DST team members Leona, Moe, and Gary, pose for a photo in Berkeley.
DST team members Leona, Moe, and Gary, pose for a photo in Berkeley. (Julia Lang/Downtown Streets Team)

Through the long hard process of becoming homeless, you break, lose sight of the basic values of life and become depressed to a level only the home- less few experiences.

After losing everything, you succumb to living on the streets. Now life has a new meaning, no longer are you acceptable to those that once before considered you to be family or a friend. With insult on top of injury you become callous and uncaring, which is necessary in order to live on the streets. At this point in life your focus is just on surviving.

It takes time to adjust to this way of life, living each day with no work, money, access to resources, family or friends, and being despised by those with little to no concept of the catastrophic events that can befall anyone.

Then you hear individuals say “just get a job and pull yourself up by your bootstraps like I did.” This is easier said than done. You do not simply snap back into a society after being broken to a point of living on the streets.

It takes a great deal of time and effort to over- come the tragedies and suffering involved in the process of losing everything you once considered important.

The big question is, how do I make those insurmountable achievements and get my life back? What are my options?

The first phase of attaining a normal lifestyle is learning to care again. One way to do this is getting a regular job, where you have to show up at the same time every day and become responsible for a series of duties.

Without work, a daily schedule, money, or resources, time dwindles away and month after month becomes year after year. The stable reality
of working a daily job and living indoors is easily forgotten when you don’t have a regular schedule to guide you through your days.

If you are lucky, fate puts you in touch with an organization such as the Downtown Streets Team (DST). Perhaps you have seen Downtown Streets Team volunteers working in Downtown Berkeley, or in South Berkeley along Adeline Street in matching T-shirts, picking up trash and providing a cleaner environment. These individuals are part of DST: a non-profit organization that truly believes in making a difference for homeless human beings.

DST offers a consistent volunteer work environment with daily and weekly schedules which help in re-establishing a routine, which may have been absent for years. It surrounds you with the support necessary to begin to feel, attain accomplishments, and gain a sense of self-worth again. The individuals running the program truly want to help homeless individuals grow.

I found out about DST at the Grand Opening at the Berkeley Community Resource Center. Julia Lang, the East Bay Director of the program, was present that day and spoke about her commitment to her work assisting Berkeley’s homeless. She spoke about the importance of getting people back into the workforce, and it was clear that she was passionate about her work.

Volunteering for the Downtown Streets Team does not just involve cleaning the sidewalk. Their team also develops a working relationship with each individual by offering support in a positive manner. Every Wednesday, DST staff meets with current team members to offer support for each individual’s personal needs, such as providing job references or recommendations for housing and other much needed assistance. The staff are able to verify a track record of consistent volunteer work, responsibility, and desire for future employment. But perhaps most importantly, the staff offers genuine care and acceptance in a society that otherwise rejects the homeless as a whole.

DST rewards team members with stipends to help obtain necessities such as clothing, food, transit, medicine, storage, phone bills, rent and more, as well as establishing a sense of achievement. Payment comes in the form of gift cards, or third party checks that are directed toward necessities such as rent, storage bills, and cell phones. DST does not give these stipends away for free. No, you must consistently show up to volunteer to attain the stipends. This offers a sense of making your own way.

In short Downtown Streets Team provides a purpose, as well as accountability and a sense of personal worth—all of which is definitely necessary in order to get back on your feet. These are the primary stepping stones necessary for regaining a job, residence, daily schedule, and a reason to get up in the morning.

Downtown Streets Team is providing the homeless population with an opportunity to establish a normal life in society once again.

Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.