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Downtown outreach worker helps the homeless get off the streets

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Down and Outreach

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Downtown outreach worker helps the homeless get off the streets

by Laurel Chesky
12/19/02

A strapping man of 25, Jay Green is a veteran of homelessness. He’s
spent the better part of the last decade without a home. He was
forced to leave his childhood nest early, because he and his father
“didn’t get along,” as Green puts it. Now he lives on the streets of
Santa Cruz. Most days you can find him hanging around on Pacific
Avenue.
From a distance, it’s easy to shrug off Green as another lost cause,
one more street punk who is destined for a life of drifting, drugs and
early death. But he wants more for himself. If someone could just give
him some help, a step up and out of the gutter, he might make it yet.
Danielle Long is one such someone. She can’t solve all of Green’s
problems, but she can point him in the right direction. Long is a
mental health professional and the downtown outreach worker, a
position funded jointly by the county Mental Health Agency and the
city of Santa Cruz’s Redevelopment Agency. Her task: Help people
living on the streets access shelter, food, health care, and other
services they need to survive. When her clients are ready to get off
the street, get off drugs or get a job, she helps them do that, too.
Long met Green four months ago when she was taking one of her
several daily strolls down Pacific. A simple “hi” turned into a
conversation, and she learned that Green was sick with a sore throat.
She got him to a clinic, where he received medical treatment. Since
then, Danielle has supplied Green with a brand new sleeping bag to
make his nights more comfortable. She also helped him get his birth
certificate and a social security card so he can apply for work. “Now
I can get a job and be respectable,” Green says with a sheepish
smile.
A Helping Hand
Long is part of the city and county’s effort to address the root causes
of homelessness. Ending homelessness is a tedious business and one
that may never be fully accomplished, but, beyond imposing rules
and regulations dictating where people can sit and what they can do
downtownas the Santa Cruz City Council has attempted to
doLong’s mission seeks to establish positive relationship with the
un-housed.
Sometimes her job involves escorting someone to court or getting
someone into counseling. Other times she helps people navigate the
bureaucratic red tape to get what they need. After kicking a nasty
crack habit that left him without a home, Eddie Tate faced
homelessness again when his time at a drug rehabilitation center was
up. Long helped him sort out his disability benefits and find a studio
downtown. She helped him secure a $900 loan to start his new life.
Standing outside his apartment building, Tate says, “She got me in
here.” Beaming with pride, he adds, “I’ve been clean and sober for a
year now.”
Others just need to be pointed in the right direction. Long helped a
19-year-old pregnant homeless woman get health care, and drove a
17-year-old homeless boy to enroll in school. When Long found a
teenage girl, who had been left by there by a friend, roaming the
streets alone, she called the girl’s mother in Seattle. Neither the girl
nor her mother had enough cash for the fare home, so Danielle called
around and scraped together enough money for a bus ticket.
“It’s not just me,” she says. “A program like this takes the support of
the entire community.”
Indeed, area agencies and business have gone the extra mile to assist
Long help the homeless. For instance, Outdoor World donated
sleeping bags and a tent for her to distribute to her homeless clients.
Some downtown shoppers and merchants have learned to call Long
first, before they call the police, when someone is acting erratically,
but not necessarily violently. Police officers will also call her when
they find someone on the streets who is mentally ill and in need of
help.
“People who are mentally ill, that’s not a police issue,” says Julie
Hendee, an administrative analyst with the city’s Redevelopment
Agency. “We don’t want people going in and out of jail, that’s not a
solution. They’re not criminals, they’re just sick.”
“Danielle gets people to look at homeless people as individuals,” she
adds.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
In fact, in order to gain the trust of street dwellers, Long says she has
made an effort to separate herself from the police. She works out of
the downtown information office, where the downtown hosts and
police are also based. However, Long works alone. “I don’t share
information with the cops at all,” she says.
Not everyone she comes into contact with is shooting heroin or
smoking crack. “It’s a misconception that all homeless people down
here are addicts. That’s definitely not true.”
But some are. As for drugs, Long honors a don’t ask/don’t tell
policy. But if someone confesses to a drug problem, that won’t stop
Long from offering help. “If someone is using, that doesn’t stop me
from working with them,” she says. “My job is harm reduction. I
never try to impose anything on them.”
In Long’s mind, the homeless people she works with are part of the
community and deserve as much respect as any other community
member.
“I think some people choose to be homeless, but there are many that
don’t choose to be homeless,” Long says. “One thing after another
happens in their life and they find themselves on the street.
Downtown is the place where people congregate. Homeless people
feel that this is their community and that they can come downtown
and find a friend.”
------------
The downtown outreach worker needs warm winter clothing,
tents, sleeping bags and blankets for the homeless. Call (831)
454-4546 to make donations.

 
 


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