It’s a big day for Steve. After living on the streets of North Park for two years, he is getting ready to move into a sober living facility in East County. He has been in and out of prison for nearly 40 years, struggled with drug addiction, and experienced periods of homelessness throughout his life.
Dressed in a sharp sweater vest and immaculate white socks, Steve looks as though he might be on a job interview. He shares insightful observations about the current political landscape drawing comparisons to his experience growing up in Louisiana in the 1950s. He is drafting a book on theology.
He is clearly ready for a fresh start.
But Steve didn’t get here alone. By his side for several months has been Jessie Angeles, homeless outreach coordinator at People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), an organization working to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities. Funded by Mid City Homeless Collaborative partners North Park Main Street, City Heights BIA, City Heights CDC and Price Philanthropies, as well as City Council members Chris Ward and Georgette Gomez, this neighborhood-based street outreach has yielded results above and beyond expectations.
Angeles, a San Diego native with a passion for helping people transform their lives, has worked with people experiencing homelessness. “I am able to really look at people where they are right now and focus on that person, not the person they were in the past,” said the 30-year-old as he gets ready to drive Steve to the facility. “I’m going to be here for him throughout this process.”
Helping Steve transition into housing is part of the Mid City Homeless Collaborative’s strategy to reduce homelessness in the Mid-City area. “We don’t want to just shuffle people along or give them a bus ticket to another part of San Diego, we want to make real and meaningful change in the community,” said Angela Landsberg, executive director of the nonprofit organization. “Business and property owners contribute funding for programs aimed at making North Park an inviting place to shop, dine and do business. Our job as the nonprofit representing those business and property owners, is to create programs that increase the quality of life for people in the community and this means addressing the impacts of people experiencing homelessness in North Park.
This type of work takes time and patience. Angeles said it can take months to earn trust from people who may have been severely traumatized by life events. At PATH, he currently has a roster of 27 clients, all of whom work with him voluntarily. He buys them coffee, listens to what they need, and tries to connect them with services that will help them transition into housing. Since late January, Angeles has assisted nearly 30 people moving toward permanent housing, residential treatment programs, temporary shelters, and emergency shelters. “We knew our communities needed a strategic outreach effort led by a trusted individual who met persons experiencing homelessness where they were, rather than asking them to connect with numerous and changing servicess all over town,” said Enrique Gandarilla, executive director of the City Heights Business Association.
Once paperwork is signed and a person experiencing homelessness agrees to engage with the Mid City Homeless Outreach Program, Angeles and PATH are all in. That includes driving them to appointments like the one Steve is on today.
Steve will get settled in later in the week and meet his housemates, also recovering from addiction. “This program is a valuable investment in North Park,” said Landsberg. “There are a lot of homeless outreach programs that don’t invest in the relationship-building component of the process. The Mid-City program has had great success because we operate a program with the knowledge that it takes trust and dedication to help people who have often been cast aside by the system that is supposed to support them. Our program aims to treat people with dignity and respect in order to gain their trust because we know that real change can only happen at the speed of trust. That’s who North Park is as a community. We’re not saying, ‘move over to another community,’ we’re asking how we can help get this person off the streets for good.”