Modesto homeless program has gotten 79 people off streets. City is investing $2.1M more

Andy Alfaro/

The Downtown Streets Team — a nonprofit that provides homeless people with volunteer work and help with jobs and housing — is getting $2.1 million from Modesto.

The money will let the nonprofit continue to operate over three years and pays for two 25-member teams. The City Council voted 6-0 at its Tuesday meeting to spend the $2.1 million.

Downtown Streets Team members volunteer primarily in downtown, where they pick up trash and even junk that people have dumped along the roadway. DST operates a second team as part of Modesto’s Camp2Home program.

DST Modesto case manager Collin Brown said it’s similar to the other team but has more structure. For instance, he said, Camp2Home participants must sleep at a shelter. Brown added the city directs where these team members volunteer. He said that can include picking up trash and illegal dumping on Briggsmore Avenue and other thoroughfares.

Team members volunteer four hours a day weekdays and receive a basic-needs stipend of $20 for every four-hour shift. The stipend consists of gift cards to purchase food and other basics.

DST also provides its team members with help. That can include getting a birth certificate, Social Security card or other document, reconnecting with estranged family members, signing up for Medi-Cal, which is health insurance for the poor, as well as help with housing and employment.

“I don’t really know how to describe it,” said Shelly Wallace, 56, who has been with the Downtown Streets Team for about three years. “They have done so much for me. They have been an advocate for me. And if I needed anybody to talk to, they walked me through the steps I couldn’t walk through. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

Wallace said that includes living in Kansas House — a complex of studio apartments that provides housing for homeless people — for the past two years, help getting her Social Security disability, eyeglasses, dentures and a newfound sense of hope that she had lost after many years of homelessness.

Wallace said she started as a streets team member, then became a leader and has been the streets team manager for about a year, overseeing five teams. Her stay with the Downtown Streets Team has been extended because of the pandemic. The teams have gone on hiatus several times because of COVID-19.

Both teams have been on hiatus since late July because of COVID-19 cases at the county shelter at The Salvation Army’s Berberian Center. Some team members stay at the shelter, but all team members assemble at the center weekday mornings before being driven to their assignments.

Wallace, who said she was born and raised in Modesto, is about to graduate from the Downtown Streets Team. “I’m gonna really hate it that I’m going to have to leave,” she said.

New funding sources

Modesto’s $2.1 million in spending breaks down to $1.8 million from the nearly $46 million the city has received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help it weather the pandemic and $150,000 each from the city’s litter abatement fund and the funding its receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A city report states Stanislaus County is providing the Downtown Streets Team with $600,000 over the three years. The city and county funding will make up DST’s operating budget, though the report states the city will continue to work with DST to find other funding to ensure its long-term viability.

The Downtown Streets Team is part of a network of teams that operates in 16 Northern California cities, primarily in the Bay Area. The nonprofit started in 2005 in Palo Alto.

The Downtown Streets Team started in February 2019 in Modesto with funding from the city, county and Stanislaus Community Foundation. The team associated with Camp2Home started early last year.

Brown, the DST case manager, said the nonprofit has served 204 team members since it started. The city report states 79 people have found housing and 61 employment. Brown said there is some overlap in the numbers because they include team members who have received both housing and jobs.

He said the jobs include work in warehouses and production, as a merchandiser stocking grocery store shelves, part-time work at Costco and what is called transitional employment through a cleanup program funded by Caltrans.

The housing has primarily been apartments with vouchers from the Stanislaus Regional Housing Authority to help pay the rent, Brown said.

Keeping their apartments

He said the majority of people have kept their jobs and their housing. The Downtown Streets Team works with the people placed in housing to solve any problems that may come up.

“Once we house a team member, that is not the end of it,” Brown said. It is a “priority to keep the case management going to keep the team member successful and the landlord happy.” He added that case management generally is not needed for employment, but DST will provide it if so.

Brown said the average age of the Downtown Streets Team members, including those in Camp2Home, is about 50. Team members are roughly split between men and women. He said their experiences with being homeless can range from several months to several years to a quarter century.

He said it’s difficult to generalize about the reasons someone becomes homeless. It can include someone getting sick or injured and losing a job or substance abuse aggravated by other factors in someone’s life. But he said the breakdown of family relationships or the lack of those relationships is a huge part in someone becoming homeless.