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City of West Hollywood Expands 30 Additional Block by Block Security Ambassadors

Originally posted by Weho Times

At a regular West Hollywood City Council meeting on Monday, September 19, 2022, the city council unanimously approved a Block by Block Security Ambassadors program update expanding its Block by Block program with 30 additional Security Ambassadors. The Block by Block program has hired and trained 20 new Security Ambassadors, one Team Lead, and one Operations Supervisor. It is on-track to be fully staffed by October 1, 2022, with a total of approximately 85 Security Ambassadors.

The approved motion follows City Council approval on Monday, June 27, 2022, of the City’s FY 2022-23 & 2023-24 two-year operating budget and capital work plan, which directed an increase to the number of Block by Block Security Ambassadors by 30 positions. Additional direction regarding the expansion was provided by the City Council on Monday, August 1, 2022 when it approved the related amendment to the Block by Block agreement for services.

“The City’s Block by Block Security Ambassadors program will continue to provide bicycle and foot patrols throughout the City’s commercial districts,” said City of West Hollywood City Manager David Wilson. “The program is adding dedicated foot patrols in residential neighborhoods citywide and is staffing new kiosks in selected locations. Block by Block Security Ambassadors work in close alignment with Deputies from our Sheriff’s Station, as well as our City’s Code Enforcement and Homeless Initiative teams, among others. The collaboration positively impacts quality of life in West Hollywood.”

Block by Block Security Ambassadors work in collaboration with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station to provide supplemental safety services and they get to know West Hollywood’s neighborhoods to assist in providing an extra level of hospitality to businesses, residents, and visitors. Expansion of the program aims to provide an additional public presence to proactively reduce crime.

Block by Block Security Ambassadors are highly focused on safety and hospitality in West Hollywood with specific emphasis on:

· Maintaining uniformed foot and bicycle patrols throughout the City’s business districts and residential neighborhoods;

· Providing in-person responses 24/7 to non-violent calls for service;

· Conducting safety escorts for residents, businesses, and visitors; and

· Offering helpful guidance to community members and visitors about City information, directions, parking, and more.

In consultation with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, the City of West Hollywood will implement four new Block by Block Security Ambassador kiosks by October 1, 2022, at or near the following intersections: (1) Santa Monica Boulevard at N. Robertson Boulevard; (2) Santa Monica Boulevard at Westmount Drive; (3) Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Plaza Drive; and (4) Melrose Avenue and Westmount Drive.

During the next several weeks, the City will be sharing additional information about the Block by Block Security Ambassadors program with outreach to residents and businesses.

About | Block by Block Security Ambassadors Program – The City of West Hollywood partners with Block by Block on its Security Ambassadors program, which has a direct positive impact on safety and neighborhood livability.

First established as a City program in 2013, West Hollywood Block by Block Security Ambassadors provide a highly visible uniformed presence at the street level and leverage the effectiveness of local law enforcement by working in collaboration with personnel from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.

In addition to supplemental safety services, Block by Block Security Ambassadors get to know West Hollywood’s neighborhoods and assist in providing an extra level of hospitality to businesses, residents, and visitors and help to address and respond to quality of life concerns in the community.

Security Ambassadors receive trainings on topics such as active shooters, cultural diversity and sensitivity, administration of Narcan to treat narcotic overdose, mental health first aid, sexual harassment, emergency/disaster preparedness, and more.

The Block by Block Security Ambassador Hotline provides access to free, 24/7 support by phone or text at (323) 821-8604; a new toll-free number will be introduced in the coming weeks. For additional information, please visit

About | Sheriff’s, Fire, Code, and Emergencies – The City of West Hollywood contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement and the Los Angeles County Fire Department for fire protection. The City’s Neighborhood & Business Safety Division oversees code enforcement.

For additional information, please visit For anyone with public safety concerns, please reach out to the Sheriff’s Station 24/7 at (310) 855-8850. In an emergency, always call 911.

Downtown Roanoke ambassador program kicks off

The goal is to create a cleaner, safer, more welcoming downtown

ROANOKE, Va. – Downtown Roanoke launched a new initiative Thursday to promote a cleaner and safer downtown – and it’s already in full swing.

Ambassadors could be found downtown today cleaning off graffiti, picking up trash, and helping patrons.

The ambassadors are broken into three teams, each with a different focus: a clean team to remove litter and debris, a hospitality team to answer questions and welcome visitors, and an outreach team that will address quality of life issues and check on those in need.

The hope is to make downtown a more welcoming location.

“Having the very visible, they’re in brightly colored uniforms, very visible presence down here six days a week working hard is going to be a real benefit,” Jaime Clark, VP of Marketing for Downtown Roanoke said. “A clean, safe and welcoming downtown is really the cornerstone of a great community, so we’re excited to see that be a regular focus down here.”

Original story and video from WSLS Roanoke.

Service with a smile: Meet the people keeping downtown safe and beautiful

When Dominque Wilson saw a business owner shoveling snow in front of her storefront, he immediately offered to help. While at first she demurred, Wilson insisted, telling her, “This is our job.” 

Wilson is one of 13 Downtown Ambassadors through the Downtown Tulsa Partnership, a local nonprofit on a mission to champion a prosperous, vibrant and inclusive downtown Tulsa. The Ambassador program specifically focuses on providing hospitable services like giving directions, serving as safety escorts and being an intermediary between unsheltered Tulsans and downtown businesses. In the last year, ambassadors have interacted with more than 5,000 people.

Ambassadors also provide trash and graffiti removal, pressure washing of sidewalks and general beautification projects.

“We do the work that honestly a lot of people don’t want to do,” says Leola Maxey, Ambassador team operations manager. “I’m so proud of the dedication (the ambassadors) show when they come ready and willing to work, no matter the weather.”

Since the Ambassador program first launched July 1, 2021, the team has removed more than 7,400 graffiti tags and stickers and picked up more than 300,000 pounds of trash from sidewalks, streets and alleyways — the equivalent weight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They also provided the critical service of removing 1,200 potentially biohazardous materials from downtown rights of way, in addition to various other hospitality services. 

“There’s a lot for us to celebrate in our first year, but the work is ongoing,” says Brian Kurtz, president and CEO of the Downtown Tulsa Partnership. “What we do with our brand means nothing without the visibility and hospitality of this team.”

For more information about the ambassadors or to request assistance, call 918-202-4093 or visit

Originally posted by TulsaPeople.


Vista ambassadors patrol for homeless, litter, graffiti

In the latest local response to how cities respond to homeless populations in their communities, Vista has launched a Clean and Safe program to patrol and respond to disturbances in its historic downtown and business district while also keeping the neighborhood tidy.Former Marine Capt. Walter Rekoski and operations manager for the team set out on a patrol with fellow team member and former security guard Arthur Schwab on a recent Wednesday, hitting the streets to look for litter and graffiti.

It didn’t take long for Schwab to spot a discarded foam cup on the sidewalk along Eucalyptus Avenue. Slipping on blue rubber gloves, he picked it up, tossed it in a nearby trash can and logged it on a phone app.

Up the road, he spotted graffiti on a couple of poles outside Sonic Drive-In, which he wiped away after spraying the poles with the solvent Graf Away.

“It’s like it never existed,” Schwab said, admiring his work.

The two are part of the city’s new Clean and Safe program, launched last month to pick up litter, remove graffiti and occasionally deal with homeless people causing disturbances.

In about a month, Rekoski said the teams have removed 400 pounds of litter from the street and helped remove 400 pieces of graffiti, sometimes doing it themselves and other times alerting city crews of graffiti on sidewalks, or business owners if the tags are on private property.

Two teams of two work overlapping shifts 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and Rekoski said they are called to respond to an issue with a homeless person on almost every shift.

Over the last decade, we’ve helped Kentucky add nearly 100,000 new jobs and $31 billion in new investments.

The city also has homeless outreach workers, funds shelter beds in neighboring cities and has a strategic plan to address homelessness. The Clean and Safe teams’ role is to quickly respond to and quell disturbances, which often are resolved by asking the homeless person to move along.

“Sometimes just our presence is enough,” Schwab said. “I’ll roll up on my bike and they’ll leave. They think we’re cops, but we’re not.”

In San Diego, the Hillcrest Business Association has contracted with a security team since 2016 to respond to calls of homeless people causing disruptions in local businesses. In Vista, the city has contracted with the national company Block by Block, which in California has teams in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Livermore and Chico. The Vista team is Block by Block’s first presence in San Diego County.

Rekoski said the teams, known as ambassadors rather than security guards, have responded to about 50 calls about disturbances in their first month.

“If there’s a homeless person around, we’ll go talk to them in a calm matter,” he said. “If it gets heated, we’ll call the sheriffs.”

Their area covers Vista Village Drive between Valencia Drive and Civic Center Drive, Santa Fe Avenue from Vista Village Drive to Civic Center Drive, and the area that includes Main Street, East Broadway, the Wave Waterpark and Lowe’s.

Businesses in the area have come to know them and are calling more often, Rekoski said. Calls may be about litter, graffiti or a homeless person causing a disturbance, but he said they are not called solely because a homeless person is seen on the street.

Schwab said if they find someone lying on a sidewalk, however, he will suggest they go to a local city park where they might be more comfortable.

“Yesterday I was doing a patrol, and a guy was lying on the ground on South Santa Fe,” he said. “I asked, ‘Are you OK?’ He asked for money then got up and left.”

Vista City Council members allocated $460,000 to fund the two-year, four-person pilot program in August 2021 with money from $26 million received from the Coronavirus State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

A city staff member at the August meeting described the program as similar to ones in Little Italy and downtown San Diego, where ambassadors help direct people to restaurants or parking while helping keep the area clean.

Councilmember Corinna Contreras noted that, while not explicitly stated, the summary of the program implied that it also is about homelessness.

Her perception was right. During their Wednesday shift, several people at local businesses praised the new two specifically for how they have handled issues with people they described as unruly and homeless.

Vista Clean and Safe ambassadors Walter Rekoski Arthur Schwab patrol Main Street.
Vista Clean and Safe ambassadors Walter Rekoski Arthur Schwab patrol Main Street.
(Don Boomer/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“The other day we had one guy who was causing a ruckus,” said Danoosh Pourbafrana, assistant manager at Sonic Drive-In. “He was throwing things on the patio. Arthur and someone else came over. They ended up having to call the police. It’s obviously not a good thing, but this is supposed to be a family environment. You can’t really have that around here.”

Pourbafrana said the man was talking to himself and appeared to be having a psychotic episode. After the ambassadors arrived, sheriff’s deputies were called and took the man away.

The ambassadors are not trained social workers, but Schwab said they sometimes hand out cards with phone numbers to crisis lines to people they meet on the street.

“Some of them have mental issues, they’ve been out here so long,” he said.

The encounters illustrate a reality much of San Diego and other parts of the country experience, as people with untreated mental health issues are left homeless on the street, some refusing treatment and some never offered the help they need.

Shops and restaurants deal with another reality, as people having psychotic episodes or on drugs sometimes disrupt their businesses.

Todd Johnson, manager of Barrel & Stave Pour House, said he has called the ambassadors a couple of times.

“We just had some homeless that were a little vocal, a little disruptive to our guests,” he said.

Down the street, Natalie Trevino said she also has called the ambassadors to respond to disturbances at her resale shop Twice on Main Street.

“I’ve been here 10 years, and there always has been a need for a program like this,” she said. “There’s just a lot of transient riffraff, and they do kind of gravitate to a downtown environment.”

Trevino said the ambassadors have responded to calls within a few minutes. In the past, she would call the sheriff’s non-emergency number, and a deputy sometimes would arrive 20 minutes or an hour later.

“Obviously they have a lot bigger things going on,” she said, adding that sometimes she would call on men working in neighboring businesses for immediate help.

Christine Alvarado said she also has called the ambassadors for disturbances at her boutique Moonry Collective.

“We definitely feel safer having the ability to contact them at a moment’s notice,” she said. “I have a couple of employees who work the front desk, and just knowing that they have the ability to call them if I’m not here also makes me feel so much better. Because there can be some riffraff in the downtown area, and I want my employees to feel safe.”

Alvarado said she would like the ambassadors to patrol every day of the week, and has seen less graffiti and trash in the neighborhood over the past month.

602,000 lbs. of waste removed from Broadway trashcans

By: Nickelle Smith, WKRN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When the honky tonks close down on Broadway, another round of work ramps up.

“These guys come down here with a purpose, a sense of urgency,” said Nashville Downtown Partnership Operations Supervisor Joshua Hillen. “When we come in, we’re cleaning up the party from the night before.”

The Downtown Nashville Partnership’s Clean and Safe team starts with pressure washing alleyways and block faces at around 3 a.m. So far this year, the team has used 115,000 gallons of water to pressure wash 720 alleyways and 994 block faces.

“We blitz Broadway, make sure all the curb lines, all the cigarette butts. We want everybody to come down here, have fun, and then we’re going to come in [and] we’re going to clean everything up,” Hillen said.

(Courtesy: NDP)

Then the rest of the team starts working at 6:30 a.m.

“If for one day we weren’t here, it would be a complete mess,” Hillen said, explaining their job serves everyone on Broadway. “Not just work, not just visitors, but people who live here as well.”

He continued, “We’re getting up big trash. We’re also continuing efforts on the pressure washing, looking for graffiti. Graffiti removal is a big thing. We always want to make sure that we’re coming down here, putting eyes on it, remove it, get it out, so that by the time all the business owners get here it’s already gone.”

To date, the team has removed 1,680 graffiti tags from downtown businesses and public spaces. They’ve also removed over 602,000 pounds of garbage from downtown trashcans.


The safety aspect of their duties is vital, with ambassadors logging 7,000 miles on Segways looking for challenging situations to help visitors.

“If you need directions anywhere, we’re going to help out with that,” said Hillen. “We want to make sure, not only everybody else is safe down here, but also I want to keep my guys safe. So, we got to keep our head on a swivel.”

The Nashville Downtown Partnership deploys most of their services in the footprint of the central business improvement district. Their clean and safe services are funded through annual assessments on privately owned properties within the footprint.

“These guys are on foot. We’ve got heavy machinery down here,” said Hillen. “They’re out here bustin’ their humps every single day – seven days a week.”

After working for the Nashville Downtown Partnership for several years, Hillen explained that he appreciates their role in more ways than one.

“It’s given me the opportunity to get my life back. I got a beautiful wife, just bought a house, and if it wasn’t for the partnership, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” he said. 

‘The Swiss Army knife’: Boulder downtown ambassadors one of city initiatives showing success

By  | Boulder Daily Camera

While walking through Boulder’s Central Park late Friday morning, Mario Chavez spoke with a person who requested that he check on a woman across the park.

She was spread out on a blanket, eyes closed, breathing slowly — but otherwise unresponsive.

Chavez walked over and spoke to her, but she didn’t open her eyes or answer him. He tried to wake her up. When she didn’t budge after several attempts, Chavez called for medical assistance. It was a hot day, he said, and the person was lying directly in the sun with a cold beer that indicated she’d been drinking.

In these instances, it’s better to play it safe than to end up sorry, Chavez noted.

“It’s not our job to judge,” he said. “It’s just our job to help.”

Welfare checks are one of many duties of a downtown Boulder ambassador, a relatively new program of which Chavez is part that was created through a collaboration between the city and the Downtown Boulder Partnership.

When the new downtown ambassadors handle a situation like the one Friday morning, they create an incident report. This data goes to the city and is used, at least in part, to demonstrate how often the ambassadors were able to address a situation without making a call to the police.

The ambassadors program is one of several initiatives on which the Boulder City Council in April 2021 agreed to spend about $3 million over an 18-month period. Others include an urban park ranger program, a five-person internal team to clear encampments and a dedicated team within the Boulder Police Department for camping ban enforcement.

However, given newly established metrics and a list of goals the city acknowledges are aspirational, the first year or so of the pilot program has shown varied success.

According to data presented to the City Council on Thursday, in the time since the Council approved the various measures intended to help with enforcement of its urban camping ban, the city reports clearing 486 camping sites — 53 of which had propane tanks or fire rings — and removing 112 tons of debris and 5,100 needles.

But according to Boulder’s Director of Utilities Joe Taddeucci, the work is about more than the numbers. The efforts are not intended to end homelessness but instead to place a focus on safety, he added.

BOULDER, CO-August 5:Jennifer Abshire, owner of ...
Jennifer Abshire, owner of Active 88 shoes, is checked on by Mario Chavez and Bob Borchardt during the Boulder Downtown Ambassadors usual rounds around town on Friday. (Cliff Grassmick — Staff Photographer)

“It’s really about making the spaces safe for everyone, including the people who are attempting to camp in them,” he said.

Removing fire rings, propane tanks and needles accomplishes that, and it aligns with what the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has determined to be best, Taddeucci said Thursday.

The long-term goals that have been identified for the pilot program include:

  • No unsanctioned camping in public spaces;
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness are connected to Coordinated Entry services;
  • Access to public space and public infrastructure is not impeded;
  • Reduction in crime and disorder in designated areas of emphasis;
  • Visitors have access to knowledgeable resources or city services;
  • Maintenance crews are able to safely access critical infrastructure in public spaces;
  • Waterways are free of contamination; and
  • Users of public space report feeling safe and welcome.

Regarding the data, Taddeucci noted that it’s a work in progress and that establishing metrics has been a significant undertaking. It’s not possible to draw absolute conclusions yet, he said. “At this point, we don’t know if it’s a seasonal thing … or whether we’ll see after a period of time that it’s a trend that’s continuing and concerning,” Taddeucci said.

In early 2022, for example, there was a brief decline in the number of encampment reports, but the numbers have risen significantly in April and May. In April, the number of reports neared 350 with that number jumping to closer to 400 in May.

Additionally, more unique individuals are reporting encampments to the city, which staff acknowledge could have more correlation with the increased communication to the public about where to report encampments than the actual number of encampments.

Ultimately, the initial findings left some City Council members wondering about the effectiveness of the various initiatives.

“My concern is really that despite picking up so much trash and doing so many cleanups, we’re kind of just trying to plug holes in a dam that seems to have more cracks every day,” Councilmember Nicole Speer said in Thursday’s meeting. “Rather than just clean up, I would really love for us to think about a strategy of harm reduction.”

“It really does not look to me like the data is favorable at this point,” Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend added.

BOULDER, CO-August 5:Boulder Downtown Ambassador, Brandon ...
Boulder Downtown Ambassador Brandon Lowe returns the Tebo Train on Friday. Ambassadors do a little bit of everything. (Cliff Grassmick — Staff Photographer)

Councilmember Matt Benjamin also questioned at what point the Council would have a chance to consider whether the pilot program has been effective and to determine what initiatives should continue.

To that point, City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde acknowledged that many of the initiatives were delayed for various reasons. The urban park rangers just began work, and the Police Department has hired only half of the officers the City Council approved last year.

Because of this, the city is likely to continue the program past the initial 18-month mark, which is approaching in October.

The ambassadors are one area the city has reported is successful, and Boulder is considering continuing the program indefinitely with continued support from the Downtown Boulder Partnership-managed Business District.

BOULDER, CO-August 5: Team Lead, Mario ...
Team Lead, Mario Chavez, of the Boulder Downtown Ambassadors, makes a call Friday to get an ambulance to Central Park for an unconscious woman. (Cliff Grassmick — Staff Photographer)

It got off the ground quickly and remains relatively well-staffed. There are currently 16 ambassadors, according to Operations Manager Brandon Lowe, though he said they could use more.

Since the pilot began, the team has performed more than 50,000 conversations with visitors, 10,000 local business check-ins and almost 3,000 welfare checks. They have picked up almost 8,000 bags of trash and cleaned up 4,500 instances of graffiti as well as biohazard waste from more than 100 humans and animals, the report notes.

Minutes before calling for medical assistance in Central Park, Chavez picked up trash from a downtown sidewalk.

Before that, he and coworker Bob Borchardt stopped into Active 88 Shoes as part of the regular business checks the ambassadors conduct.

The work of the downtown ambassadors is varied. Some days they’re helping set up for downtown events or providing maps and answering questions for visitors. Other days, they’re building relationships with Boulder’s unhoused residents and local downtown business owners.

“You are the Swiss Army knife of the downtown area,” Chavez said of the job. “You do everything.”

For Chavez and Borchardt, the work is personal, and it could be the reason they enjoy it and feel well-equipped to do it.

Borchardt is in recovery and was living on the streets of Denver some four years ago, and that certainly impacts his perspective.

“I know there is a way out,” he said.

When determining which camps to clear, the city teams go through a prioritization process. It’s not random, Taddeucci confirmed.

The cleanup schedule is determined by staff capacity and factors such as the life/safety risk; the proximity to schools, parks with playgrounds or public residences; the impact on neighborhoods; the size of the camp and whether there have been reports of crime or threats of violence tied to it.

To continue this work, Taddeucci said the city will bring forward a proposal during the budgeting process to expand the cleanup team by an additional four members.

In terms of policing, the Boulder Police Department — which has hired three of the six officers the Council supported last year — reports having issued 414 camping tickets between September 2021 and Aug. 1.

Further, according to its research, the department determined that there are concentrations of crime around the encampments.

Mayor Pro Tem Friend asked whether the city has any controls for its crime data, given that “if you’re policing something more, you’re going to find more crime,” Friend said.

Daniel Reinhard, with the Boulder Police Department, said he used encampments reported by residents as the baseline. These encampments are not immediately conveyed to the police department but to the public reclamation team. Because officers are at least initially unaware of the situation, it removes some of the potential bias, he added.

In the coming months, Boulder City Council will get its annual homelessness update and make some big decisions about its budget.

From Chavez’s perspective, ideas like the downtown ambassadors are a good start.

“I actually feel like I’m part of the solution,” he said. “What are we going to do? The answer is us.”


(L-R) Leanna, Narell, Clarissa, and Izzy (One not pictured), K-Town Connect Downtown Ambassadors, Knoxville, June 2022

Orignal article published by Inside of Knoxville

Since the program was announced last April, the ambassadors employed in the K-Town Connect program have been daily working their way around downtown. You might spot them in their bright neon-green shirts. The program launched almost three months ago as a joint effort by Visit Knoxville, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and the Downtown Knoxville Alliance, is a product of the Block by Block company, which provides services to 100 locations according to their website.

I’ve introduced myself to several of the ambassadors and I’d encourage you to do the same if you spot them. I’ve seen them engaging homeless people, picking up trash, and greeting visitors. I wanted to know a bit more about what they are doing and how the effort is going, so I had separate conversations with Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville, and Narell Haigler, the downtown coordinator for the group to get their perspectives.

Ms. Bumpas said the program is going well. She said she didn’t really know what to expect when the program launched and Visit Knoxville was asked to take on management. She said she has been pleasantly surprised. “Those that have been hired are very caring, extremely smart, trained in social services . . . the compassion that they show and the way they’ve been able to engage with the homeless population has been quite impressive.”

There are six ambassadors, including Mr. Haigler, who are out on the street daily, with at least some part of that group out seven days a week. Knoxville groups have purchased a number of hours for the year and there is flexibility within that number of hours, depending on special events, for example.

She said they have been able to learn more about downtown to share that information with visitors. She said a number of times when tourists enter the Visitor Center they have reported that they were directed there by the ambassadors. They also have connected to city services to report graffiti. She said they have been removing stickers that a group recently put up around downtown, saving time for city workers. And they have been forming beneficial relationships with the homeless downtown.

Area Covered by K-Town Connect

One incident stood out in her mind involving a tourist who crashed their bike and needed to be transported to the emergency room. The K-Town Connect person was the first on the scene and helped make that happen. In another situation a K-Town Connect person was able to sit with a homeless person who was irrational and bring them back enough to learn what services they needed and to connect them to those.

A main emphasis in the early stages of the program is to collect data. That data will be published by Visit Knoxville quarterly and will not only show what the ambassadors have done, but it will help identify the biggest problems or needs and where they might have the most impact.

The ambassadors work from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm each day and divide into zones that cover downtown and adjacent areas. She said it may expand beyond those parameters either with more hours, more workers, or more territory in the second year. They will know more about needs after the first contract year. She said the system was “never intended to operate twenty-four hours a day.” She made it clear as well that they are not law enforcement, but rather try to impact the downtown area in a range of other ways.

She also said they’ve had an impact on the interactions that Visit Knoxville has with the homeless population. She said they routinely enter the Visitor Center and now she said they are less often agitated and difficult. She said the tone has changed because someone in the building likely knows their name and knows a little about them. She said, “Maybe some of the people who we have incidents with act that way because they don’t feel seen and K-Town Connect is making them feel seen and maybe there is hope . . .”

For more detail about day-to-day operations, I spoke with Narell Haigler. Given that it was during the shift, he asked if I would walk along on his route so that he could give it the coverage it needed. We walked from the Visitor Center to the Bijou via Market Street and back through Krutch Park while we talked.

Narell is from Clinton and has always lived in East Tennessee. He was a program manager at Open Arms and he current serves in the Army Reserves. He was interested in serving other people in a new setting. He enjoys both the outreach and the welcoming portions of the job. “I love Knoxville and it has been a great journey.”

He said the public, from visitors, to the homeless population, and business owners have quickly embraced their role. He said they may give directions to the Dolly Parton mural, help a homeless person get services, and then be asked by a business owner to check a nearby alley. “It has been a challenge, but I feel we’ve been helpful.”

They begin the day with a shift briefing at 7:00 am to tell them what is happening in the district, from the Farmers’ Market to the U.S. Cycling Championships. They talk about who is likely to be downtown and they discuss outreach. He said they often know that a particular homeless person has an appointment that day and they are instructed in the briefing to remind that person when they see them.


He said they make a real effort to get to know the homeless people common to their assigned area. He said they try learn why they are homeless, which services they are connected to or might need, and then try to get them to that service. He said it takes time, but they are there everyday and can do that work. He noted at least one situation where they were able to connect a person to drug treatment.

He said they leave the briefing and walk their routes covering the different zones. They asked to keep moving and not to congregate so they can cover more ground. They pick up trash from the night before and rouse people they find sleeping in doorways, encouraging them to move along so businesses can open. He said they generally do so when asked, particularly since they have a relationship with the ambassadors. If they are not responsive, they request help.

They do the same thing throughout the day when they find people on the sidewalk. He said the ambassadors are kind and usually get a good response when they ask them to move along and offer any help they might need. He said they engage panhandlers and encourage them not to violate the various city ordinances regarding where and how they can ask for money. If it continues to be an issue they call law enforcement. Beyond that, he said it is up to the community to determine what is allowed.

Narell Haigler, Director of the K-Town Connect Downtown Ambassadors, Knoxville, June 2022

There are five areas covered, which they have termed Mission, Sub-Mission, Downtown, East of Hall of Fame, and World’s Fair Park. He said they do welfare checks, helping visitors, explaining how to access the Sunshpere, and so on. One person takes each zone and he says there is always trash and scooters to move off sidewalks. They do maintenance requests to the city. Mid-day they move toward the center as activity increases and hospitality and interacting with businesses becomes more of a focus. The direct people to restaurants and events.

He said hospitality services consume a majority of their time, though they will soon be more able to quantify that as they assemble statistics. They also do small things like open doors for visitors, watch for items that someone drops and getting it back to them, escorting groups from the convention center to Market Square, and more.

He encouraged downtown residents and others to introduce themselves and communicate any concerns. “If we don’t know, we can’t address it. The community has been supportive and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the summer goes and how we might help.” They may be contacted through Visit Knoxville.

Keeping the District Beautiful

Jennifer Truesdale, CoMo Magazine

If you’ve ever walked around downtown COMO’s 50 blocks and admired how clean they are, there’s someone to thank for that — several people, in fact. Bill York and his crew of Block by Block (BBB) ambassadors put in the hard work of keeping The District as clean as possible, all year round, no matter the weather.

“I like what I do. When I’m cleaning, I know I’m making a difference in my downtown,” Bill, Block by Block operations manager, said.

Block by Block is a Louisville, Kentucky-based organization whose cleaning and safety services can be found in the downtown areas of more than 100 municipalities, including COMO, which so far is the only Missouri city to implement BBB services.

BBB offers a one-stop-shop for cities looking for a way to keep their downtown areas clean, attractive, and safe. They recruit for and fill the positions for street cleaners, called ambassadors, as well as provide training, uniforms, equipment, HR software, and more to make it as simple as possible for downtowns like COMO’s to “plug and play” BBB services into their community.

BBB came to The District in 2016 and is paid for by the Downtown CID.

“The District sought out BBB due to the amount of trash and debris that was on the sidewalks of downtown,” says Nickie Davis, executive director for The District. “Two of our top priorities are to keep our District clean and safe. BBB helps with both those things.”

Bill and his three ambassadors go out and do the largely thankless job few others wish to do. It’s not unusual for each ambassador to walk 8-12 miles a day as they clean up downtown.

“We remove litter and debris from sidewalks and curb lines, and remove graffiti from benches, bike racks and trash cans,” Bill says.

And the graffiti is a challenge: For BBB purposes, graffiti is not limited to your typical spray paint art; it’s basically anything that doesn’t belong where it is, and Bill says that in downtown COMO, stickers are a big culprit. Flyers for events and lost pets also count as graffiti, and Bill points out that there are designated bulletin boards downtown for these items. In the last 13 months, Bill and his crew have removed 18,000 pounds of litter and 942 pieces of graffiti from downtown. In April of this year alone, The District’s BBB team cleaned up 1,300 pounds of trash and 171 graffiti incidents.

“There’s more trash when MU is in session and when the weather is nice.”

The District’s BBB services installed cigarette butt recycling receptacles strapped to light poles in February 2016. Since then, BBB has recycled more than 917,000 cigarette butts through its partnership with TerraCycle, a global business that specializes in recycling hard-to-recycle items. Bill says in October of 2021, COMO’s BBB was a top-25 cigarette butt recycler for TerraCycle.

Despite these impressive numbers, cigarette butts are still among the top trash items the ambassadors pick up. Bill says he wishes people would use the recycling ash trays more, along with the regular trash cans.

Looking ahead, the BBB program may grow to include more street cleaning ambassadors as need dictates.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Bill says. “There will probably always be a need; people still litter.”

If you see an ambassador cleaning downtown, be sure to say hello and thanks for their hard work.

The District, Downtown CID hired the first Block by Block ambassadors in October of 2015 and the impact they have made is incredible…

926 Directions Given

33 Escorts Provided

7,330 Instances of Graffiti Removed

119 Parking Meter Assistance Given

6,377 TerraCycle Ashtrays Emptied

181,080 Pounds of Trash Collected

1,528 Trash Cans Emptied

71,068 Weeds Removed

917,420 Cigarette Butts (Approx.)

Boulder’s ambassadors are keeping businesses happy — and modeling a compassionate, effective approach to homelessness

(Originally posted by Boulder Beat.)

It is a little before 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. BJ Zuromski crouches on the Pearl Street Mall, talking to one of his friends. The man, seated in a wheelchair, is having a bad day, struggling with sobriety and the challenges of living on the streets of Boulder. He tells Zuromski that he wants to die.

Nine hundred and thirty-seven days sober himself, Zuromski shares a bit of his story with the man he sees nearly every day. He urges the man to hang in there, and promises to check in later, after he finishes up work elsewhere on the mall.

Zuromski is one of Downtown Boulder’s blue-shirted ambassadors. The program — a partnership with national organization Block by Block, which works with 100-plus cities, business and arts districts across the U.S. — began last year as part of Boulder’s  $2.8 million plan to manage and remove unhoused people in the city; primarily in downtown, where there is often conflict with business owners, shoppers, residents and workers.

In a package of not-yet-successful initiatives, the ambassadors stand as a shining example of national best practices in the value of personal, non-police interactions with people experiencing homelessness. Business owners have sung their praises, and Downtown Boulder Partnership and the Department of Community Vitality will be asking for money in next year’s budget to continue the pilot.

“When the ambassadors start, I tell them the mission is to be the best part of someone’s day,” said Chip, CEO of Downtown Boulder Partnership. “Downtown works well when it has that social infrastructure, and it’s not just people coming and going, but it is a community.”


‘They really do care’

A polo-shirt-clad crew of 17 walk Boulder’s downtown and University Hill business districts through the summer; the team is smaller in the winter. They are responsible for all that is needed to keep the areas safe, clean and welcoming: picking up trash, removing graffiti, responding to business concerns and answering questions for the tourists. Chip calls them the “Swiss Army knife of downtown management.”

The feedback from businesses, visitors and members of the public has been good so far, Chip said. A formal survey is planned next month. Employees and owners visited by Boulder Beat gave glowing reviews of ambassadors they often know by name, who walk them to their cars at night, check in daily and respond quickly when called.

Their hospitality extends beyond their jobs; one ambassador, Denver, organized the others to bring flowers to one business owner on her birthday. Zuromski frequently purchases coffee or food for his friends experiencing homelessness who spend time on the mall; once, bought a walker to replace a broken one for a man with mobility challenges.

“They really do care,” said, Ellen Epstein, from family-owned Pearl Convenience (1640). “Someone stops in here every day. When someone new starts, they will come introduce them to us. They’ve become our friends.”

Most often, workers and business owners referenced the ambassadors work with people experiencing homelessness. Before the ambassadors, the only option for outside intervention was the police. Historic harm and distrust — on top of trauma — means situations often escalate into an arrest or mental health hold. A friendly request from a familiar ambassador can create better responses.

“People will comply, move along, ask for a bag so they can clean up after themselves,” Zuromski said. When someone is yelling or causing a disturbance, “we take people for a walk, ask them what’s going on,” said Brandon Lowe, operations manager. “Nine times out of 10, it’s someone having a bad day” and the gentle intervention helps.

It all comes down to relationship building, Chip said, which is “not something we invented. This is best practice.”

“Relationships build trust. A couple of guys this morning were by the Wells Fargo parking lot, take out a bowl and start smoking pot. I know who they are. I said, ‘Hey do you guys mind going back there?’ They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, kids are here. No problem, Chip.’ It wasn’t punitive for them. I’m not a cop going, ‘I’m gonna write you a ticket.’ It was like, ‘Hey, look around, you’re part of this, and your part would be cooler if you’re down there.’

“They’re still going to smoke pot down here, but they’re going to be a little more conscious about the part they’re playing.”

Adding outreach

Ambassadors still do call the cops on occasion; each ambassador has a story about a situation that was beyond their skillset. But they also share an understanding of why it is a tool to be used sparingly and a genuine concern for the wellbeing of people they think of as friends.

“The last thing we want them to think is we’re security or authority,” Zuromski said.

At a recent outreach event at the Boulder bandshell, unhoused residents reported both positive and negative interactions. They said the ambassadors were similar to the cops in one way: Some are nice and others hassle them. Ambassador team members gave similar feedback, noting that not every one of their peers shows Zuromski’s skill and sensitivity.

Still, the program has proved popular enough that Downtown Boulder Partnership is asking for enough money in the upcoming budget cycle to extend it past the 18-month pilot period (which ends roughly with the calendar year). So far, the city has spent $586,000 on the ambassadors, with Downtown Boulder kicking in an additional $343,902.

The ask for 2023 is $500,000, which will add University Hill-specific ambassadors and two outreach workers to help unhoused residents downtown and on the Hill. Trained professionals can go beyond what ambassadors are capable of, Chip said.

“Do you know what’s BJ’s training is for dealing with suicidal people? None,” said Chip. “Having dedicated staff who are trauma-informed and understand what services and resources are (available) — our team doesn’t know that, and they don’t have time to know that.”

Block by Block provides social service outreach in several cities, and employs an outreach program manager. Chico Lockhart said outreach workers are trained more extensively in de-escalation and engagement than ambassadors, though “we are training ambassadors in those things more and more” amid a worsening homelessness crisis.

“A lot more downtowns are looking into outreach,” Lockhart said. It has become best practice to have “one or two outreach workers on call in business districts, 40 hours a week.

While it’s not a “one-size-fits all recommendation, … prioritizing outreach coverage in the areas that have the highest presence of unsheltered neighbors” is typical in most communities, according to Lauren Barnes of Built for Zero, a national organization that provides a framework for measurably reduce homelessness.

“If that is part of a particular downtown area/district, then that’s where outreach activities would be concentrated,” Barnes wrote in response to emailed questions. “Dedicated outreach teams in downtown areas working in coordination with businesses, emergency responders and other community members are an important practice to engaging and housing people experiencing homelessness.”

‘Not a no’

Boulder has struggled to provide adequate outreach, instead relying on community nonprofits. A team was established in late 2020 but saw turnover almost immediately. “In 2021, the BTHERE program was inconsistent in both staffing and outreach,” staff noted in a recent update to city council.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless took over the outreach contract, and a new team will be operational soon. The shelter’s interim director, Spencer Downing, said the plan is to engage with individuals who are otherwise disconnected from the system and services.

“We are hopeful that BTHERE will be reaching out to individuals who are not otherwise connected to services and may possibly not be on lists or other instruments that ends up getting into housing,” Downing said in a February interview. “For the shelter, housing remains a paramount interest. We are not charging the team with the goal of getting people into the shelter (and we) are very, very interested in making sure whatever BTHERE does is not duplicating what is already going on.”

Given the recently revamped outreach team, city officials may be reluctant to approve a request for downtown-specific services.

“It’s not a no,” said Cris Jones, director of Community Vitality, but the department might first like to rely on “existing resources” to fill the need for outreach downtown. That could include fully staffing up other teams that are part of the encampment removal strategy, such as Urban Park Rangers and the police department’s dedicated “encampment cleanup” team and Homeless Outreach Team.

That’s why Community Vitality is asking for only a year of funding, Jones said, rather than an ongoing budget item. That will give the city enough time to see if and how the fully implemented strategy works.

“We want to make sure the ambassadors are supported,” Jones said.

Mayor Aaron Brockett echoed Jones, saying that adding outreach workers downtown is “a fantastic idea” but that they may be budgeted for another program, such as a non-police response team the city is considering.

“The ambassadors have been doing a really good job at their wide variety of functions,” Brockett said. “Having outreach workers who are specifically trained for that and can help connect folks to services or assist them with a problem they’re having, it’s better for those folks who are assisted.”

For now, Zuromski and the other ambassadors will continue to do what they can. For the gentleman he talked to that sunny Tuesday, Zuromski planned to visit him once more that day, then stop by the next morning, maybe with a cup of coffee.

“I can’t take him anywhere. I can’t do anything,” Zuromski said. “All I can do is hope for a better tomorrow for him.”

Author’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the number of groups Block by Block works with.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

OKC Green Team’s mission is to keep downtown clean and safe

City Sentinel Senior Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY– Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership has launched the Green Team, a new clean and safe program for the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID). The Green Team’s mission is to “improve the experience of the public spaces for visitors and locals in the downtown area.”

The program launched this spring and is administered by Block by Block, the nation’s leading provider of safety, cleaning and hospitality services for downtowns and Business Improvement Districts. To learn more, visit

“At Block by Block, we pride ourselves on building teams of people who are passionate about the many services they deliver in our public spaces and even more passionate about the communities they serve,” said Derreck Hughes, Vice President of Operations of Block by Block.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership to make a tangible difference and bring positive outcomes to downtown through the efforts of the Green Team,” Hughes added.

The Green Team provides supplemental cleaning and safety services within the six downtown districts of the BID. The program’s core services include trash and litter removal, street vacuuming, power washing, sticker and graffiti removal in addition to special event information, business check-ins, and hospitality escorts.

The Green Team members perform services to keep downtown clean, as well as providing a sense of safety for all downtown users with recognizable uniforms and fleet of vehicles to provide a recognizable presence to serve as “eyes on the street” and help deter unwanted activity.

The Green Team approach prioritizes hospitality across all services to maintain downtown Oklahoma City as a friendly and inclusive destination. Downtown stakeholders and the public can directly access the Green Team through a dedicated phone number to request services or report issues at 405-240-1944.

The Green Team program is managed by Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership.

“We’ve received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from downtown businesses and property owners regarding the Green Team,” said Jane Jenkins, President and CEO of Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership.

“There have been significant efficiencies in response time and visibility with the Green Team and we’re looking forward to compiling more data and identifying trends so that we can tailor and expand the program’s services as downtown continues to grow,” Jenkins added.

In the first two months, the Green Team swept 1,660 blocks of curbline, emptied 1,330 trash bags, and removed 981 instances of graffiti. The team also includes a full-time Homeless Outreach Specialist who manages social service outreach and referrals for people on the streets who are in need of mental or physical health services.

The organization works in partnership with organizations such as Homeless Alliance, Oklahoma City Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, and the City of OKC.

According to the press release, the Green Team Homeless Outreach Specialist will focus on building relationships and collecting data to better understand and serve the population of individuals experiencing homelessness in downtown.

The Green Team service area covers over 1.5 square miles of the Downtown Business Improvement District and includes Automobile Alley, Bricktown, City Center, Deep Deuce, Midtown, and West Village. For services, contact the Green Team at 405-240-1944.

More information about the Green Team and the Downtown OKC Business Improvement District can be found online by visiting

Beautifying the Resort Area, Block by Block

City of Virginia Beach Ambassadors

An inside look at the Virginia Beach Ambassadors Program

By Kelsey Thomas, Virginia Beach Visitors Guide

Locals and tourists alike take pride in the cleanliness and safety within the city of Virginia Beach, specifically at the Oceanfront. The Virginia Beach Ambassador’s Program operates year-round in Virginia Beach and provides cleaning, safety and hospitality services that make the environment a beautiful destination beyond just tourist season.

Operating in over 100 cities throughout the United States, the program first planted roots in Virginia Beach in March 2021. Some of their services that go into maintaining the positive atmosphere that the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is known for include litter collection and cleaning, guest hospitality and resource efforts, patrol shifts and homeless outreach.

You’ve probably seen the people in bright yellow stationed in various spots in the resort area of the Oceanfront. These are the Virginia Beach Ambassadors who rotate shifts seven days a week and whose typical work day starts as early as 5 a.m. While their morning begins with an operations brief from the Operations Manager or Team Lead, they spend the majority of their day out on the streets.

Virginia Beach Ambassadors Program

Covering from 1st to 40th Street on Atlantic Avenue, including side streets, as well as the 17th, 24th and 31st Street parks and monuments, ambassadors navigate the resort area collecting litter, removing graffiti and stickers, cleaning public trash receptacles and conducting pressure washing operations.

Amid their cleaning efforts, the ambassadors also remain alert and ready to assist the public, whether it be by answering questions about the area or providing resources or recommendations about where to eat, where to find public restrooms, upcoming events and more. Their information kiosks are provided during high volume events and can be found in high public transit areas. They primarily serve as what Operations Manager Carlos Torrespablos describes as “an information locker on wheels,” storing all of the materials necessary that will enhance a visitor’s stay, and are accompanied by ambassadors who are ready to answer any questions or concerns a guest may have.

In addition to being a public resource, the Virginia Beach Ambassadors provide a tremendous amount of extra security to the resort area. As they patrol Atlantic Avenue on foot, they monitor the area for signs of any suspicious activity.

What inspires the Virginia Beach Ambassadors to work so tirelessly to contribute to the community day-in and day-out? Torrespablos mentions that there’s no greater satisfaction than “maintaining a smile on the faces of our guests. We are problem solvers and an encouraging force that is always welcoming in the delivery of our services to all.” Whether it be by providing the public resources that enhance a visitor’s trip or maintaining a clean and safe environment, these ambassadors make the Virginia Beach resort area an oasis for all one block at a time.

Visit Knoxville launching K-Town Connect Ambassador Program for downtown area

Written by WBIT Staff

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Visit Knoxville announced a new program that would place ambassadors in areas across the city starting Friday.

It is called “K-Town Connect” and ambassadors will be identifiable by light-green clothing showing the program’s brand. These ambassadors are meant to ensure both visitors and locals enjoy spending time in the downtown area. They will perform a variety of roles:

  • Hospitality and Information: Ambassadors will greet pedestrians and ask if they need help finding specific locations. They will give information on historic sites, restaurants, public transportation and other topics. They will also be tasked with helping people with basic functions like using a parking meter, repairing flat tires, escorting employees to parking garages and even opening doors. Officials said this is meant to offset a “potentially negative experience with a positive interaction.”
  • Give a Visible Presence: The ambassadors will be tasked with roaming the area and providing a visible, accessible, outgoing and inviting presence. They are meant to provide an attitude of friendly professionalism and customer service. Officials also said they will also be strategically placed as needed to address issues at specific times of the day, on certain days of the week.
  • Address Quality of Life Issues: They will be trained to discourage solicitation and report crimes. They will also inform Visit Knoxville about the area and will be tasked with teaching people about ordinance violations. The City of Knoxville has policies against panhandling and solicitation during specific times of the day and at certain places.
  • Contact Property and Business Owners: Ambassadors will also work directly with property and business owners, managers and security workers to create a network exchanging information about downtown safety.
    All ambassadors will also be trained in “situational protocol,” meant to teach them how to handle tense situations in a “firm, yet courteous, manner.” Ambassadors in the K-Town Connect program will also manage social service outreach for unhoused people or who appear to be in need of mental or physical health services.

Ambassadors will remove litter and debris from streets and sidewalks. They will also remove stickers and handbills from utility poles, mailboxes, courier boxes, newspaper boxes, parking meters and other fixtures. Materials are often placed on those fixtures for a variety of services, as well as political campaigns.

“I am excited to get these new ambassadors on our city streets,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “This is another important step in helping to keep our downtown welcoming, safe, and accessible for residents and visitors.”

The program will run in most of the downtown area, including areas around the Old City and The Sunsphere. Visit Knoxville partnered with Block by Block to develop the program. It is a company that works with cities across the U.S., including Chattanooga and Nashville, to provide similar services.

Logo for K-Town Connect Ambassador Services

Downtown Louisville Ambassadors spread Valentine’s Day kindness

Special Valentine’s Day surprises were handed out around downtown Monday.

Ambassadors with the Louisville Downtown Partnership were on the streets sharing all the love in celebration of Valentine’s Day all with the help of some sweet treats.

The Downtown Partnership wanted to make sure everyone downtown was feeling the love. They handed out raffle tickets for $50 worth of restaurant food at a downtown business. They also handed out chocolate and candy.

Part of ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown, the ambassadors work to better the area by picking up trash or planting new greenery.

There are 16 ambassadors on the streets of downtown daily.

Check out the full article and video showing how the Ambassadors spread love during Valentine’s Day .

Photos by Precision Focus Photography

What it’s like to work for Operation Downtown

Julie Skalberg and Sean Harrington

Written by: Greater Des Moines Partnership

DES MOINES – Maybe you’ve noticed in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) those helpful workers in lime green polo shirts, working to keep downtown safe, clean and beautiful. If not, you’ve surely noticed the beautiful flowers lining downtown streets, the sidewalk maintenance and supportive service to hose around the city. These workers are our Operation Downtown Ambassadors, and they play a pivotal role in maintaining downtown, both in normal times and during busy (say, Saturdays throughout the summer from 7 a.m. until Noon!) or difficult times, like the past 23 months since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

Two of those ambassadors recently shared about their experiences as Operation Downtown Ambassadors. Julie Skalberg and Sean Harrington have worked for Operation Downtown for four years and one-and-a-half years, respectively, and have a lot to say about downtown.

Operation Downtown Ambassador Q+A

How did you first learn about Operation Downtown Ambassadors?

Skalberg found the job on Indeed when she moved to Des Moines. While visiting her brother, she saw some people in the Historic East Village working with Operation Downtown. When she moved to the area, she thought she might like to do that, too, and help give back to the community. She loves that the job is outside. For Harrington, who had led a troubled life prior to his work with Operation Downtown, took the job to help change his life. Since he became employed, he has become part of the Operation Downtown family. Both say the biggest draw is the tight-knit group at the organization. Skalberg said she loves coming to work because of the appreciation felt from the top down.


What does a normal day look like for you?

Harrington said that each day is different. Every morning you get assigned with a task and a zone to work in. From power washing in front of businesses to taking care of the skywalks, there are many ways they help the Downtown DSM community stay safe and beautiful. Skalberg said that what’s fulfilling is that Operation Downtown employees also assist visitors with directions, taking photos for families and friends where they are downtown and just helping in any way they can. People take the time to thank employees and they can feel they are making a difference to downtown.

What is your favorite part of downtown?

Harrington’s favorite things about downtown are the Downtown Farmers’ Market and other festivals. Skalberg said that everything downtown is unique — especially the new skatepark — and she loves being a part of all of it. When COVID hit, she said the heartbeat of the city left, and seeing that come back recently has been great.

Share a favorite ambassador memory.

Harrington recalled a lady who had come downtown and forgotten where she had parked. Operation Downtown had multiple employees looking for the car to assist her. Skalberg said there are so many fun times, but remembered one Saturday at the Market — Harrington’s first event — laughing about the busyness of all the things happening in one day. They stick together and get through the busyness with laughter.

What would you say to someone who is interested in becoming an ambassador?

Skalberg said there’s no reason not to become involved with Operation Downtown. You get to interact with the public, and that’s a lot of fun! Harrington said you walk 10-15 miles a day, and Skalberg said even so you do it with a fun group, which makes it easy to be out there. He said he gives potential employees a rundown of the great environment, number of hours, his understanding boss and how much he’s grown since he came on board at Operation Downtown.

Find more information on Operation Downtown here.

Operation Downtown Ambassadors

Meet the Welcome Ambassadors Who are Helping Visitors and Buffing SF’s Battered Image

Brian DeBellevue sprang into action. Decked out in a vivid orange jacket and baseball cap—and with a smile that’s hard to miss, even behind a mask—he looked a bit like a walking traffic cone.

After a quick greeting and a self-deprecating joke, DeBellevue pointed them to their Union Square hotel.

“You get a sense pretty quickly of the people who really need you,” DeBellevue said, miming a person buried in their smartphone map spinning around to figure out which way to walk. “Sometimes people are a little off put, but most of the time they’re really thankful to have someone help them out.”

DeBellevue is one of the roughly 50 Welcome Ambassadors that have been hired to act as the front door greeters for San Francisco. They are responsible for welcoming people to the city, offering directions, taking photos, answering questions and functioning as a concierge for both visitors and residents alike.

“The primary goal is to welcome people to the city, give information and help people feel comfortable and safe in San Francisco,” said Rena Leddy, vice president of Urban Place Consulting Group, which was enlisted to help design the program. It’s managed by Louisville, K.Y.-based Block by Block, which runs about 120 programs around the country.

Paulita Elliott, director of operations at Block by Block, said the San Francisco program was unique in that ambassadors here, rather than being limited to a single main tourist district, are often assigned to multiple locations and take public transportation to travel between their postings.

Click to see a day in the life of a Welcome Ambassador !

The program formally started in November and has conducted more than 230,000 public greetings.

The Welcome Ambassador program operates 7 days a week, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with ambassadors posted in key tourist areas like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and the Powell St. Cable Car Turnaround.

Some of the initial hiccups in its rollout have stemmed from the lack of reliable public transit and retaining workers unprepared for the hospitality role or the physical nature of the job.

“Being outside in the Bay weather and walking 10 to 13 miles is not always what they think it is,” Elliot said.

The program is just one of several efforts to encourage more visitors to downtown and other tourist attractions. Other initiatives include staffing tourist areas with police officers, another downtown ambassador program comprised of retired police officers, and beautification projects in and around Union Square.

Mayor London Breed has positioned the effort as part of the gradual recovery of San Francisco’s struggling tourism sector and a signal of safety to both residents and tourists.

Moanna Sauleaupepetele, who was one of the program’s first hires, said community members have started to recognize the ambassadors’ presence and have taken to calling her and her colleagues “the orange people.”

The welcome ambassadors are funded through a two-year $12.5 million grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District, which is responsible for supporting SF Travel, the city’s tourism agency.

The ambassador’s friendly presence aims to boost to a lagging tourism industry that has traditionally been one of the main drivers of the city’s economy. San Francisco’s hotel market has had the largest fall and the slowest recovery of any major metropolitan area in the U.S.

“San Francisco was one of the highest performing before the pandemic so it had farther to fall off,” said Emmy Hise, the CoStar Group’s director of hospitality analytics for the Western U.S. “They’ve seen a huge loss in international travel and a very heavy group travel presence that hasn’t come back.”

Those macroeconomic factors have been compounded by a national media narrative that has painted a city in crisis and struggling with an overdose epidemic and street crime.

San Fransisco Welcome Ambassador

Brian DeBellevue spends his day in San Francisco’s tourist haunts sharing directions, travel tips or just a bit of conversation. | Photo by Mike Kuba

There was little evidence of that story at the Powell St. cable car turnaround on a recent Thursday morning.

The line for the city’s iconic cable cars included local tourists marveling at the relative lack of crowds downtown, long-haired Dutch headbangers in town for Metallica’s 40th anniversary concert and a visitor from India unfortunately named Kovid (“I had the name 55 years earlier,” he protested.)

Ardis Young, a Campbell resident on her first trip back to San Francisco since the pandemic, said her group was struck by the prevalence of ambassadors and street cleaning teams near tourist haunts. They provided a contrast to some of the stories around street conditions and rampant crime she and her friends had seen on the local news.

While the lack of crowds meant “a different experience,” she still relished the city’s ability “to unearth something new” and mentioned the Let’s Glow SF projection mapping display as a recent highlight.

DeBellevue worked the line like a seasoned pro, combining information about Muni’s smartphone app with bits of San Francisco trivia and teasing about this or that sports teams’ prospects.

“I like to catch people when they’re in line and get them laughing and having fun because it can get pretty defeating waiting an hour for something to go,” DeBellevue said.

The ambassadors are often confronted with the harsher realities faced by the city. On the walk between Powell Station and Union Square, DeBellevue hunched down to check on a man splayed out on a sidewalk vent.

“We do have a lot of interactions with the homeless population and we do welfare checks,” DeBellevue said. “Our job is to make sure everybody’s good, it’s not just about tourists, it’s like every person has value and is seen. Just because you’re on drugs or have whatever you got going on, it doesn’t mean you don’t have value or are not important.”

He recounted a recent experience he had helping a blind homeless man connect with services after he had received a housing voucher.

“He had this opportunity to get off the streets, so I helped him with that. I called 311, got him in touch with the correct channel and got him to the address,” DeBellevue said. “You have no idea the amount of joy that that brought him.”

Each ambassador is given an Android device used as a walkie-talkie and for data collection around community engagement. The smartphone is loaded with apps that show the schedule for tour buses and public transportation and translation software for communication with non-English speakers.

Ambassadors use their device to report data on their interactions with the public. The program’s leaders say these metrics and forthcoming surveys are key to understanding the impact of the ambassadors and measuring their success.

In his seven years in the city, DeBellevue has struggled with housing insecurity himself, relying on assistance from his mother and government relief to make ends meet. But the new role has provided him the rare opportunity to see the city anew.

“When people come here they realize even the movies don’t do it justice,” DeBellevue said. “When you see it with your own eyes, you’re like ‘wow, this place is incredible.’”


New outreach specialist addresses needs of unsheltered population in downtown Wilmington

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Wilmington Downtown iNC (WDI) has hired a new street outreach specialist to help establish relationships and build trust with people living on the streets of downtown Wilmington.

As a member of the Municipal Service District (MSD) Ambassador team, Jack Morris will identify individuals willing to receive assistance and will connect them to the region’s network of social services.

“The circumstances of each person in need of help are all unique, from mental health and substance abuse issues to little to no income or ability to get into a shelter or find housing,” said President and CEO of WDI Holly Childs. “What makes this initiative so unique is that we can collaborate. We can identify who these folks are, see what their individual needs are, and see where we can help. And that’s the goal — to connect these people to the right services, or bring them to places where they are sheltered and feel safe.”

An initial survey of downtown’s unsheltered population was conducted in October by Block by Block, the MSD operations management company that runs the Ambassadors Program. The results indicated that, on average, about 30 people were living in the streets of downtown Wilmington. Many individuals reached during this three-day assessment period experienced a range of life issues and barriers to service.

Morris, a trained social worker, works in collaboration with other social service workers, police, fire and EMS to build trust and help those in need.

Within his first hour on the job, Morris connected with a homeless individual experiencing a mental health crisis and was able to get the person connected with services.

“There is no cookie-cutter solution to this,” said Morris. “The needs are all different. As the service providers and outreach providers get into this, it has to be a collaborative effort. I’m very excited to be in this role, to engage with this part of our community and see where I can make a difference. Unfortunately for some, this is the life they have chosen to live and we can only help make minor improvements to the quality of life. But every small victory goes a long way.”

Previously, Morris worked as an outreach case manager for a homeless outreach center in Pennsylvania. He is equipped to handle various conditions such as drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental health issues, including schizophrenia and PTSD. He has earned a Crisis Intervention Certification and is a Certified Peer Specialist.

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