what we do. Our Maui blue sets us apart from other organizations.
Where are you involved in the community?
Kernes: Most of the time we spend on the street is where those who are most housing-challenged gather, which is from 14th Street to 17th Street. But that is not the only area we go — we do street outreach everywhere Downtown.
Are there typical resources you connect people with the most?
Carter: The most common resources we connect people with is whatever emergency or interim shelter is available that day because we, as an organization, don’t operate shelters. We rely on our partners like PATH or St. Vincent’s for those needs. After that, people are able to connect to case management that will address their other needs.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in being able to effectively do your job?
Kernes: Addictions. Yes, our reunification program is amazing, but sometimes there is something keeping people here and, unfortunately, a lot of that has to do with addictions.
Keturah Jackson: In making follow-up calls to people we have served through the Family Reunification Program, we find that some of the younger clients get back on drugs. Most of the calls have been going well, but drugs and mental health are still barriers to ending homelessness for some people.
I’m sure there are a lot of disappointments – what continues to motivate you in the every day?
Hamilton: Being able to help someone and seeing the relief on their faces when they can get the things they’ve been looking for. Sometimes, they’ve been looking for a long time and have been given the runaround. When you are able to make that connection, see the person through the process, and watch them go from being on the streets to being housed, that is a big motivation.
Carter: We do get our disappointments, but overall, it’s that feeling of success. What motivates me is our whole team’s attitude of positivity, as well as seeing some of the individuals we serve finally get help and potentially be on the road to ending their homelessness.
Jackson: Being a helping hand. It’s motivating seeing people go from where they are to a place where they are experiencing happiness and becoming their old selves again.
Kernes: The relationships I’ve developed. To be able to walk down the street and have people say “hi” to you and know they feel comfortable with you, means the world.
What are the goals for the year ahead? What are you looking forward to as a team?
Hamilton: We would like to get detox beds. People know they can come to us when they’re ready. We want to be able to provide them that bed when they’re ready…and not have to jump through so many hoops.
Carter: Our goal is to serve an additional 800 people by June of 2019. We have begun to see increased collaboration from different service providers and would definitely like to see more of that moving forward. I know there are also a number of public funding opportunities potentially in the works — increased funding would certainly enable all service providers to better serve this community. We have also been nominated for the 2018 International Taxpayers Award, and we’re going to Chicago to speak at the Travelers Aid International Annual Conference, so I am looking forward to sharing our successes and learning from others across the country. We are also currently working in the bridge shelters, which is huge.
How can the community more effectively partner with your team for success?
Hamilton: It’s helpful if people use the red Make Change Count Meters instead of giving money directly to people. The meters allow us to help people with certain needs, like housing deposits.
Carter: Just as our social service providers have tended to function in silos, so each of the neighborhoods have also been silos. Their collaboration as a community can actually make change and result in solutions. We need our community and our businesses to be the voice of housing solutions.
Kernes: Everybody out there is somebody’s someone. If you’re able to, just say hi, because you have no idea what kind of positive effect that could have on someone — you don’t know their situation and why they are out there.
To learn more about the work of the Clean & Safe Homeless Outreach Coordinators, and to get involved, visit downtownsandiego.org.
— Lana Harrison is the communications coordinator for the Downtown San Diego Partnership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.