By SARAH BROTHERS | Downtown San Diego Partnership
It doesn’t take much consumption of media these days to be put in the place of this anecdote from Mr. Rogers. At a time when America’s favorite neighbor was young and sought comfort from his mother after seeing something scary in the news, she encouraged him to “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
At a time when so much is uncertain, these helpers are something we know we can count on in our Downtown neighborhoods. Whether it’s the small business that’s offering free meals to kids from their improvised takeout menu, young tenants volunteering to shop for groceries for their elderly neighbors, or the essential employees who keep the necessary wheels of our communities turning, these stories of people stepping up to help others are at the core of why we choose to live and work here, together.
You can recognize one group of these helpers by their yellow vests and matching baseball caps. They’re the Maintenance Ambassadors who provide essential services to keep Downtown neighborhoods clean and safe year-round and whose jobs are more critical than ever during this crisis. They’re just one part of the Downtown San Diego Partnership Clean & Safe program that serves the 275 blocks of Downtown.
You will find the Maintenance Ambassadors sanitizing public items in the right of way, conducting trash pickup, pressure washing and keeping our streets clean. To protect their health and wellness, they will be practicing social distancing and navigating their neighborhoods by car, but you are strongly encouraged to give them a smile and a wave the next time you see them about their work.
“Our Maintenance Ambassadors are part of the fabric of Downtown. Our biggest priority is making sure they stay safe and healthy while they’re trying to help our neighborhoods do the same,” said Ernesto Romo, Senior Operations Manager for the DSDP Clean & Safe program.
Then there’s the Safety Ambassadors. They can normally be found on bicycles providing an extra set of “eyes and ears” for businesses, residents and property owners in Downtown neighborhoods. With many people working from home, they will be conducting patrols for safety 24/7 within the community with the addition of overnight shifts. They are also encouraging property owners who expect to be away from their property for extended periods of time to file a Letter of Agency with the San Diego Police Department.
“A lot of property owners don’t know that a Letter of Agency is needed to allow SDPD to come onto their property if they suspect there is illegal trespassing or vandalism in progress,” said Dani Garcia, Operations Manager for the DSDP Clean & Safe program. “Without it, police can’t address these issues if the owner isn’t present. Having a Letter of Agency on file also provides a valuable referral source for our Safety Ambassadors to report potential crimes in progress as they’re conducting additional patrols in Downtown neighborhoods.”
The Homeless Outreach Team might be the easiest group of helpers to spot in their signature Maui Blue polos. With unsheltered residents at high risk during the spread of COVID-19, the Homeless Outreach Team will be working with their clients alongside other outreach groups in the region to ensure they understand what they can do to protect themselves, what to do if they become symptomatic, and how to connect with the appropriate medical care. The Homeless Outreach Team has already placed more than 35 of their most vulnerable clients in safe and healthy shelter alternatives for the duration of this outbreak with their next step intended to be placement into permanent housing.
“The foundation of our work is building relationships with our clients so they know they can trust us. It’s those trusting relationships and the collaboration of so many people throughout the region – including service providers and many of our Downtown hotel owners – that helped us mobilize very quickly to get these individuals out of harm’s way,” said Ketra Carter, Program Manager of Outreach Services at the DSDP Clean & Safe program. “We still have a lot of work to do to make sure our most vulnerable are taken care of, but we’re proud to be part of the regional response to address this need while keeping our team safe.”
So, for anyone who has had trouble finding the helpers so far, here are some helpful hints. Look for a yellow vest or a blue polo that says “Clean & Safe” in your Downtown neighborhood. These are some of your helpers and we are so grateful for all they do.
— Sarah Brothers is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Downtown San Diego Partnership.