One Year – Streets to Homes
By Jill Allen, Executive Director.
Continuing to Serve Our Neighbors During the Pandemic
March 2020 to March 2021
“We never considered closing or discontinuing our services,”
Martin Alvarez, Program Director, Streets To Homes, Dorothy’s Place
Martin Alvarez is proud of the services provided by the Streets To Homes program. His pride is understandable. During the past year since the pandemic began, despite the challenges we all faced, the Streets To Homes program assisted 21 people as they moved from long-time homelessness to permanent housing. In addition, the program also managed the Project Roomkey program for Monterey County.
Martin has always wanted to help people. He was inspired at age 13 when his beloved grandfather became ill. “People who didn’t know him, the nurses and healthcare workers, gave their best efforts to his treatment and to keeping him safe. I learned from them what type of work I wanted to pursue.”
The number of people who moved into housing through the Street To Homes program during this year is pretty remarkable. The shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns made working in an office in Chinatown more difficult than usual. However, with the safety protocols such as distancing and masks, the program continued without missing a day. Despite the pandemic, people sought help to pursue their dreams to live independently, in their own homes.
The challenge of providing services during the pandemic was met with the same resourcefulness and flexibility that the Street to Homes team use every day. They kept going, improvising, discovering new ways to ensure the safety of the people being served, and the team, and building on each success.
Martin Alvarez credits the success of the program to the efforts of the eight social workers who work with each person individually.
“The team is dedicated. They want their clients to be successful.
They give themselves to their work each day. The environment in Chinatown is always gritty and riddled with barriers to service and it changes often. We always knew we would continue offering our services. Closing or reducing the Streets To Homes program was never an option.
“Moving from the street, from living in a tent or vehicle, to living independently in an apartment, on the surface seems to be an impossible journey. There isn’t a straight line from here to there. Many obstacles will be encountered, and with our support, overcome.”
“The social worker-client relationship is a partnership. The Chinatown environment is unpredictable and unsafe. The people who live here adjust by living minute to minute. Many lose the ability to think ahead. The partnership activates the belief in a better future.
“We work with each client until they are confident that they can make it on their own. Some of our clients have been traumatized, abandoned, and forgotten. We provide case management for people who live in the encampments throughout the area. They live with daily uncertainties regarding food, safety, and the ability to remain in the same place every night.”
The Chinatown encampment is home to around 200 people, although the number changes every day. For some, living in Chinatown feels safe. Like any neighborhood, it is a social, supportive community, and it is familiar.
Streets to Homes offers a way to leave the neighborhood and find a pathway to a safer life. Even with the support from the Streets to Homes team, it can be overwhelming. That is why what the team does is so remarkable.
Martin explains how the program works, “We build relationships. We don’t try to force change. We realize that change is often scary. Keeping our office in Chinatown, although it is often difficult, maintains common ground that is more comfortable for some people at first.
“Without judgement, the team guides clients as they acknowledge and face the obstacles ahead. Together, they address trauma, depression, and drug use.
“Housing is not possible without income or some form of support. The team encourages clients as they explore their opportunities for income. Some people may be eager to become employed, others may have a disability that prevents employment.
“The path to housing takes time and patience. Some things are beyond our control such as the lack of available, low-income housing in Monterey County, and locating housing that is safe and welcoming.”
Martin builds relationships with housing services, landlords, and property managers to ensure they know that the Streets to Homes team will continue to provide case management for new tenants for up to a year after they move in. This often opens doors for people who have very low income and are beginning to live inside after a lengthy period of being homeless.
An opportunity for the Streets to Homes staff to test their skills and methods arrived with the Project Roomkey program. Project Roomkey, was implemented as the shelter in place order began in March 2020. It was California's response to the dilemma of how to protect the thousands of people in the state who are living outside. Without a way to safely shelter in place, and to isolate if a person is exposed to COVID-19, there is a risk of widespread infection. Project Roomkey provided funds to move the most vulnerable people into motel rooms, with case management provided by the Streets to Homes staff.
During Project Roomkey, the number of people served by each team member increased from 18 to 28. Four members of the team moved with the most vulnerable clients into a motel. They visited the clients three times each day, continued to connect them with needed services such as healthcare, and Dorothy’s Kitchen provided three meals per person, each day.
The skill and experience of the Streets to Homes team proved invaluable. As the staff transitioned back to Chinatown once the new program, Project Homekey, was being created, they trained the incoming staff, as they began working to move people into permanent housing. The Project Roomkey experience proved how useful and practical the skills and experience of the team is to our goal to address chronic homelessness.
As Executive Director of Dorothy’s Place, I am beyond proud of the Streets to Homes team who rose to meet the challenges and the need, with compassion and professionalism. As we grieve for those lost and the hardships our community continues to face, we also reflect on what we learned from this year and we know we are stronger than ever.
Please support Streets To Homes. As you can see, we’re proving it is possible to permanently and sustainably house our clients every day!
As always, thank you for your support.
With love, respect and compassion, Dorothy’s Place provides essential services, transitional support and housing assistance to people experiencing the injustice of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Without your financial support, our work doesn’t happen. Join us! Stand with us as we assist people from street life to home life. Your solidarity is humbly and gratefully received.