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Safe Organized Spaces Richmond

October 25, 2022

SOS Year One Contract Fulfillment
with City of Richmond 

 

Beginning in May of 2021, the city sponsored a task force-driven process for improving public safety identified 4 priority areas: mental health crisis response, youth internships, gun violence prevention, and unhoused interventions. For implementing unhoused interventions, Safe Organized Spaces Richmond (SOS) was selected as the provider of choice with a focus on jobs, encampment services, outreach, and developing interim housing solutions to homelessness. This City/SOS relationship was unanimously supported by the City Council. In October 2021, Rebuilding Together East Bay North (RTEBN) signed a 1-year contract with the City of Richmond. SOS is temporarily a program of RTEBN for this Year One.


How Did SOS Do? 
 

Trash Removal

Contract calls for 416 tons of trash to be removed from neighborhood and encampment locations.

  • Actual performance: 388 tons removed by SOS plus additional tons collected by SOS but disposed of by Richmond Public Works.

 

Showers

Contract calls for showers in 5 locations serving 100 individuals each week.

  • Actual Performance: SOS provided an average of 36 showers per week at 4-5 locations. In September, SOS added 3 new locations for weekly showers.  SOS also added new outreach to contact people and bring them to showers, resulting in doubling the showers provided each week. At least 2 more locations will be added when a contract is renewed.

 

Jobs

Contract calls for hiring employees directly from homeless encampments to carry out SOS-contracted activities.

  • Actual Performance: SOS hired over 60 unhoused employees during the period, averaging  16.4 active employees per pay period, working an average of 18.6 hours per week, with a total of 15,300 hours of work at a base rate of $18 per hour. Of 22 employees currently on active duty, 13 upgraded housing status during employment– 7 to interim housing, 6 to permanent housing. This was not called for in the contract but is a major accomplishment.

 

Encampment Services

Contract calls for encampment services including  trash storage, portable toilets, drinking water, wastewater disposal, and electric power.

  • Actual performance: Staging trash collection, toilets, drinking water and handwashing amenities and basic outreach, support and survival gear distribution and other interventions have been provided at 4 main encampments. Twenty two other encampments received regular trash removal and outreach for improving safety and living conditions. Near future plans include a laundry service, wastewater collection/disposal, solar powered phone charging stations and basic encampment power, and collaboration with community partners to improve food distribution.

 

Safe Living Spaces

Contract calls for SOS to establish safe living spaces in neighborhoods throughout the city.

  • Actual performance: Several proposed safe off-street sites were blocked by opposition from housed neighborhood groups. One safe living space is in the development phase in the Santa Fe neighborhood, starting with 4 households. SOS is negotiating with several churches to establish safe off-street sites on their properties. The City and SOS continue to search for locations and projects for providing safe off-street interim housing.

 

Future Plans

In a Year Two contract period, SOS will additionally:

  1. Engage a new Outreach Team to make contact and build trust with previously unsupported unhoused individuals, help them to assess their needs, and arrange for services and support to improve their personal wellness, access to employment, and improvement in housing status

  2. Utilize a Personal Compass curriculum and small group and individualized facilitation of personal goal-setting and navigational support for fulfilling these personal plans

  3. Introduce a new Street Medicine program in partnerships with LifeLong Medical Care, Samuel Merritt University, and Health Care for the Homeless, among other providers

  4. Introduce a Job Empowerment model for career opportunities in collaboration with RichmondWORKS, county and state rehabilitation resources

  5. Contribute to a Housing First collaborative, currently in development, to help people obtain and retain their housing

Outreach in El Sobrante 
Lush vegetation along San Pablo Creek conceals the tents and makeshift shacks of 40-50 homeless people in a loosely connected community that is virtually invisible to passersby. Recently SOS has been reaching out to this improvised village to provide showers, food and clothing, and to recruit partners in a clean-up of the heavily impacted area.

Local churches are helping in the effort. El Portal Church of Christ hosts the SOS Shower Power trailer on a weekly basis, and New Life Christian Center offers a weekly food bank.

One day last week, O’Neill Fernandez, SOS Outreach Team Leader, walked through the San Pablo Creek encampment introducing himself and greeting friends and former neighbors. Fernandez lived in the camp for over a year before getting connected to SOS, working at a steady job, and pulling himself out of homeless poverty. Now he’s a tireless advocate for improving the safety, and health of homeless camp residents, and steering people into jobs and leadership in their communities.

“Many of the people I meet have been struggling for years with poverty, eviction, health and addiction issues,” Fernandez said. “But with the right help and support they can overcome these problems and rebuild their lives. That’s what SOS is trying to do here and throughout Richmond’s homeless encampments.”
Finding Safety in Housing  
Four SOS staff members who lived at the Castro St. RV encampment moved in the past 2 weeks into interim and permanent housing, thanks to the Contra Costa County CORE team. These SOS employees have been serving Castro to help improve safety at the unregulated encampment. CORE is the Coordinated Outreach, Referral, Engagement program which connects homeless residents to safety net services and housing.
SOS Streets team member Ferose Bassier and his partner Margaret Huffman were recently able to move into Delta Landing in Pittsburg. Delta Landing is the County’s state-of-the-art 172-unit interim housing facility with basic healthcare, housing navigation, and case management services provided on-site to help residents recover from homelessness and find permanent housing. 

Ferose and Margaret had been living in their car for nearly two years, then moved into a pop-up camper in the Castro encampment, where Ferose has committed his energy to SOS as a Local Steward with the strong potential to help provide a range of expanded encampment services there. The couple says they were bullied and harassed at Castro because of their interracial relationship and jumped at the chance to move. They are already visiting a permanent housing arrangement for a rapid rehousing opportunity. 
Jewel Morse, a SOS Streets Team member for the last two years, and her partner Trey, lived in a tent near Wildcat Creek until coming to Castro after several aggressive evictions from this park location in San Pablo. “It’s great to have a shower, a microwave, a bed. In tent living”, Jewel said, “it was a pain in the butt just to get hot water. You have to gather wood, start a fire. It takes a good portion of your day.” Through all of Jewel and Trey’s long period of instability, Jewel has remained dedicated to her role as a Streets Team member and a Local Steward at Castro. 
O’Neill Fernandez and Cyntha Simpson have been a couple since they met in an El Sobrante Richmond homeless camp 4 years ago, before coming to Castro. Over the years they’ve couch-surfed, lived in tents, a car, a trailer, a house-share with bedbugs, and two months of seeking safety in an economy motel with their newborn daughter, Kailynn. 

This weekend they gave back to El Sobrante, cleaning its illegal dumping and encampments as part of National Cleanup Day, even as they settled into their new permanent housing in Richmond. 

Their newfound stability and security will permit O’Neill and Cyntha to take turns caring for Kailynn as they each build programs that deepen support at encampments like Castro. As Outreach Team Leader, O’Neill will craft a dedicated team that provides peer-based problem solving and goal setting at Castro and elsewhere. Cyntha anticipates expanding the Shower Power locations to align with new areas for Outreach, such as further north in North Richmond locations, Parchester Village, and Hilltop. The cities of Berkeley and San Pablo have also shown interest in Shower Power's services.

Herman 

A two-month jail term helped an SOS staff member sort out what was most important in his life, and start in a new direction
Herman Martinez first came in contact with SOS when he lived in a tent on the Greenway behind Target repairing and selling used bicycles for a living. He became a local steward, then a valued member of the Streets Team since 2021. “I saw the work they were doing in the Greenway and I wanted to be part of that,” Martinez says. “I really loved working for SOS and I want to get back on the streets team eventually.”  

Martinez was a steady reliable worker for SOS until he was arrested on an old warrant, in August. He used his jail time well by breaking his drug habit and resolving to live clean and sober when he got out. First thing was to get a job. He’s an experienced grill man, so he walked into Denny’s in El Cerrito and got hired as a cook. He was also able to move into a room in a shared house, a sober living environment in Richmond, close enough that he can bicycle to work. 

Martinez is determined to clean up his act and regain custody of his 8-year-old son Nathaniel who is currently in foster care. “Nathaniel has experienced a lot of disruptions in his life,” Martinez says, “Many of them caused by me. I want to rebuild my life and provide a stable home for me and my son.”

When the Rydin Road RV encampment closed,
Where did everybody go?

Rydin Road has been empty as an airport runway ever since the informal RV encampment was closed by city officials on September 30. But careful and extensive planning by city and county staff and homelessness service providers including Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB), Collaborising, and Safe Organized Spaces Richmond (SOS) ensured that all the encampment residents had safe places to live when they left Rydin. 
 
Eight people were temporarily relocated to nearby motels; four people to a county interim housing facility; fourteen with friends or family; one person to a hospital; and one person who didn't disclose their destination. Each of these individuals had a “transition plan” that they developed in cooperative planning with HCEB and Collaborising. During the final week of the Rydin closure, SOS also contributed to the intensive effort. The County’s CORE homeless mobile outreach team performed exceptional work with triage and interim housing placements. 
 
Javier C. and Jamie C. are two brothers who became unhoused during the pandemic. They moved in with their uncle, Jose, who lives in Richmond. Thankfully, Jamie is back working with his uncle in construction and Javier is working in a restaurant in San Francisco. They have been the smoothest transition.
 
Sandy H. had been living in an RV at Rydin since 2019. Now she’s parked in a safe, undisclosed off-street location, but she will soon be driving her RV to Oklahoma to establish a permanent home where her daughter is buying a house with an acre of land. Sandy says she’s looking forward to helping with the grandchildren and household chores. She wants to start her own business making furniture and wooden children’s toys.
 
Sandy said. “I was in an abusive relationship, and he kicked me out,” Sandy said. “I didn't know anyone in the Bay Area and I didn’t want to be homeless so I found this RV on Craigslist for free. It needed a starter which cost about $80. Originally I parked on Bayview. The cops chased me from there but directed me to Rydin Road where I’ve been ever since.” 
 
Angela S. moved to a studio apartment in Richmond with financial support from Richmond Rotary’s Housing First program. Angela said it was hard to keep connected to her family when she was living in a tent at Rydin. Now she can invite her teen-age son to visit in her new apartment, and even occasionally stay overnight. She is working full time as a home care provider and expects to be able to cover the rent herself when the Rotary rent subsidy runs out a year from now. 
 
Long-time Rydin residents Jim H. and Sherry M. are temporarily staying in a Pinole motel. Each is planning to move in with their respective sons in Antioch and Redding while on the waiting list for an apartment at the newly remodeled Hacienda Heights building at Barrett and Harbour Way. Long term, Jim and Sherry see themselves living on a boat in the Sacramento delta.  
                                                                                                                                   
Every resident was eligible for a financial stipend from the city to help cover the expenses of moving and ongoing, time-limited rent subsidy. Starting in July, each Rydin resident was asked to work with Collaborising and HCEB to develop a detailed plan for relocating, and what type of assistance they would need. Some needed car and trailer repairs. Some needed jobs. Some needed time-limited rent support. Some needed all of the above. 
 
The coordinated team of city staff and service providers continue to provide hands-on support to assist residents in following through with their plans, now into the third week since the encampment closure, as they strive to make their transition plans a reality and secure stable housing.

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Safe Organized Spaces Richmond · 23 Maine Ave # 16 · Richmond, CA 94804-2133 · USA

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