By day, Carlie Leduc is a physical therapist working toward a certification. She's lived in the Haight since 2006. Christian Calinsky is a tattoo artist at Mom's, and he's been here since 1996. He also used to be homeless.
"I was a so-called trust fund kid. I went to the best schools, which my Dad called "boss schools," as in, 'you're gonna learn to be the boss,'" he told us. "But during the summers, I'd travel around the country on the train, getting life experience. Then, I got addicted to drugs."
We asked him what he thinks of the perception that the kids on the street have mom's credit card in their back pocket.
"I'd say about 20% of them do. But I'd also say, so what? Why does that change the fact that they're homeless? When I was a traveler, I could always call Dad in an emergency and have him wire me some cash. I was still living on the street and addicted to heroin. You can afford an iPad and still lack the money and the skills necessary to find and keep a place to live."
He explained that many of the kids on the street don't consider themselves homeless. They're more like hobos, he says, traveling around. While many of them do come from tragic home lives, Leduc explained, "There isn't a single reason that people wind up on the streets. People are messy. Lots of people were abused who don't wind up homeless. You can't draw a straight line from one thing to another thing."
And people are messy. Leduc related the story of a person we'll call Jamie, who just found out she's about to become a grandmother at 38 years old. "Her daughter called and said, 'Mom, I need you to come home.'"
Jamie's plan is to set up an Indiegogo page to raise the funds to buy an RV and enough gas to get back home to North Carolina. That's where the organization comes in. "We see it as our job to help her get organized enough to make that happen."
The process to "get her organized," of course, comes with certain bureaucratic hurdles. "We need to make sure she has a driver's license. If she doesn't, that means we have to help her get her hands on her birth certificate. Not to mention, we have to help her get the RV registered and insured."
Another person they're working with, who we'll call Roy, is currently homeless, but attending classes at CCSF. His obstacle? He's receiving financial aid for classes, which disqualifies him from affordable housing. Roy literally had to choose between an education and living under a roof. He chose education.
What differentiates Taking It To The Streets from other organizations, like HYA
, for instance, is that they don't really consider themselves a "harm reduction" organization. If a person wants to enroll in classes, or buy an RV, Streets
comes in to help them take the next steps and hopefully "rehumanize" (their word) that person, while engaging with other harm reduction programs to keep the person stable enough to accomplish those goals.
Harm reduction, Calinsky explained, kept him alive while he was living on the streets. However, it didn't get him out of the cycle of moving from transitional house to transitional house, program to program. "Just as I'd save up enough money, I'd transition out, and my funding would stop, and I'd be right back where I started," he explained.
For Leduc and Calinsky, the idea is to work with individual people one at a time, not to solve homelessness forever. They do this by walking the streets (and park), handing out lunches, dog food, toiletries, and clean underwear and socks. Once they get to know people individually, they can take on more complicated tasks for them.
Their long-term goal is to set up transitional housing facilities, similar to what Swords to Plowshares
is doing for chronically homeless veterans. Swords inhabits a swath of what used to be military housing on Treasure Island. The vets live there, learn job skills, work, save money, stay sober, have access to medical care and food, and have a clear plan to transition back to traditional housing. Streets
sees a similar facility in their future.
In the shorter-term, they're getting involved with Alex Aquino of Black Scale. The idea is to get people living on the street involved with the upcoming block party
, sweeping streets, emptying garbages, and doing other odd jobs. "They're so, so into it," Calinsky told us. If it works out, Streets
wants to work with Haight Street merchants to start a jobs program so the street population can give back to the community.
"They came here for a community, and they're a part of it whether people like it or not. And there are people who live in the park turning in resumes to merchants every week. Following up, asking for interviews. They want to work," says Calinsky.