New program recruits homeless Oaklanders for Lake Merritt trash cleanup

OAKLAND — Picking up trash around Lake Merritt may not seem like a dream job. But for 49-year-old Luis Miranda-Rivera, who has been sleeping in his car, it’s what got him up in the morning.

“I just had a lot of downtime during my day and that gave me a purpose,” he said. “I had something to look forward to doing.”

That’s why Miranda-Rivera is thrilled the Bay Area’s Downtown Streets Team is returning to Oakland after a hiatus of more than a year. The nonprofit recruits volunteers who are unhoused or at risk of homelessness to help beautify different neighborhoods. In return, Downtown Streets pays them a stipend and connects them with other services they may need — from housing programs to job training.

It’s a unique way to address two of the region’s most urgent problems at once — homelessness, and trash and blight.

Founded in 2005, Downtown Streets Team operates in 16 cities in Northern California, including San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Redwood City. Volunteers generally work up to five days a week, for no more than four hours a day, picking up trash in their assigned neighborhood.

In Oakland, they make between $40 and $120 per week on average, depending on how much they work and if they’re a team leader. Volunteers choose how they’re paid, but cash isn’t an option. They can opt for gift cards to local vendors, or a check to help cover rent, a storage unit, a cell phone plan, or other bills.

The organization originally made its Oakland debut in October 2018 as a nine-month pilot program. The city of Oakland contributed $85,000 to the launch, and the Alameda County-Oakland Community Action Partnership chipped in another $40,000.

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But those funds ran out in June 2019 and weren’t replenished. After volunteers picked up 16,125 gallons of trash, the program was forced to shut down.

“It was probably one of the most heartbreaking things that’s happened in my career,” said Julia Lang, who heads Downtown Streets’ East Bay teams. “We had a really beautiful thing going.”

So when Downtown Streets secured a new round of funding from the city this fall, Lang jumped at the chance to relaunch the program.

She started up again last month, with space for 40 volunteers — 70% of whom must be homeless. For now, the team is picking up trash around Lake Merritt, but Lang has plans to expand to East Oakland.

Lang said she still doesn’t know why city officials allocated $500,000 to Downtown Streets for the current fiscal year, but nothing for last year. Neither city administrators nor councilmembers asked about the funding provided a reason for the one-year gap.

With affordable housing stretched so thin, many of the program’s volunteers don’t actually escape homelessness. Of the 38 volunteers Downtown Streets Team served during its pilot program, nine found jobs and three found housing.

But the program was a game-changer for 48-year-old Resheemah White, who goes by RoRo. When she started volunteering, White, who has been homeless …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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