Posted on Monday February 26, 2024 by Downtown Santa Monica

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Bridging Gaps through Empowerment, Resources and Compassion

Headshot of Outreach Coordinator Donovan“It’s brought very sincere moments for me that have opened my eyes and makes me really love the work that my team and I do,” Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) Outreach Coordinator Donovan Wilkes said reflecting on his work with individuals experiencing homelessness.

Through determination, repeat interactions and immense patience, Donovan and his team of Outreach Ambassadors in DTSM make a real difference in the lives of people who are unhoused by connecting them with community resources.

Every day, Donovan loads his backpack with supplies to serve street residents in DTSM and then hits the streets on foot. His typical walking route includes Downtown’s Promenade and other hotspots where he finds some familiar faces — the regulars of the street community — hanging out. His goal each day is to meet and greet people who are unhoused, offer them connections to resources and generally form relationships with them.

When speaking to someone, he always asks if they “know anyone” who might be looking for services. By asking if they know someone and not if they need the services themselves, the people he talks to don’t feel pressured by his presence. If they’re interested in information, Donovan will share it, but if they’re not, he’ll just carry on with his walk and plan to try again another day. For the regulars, he’ll just see how they’re doing or if anything new is going on.

These conversations are generally light and friendly. As he makes his way through the district, he radios his other team members or messages them on their WhatsApp group to see what is happening in the other areas covered by the team. He keeps a lookout for other social service providers to say hello or join forces and walk together to nurture a working relationship toward a common goal of providing solutions for people on the streets.

Donovan has worked with Block by Block (BBB) off and on since 2015, first as a Safety Ambassador in West Hollywood and later an Outreach Specialist for Westwood in 2017. At Westwood, he got the Outreach Program up and running and was promoted to Operations Manager within two years, where he stayed until 2020. After a brief hiatus working in the non-profit field, Donovan returned to BBB in 2022 and began working with DTSM as an Outreach Coordinator, where he leads a small but mighty team of three Outreach Ambassadors.

Headshots of Ambassadors Amy, Michael and Marc

The Outreach Team and the Area They Cover

BBB’s dynamic Outreach Team led by Donovan consists of three dedicated Outreach Ambassadors — Amy, Michael and Marc — who all worked in community outreach before they joined the team. Their experience and pre-existing relationships with social service providers have helped prepare them for the work they do each day.

The DTSM Outreach Team efforts are focused on downtown and three parks: Palisades, Reed and Tongva. The parks offer an enticing environment for members of the street population with places to sit, lay down or hide — all with less enforcement than downtown. Palisades Park also faces the ocean, providing a scenic view for transients just passing through the district and local street residents alike.

Beyond this core team, BBB provides the added resource of an experienced outreach expert in Director of Outreach, Chico Lockhart. Chico has an uncanny ability to mix humor and fun with serious, informative, real-world training. He is an asset to all BBB Outreach Teams nationwide, providing valuable insight, direction and advice. He travels to check in with BBB Outreach Programs across the country and meets with the teams virtually every month for essential mental health training, collaborative discussions and more.

“The [DTSM] team has a great leader who is very knowledgeable about services and how to get people help in the community.” Chico said. “Donovan is also spearheading meetings with the city/DTSM to discuss system gaps and trying to find ways to collaborate.”

One way Donovan illustrates these gaps in services is through data. Data plays a large role in understanding the unhoused crisis and working toward solutions for service providers, urban placemaking organizations and stakeholders alike. While the real impact is on the lives of individuals being served at the street level, data is essential to prove the value of the work being done each day by the team and to illustrate why additional services might be needed in the community. Some of this information can also be added to BBB’s proprietary SMART System to produce data and reports for district stakeholders detailing the impact the team has on the community.

The Outreach Team utilizes SMART System’s “Persons” tool to track the Top Ten people seen and interacted with in the district. Outreach Ambassadors will go over the Top Ten list monthly, making sure the team is aligned with how they are engaging with the individuals they see most frequently. Data can also show if there are any shortcomings in community-wide service delivery, if businesses have repeat incidents with the same people, the number of individuals seen using drugs in the open, interactions made and other pertinent figures.

An Outreach Worker speaks to a woman sitting down.

Outreach Ambassador Amy speaks with a street resident.

The Things They Carry: Snack Packs, Flyers, Narcan and More

Each member of the DTSM Outreach Team carries a backpack with essentials for whatever they might encounter on their daily walks. In their backpack, they have what they refer to as “Snack Packs,” a prepackaged drawstring bag that includes water, an electrolyte drink, protein shake, tuna or chicken salad, chips, granola bar and, most importantly, Donovan’s business card.

These packs help get people essential vitamins and nutrients they may be lacking while informing them of local resources and service organizations that are listed on the back of Donovan’s card. Their purpose is to show individuals on the street that our team is here to help them find long-term service solutions that can guide them from Point A to Point B.

Also in their backpacks are gloves and first aid supplies, hygiene kits and service flyers. The flyers share information on different providers in the area and the specific services they offer, as well as schedules for available services. Donovan stresses the importance of not only putting information in their hands, but making sure information is accurate. Having the right information, Donovan says, is one of the secrets to a successful Outreach Team.

“A very big difference that my team makes for the community is we provide accurate and supportive information to those at the street level,” Donovan said. “They do know where to go and we are constantly motivating people. The information that we provide, but also the drive we provide to people who are on the streets, letting them know, encouraging them to get ahead of the system and not fall victim to the system.”

One final item that Outreach Team Members carry is a lifesaving tool called Narcan. Narcan is a medicine that can quickly reverse a narcotics overdose. All team members have been trained to use Narcan. Since they have started carrying it in their packs and storing it at podiums throughout the district, they have responded to six overdoses, five of which they were able to successfully reverse with the medicine.

In fact, on the same day Marc was trained to use Narcan, he reversed an overdose by himself —quite likely saving the person’s life.

“Overdoses are happening at alarming rates, not just in Santa Monica,” Donovan said. “Being able to actually respond to someone experiencing an overdose—I commend my team very much. I applaud my team for that–being able to take action in times that are life and death, giving [people] a second chance to kick addiction.”

According to The American Journal of Medicine, from 1999 to 2020 overdose deaths in the US more than quadrupled from 6.9 per 100,000 deaths to 30 per 100,000. The US also had more overdose deaths from May 2022 to May 2023 than any other 12-month period in history. Narcan is a powerful resource that helps BBB Outreach Ambassadors fight this fatal problem at the street level.

A man in a suit holds an award in front of a Santa Monica Police Department logo.

Donovan received The Citizen Impact Award from Santa Monica’s Police Department for his assistance reversing an overdose in 2023.

To read more about Donovan and his work in DTSM, click here.

Getting The Right Information: Advocacy and Nurturing Relationships with Community Providers

Outreach workers are key to helping connect those on the streets with services throughout the city, so those referrals need to reflect accurate information. If a member of the team were to give out incorrect information on services, that could spread quickly through the street population and the team could lose their credibility and respect.

“DTSM’s Outreach Team not only focuses on relationship building for those experiencing homelessness, but also with the local service providers,” Donovan says. “By building these relationships, a sense of trust is created instantly when making warm handoffs from DTSM’s Outreach Team to the local service providers.”

The team often goes into the field alongside workers from various community organizations to meet new people together, make recommendations for services or connect individuals they may already know with the other’s resources.

When not in the field, Donovan spends time researching new resources available to individuals experiencing homelessness. If he finds a new resource, he’ll reach out to the provider to begin fostering a relationship with them, asking to meet for coffee so he can learn more about what they do.

Some of the community partners DTSM Outreach currently works closely with includes:

  • The People Concern – a leading housing provider
  • The Salvation Army – provides a meal program almost daily and assists people going through detox
  • Safe Place for Youth – for youths to get into housing quickly, sometimes even within a week
  • St. Joseph Center – another leading housing provider
  • West Coast Care – focusing on family reunification by helping individuals find their families and problem solve together
  • Department of Mental Health – take on clients who have more severe mental health issues
  • Chrysalis – a non-profit assisting with employment
  • Clare Matrix – a treatment program for people battling substance abuse
  • SMPD’s HLP Unit – an initiative that provides special training and awareness to police regarding people who are experiencing homelessness

“DTSM’s Outreach Team has established strong relationships with those experiencing homeless in DTSM,” Donovan says. “These relationships have resulted from the team continuously checking in with the unhoused and being knowledgeable of resources in the area. By creating these relationships, the Outreach Team is recognized as a reliable support of the [unhoused] community with the [unhoused] population now referring others to inquire about services with DTSM’s Outreach Team.”

BBB Outreach Members are able to work in tandem with social service providers through use of Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a local information technology system used to collect client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to individuals and families at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

Social service providers across the country enter data on specific individuals experiencing homelessness into HMIS, including providers they are working with, medical history, where they are from or were last located, whether someone is looking for them and much more. Chico was instrumental in getting DTSM’s Outreach Team access to HMIS, which is usually only given to social service providers.

“It’s typically places like shelters, mental health providers, substance abuse treatment, housing providers and outreach workers at nonprofit agencies,” Chico said. “This is a way for them to track who is helping people and also helps get more funding for those agencies based on metrics…We are not service providers like entities within the Continuum of Care, so we act as a referral source, and we are able to document who is on the streets to keep them on the radar for housing.”

Chico continued, “HMIS is a game changer because it allows our Outreach Workers to get our unhoused people on the housing list without having to depend on other entities. It also allows us to see where our clients are in the process, whether they’re in shelter, case management, substance abuse treatment or housing. We can also see if they have been approved for housing, so we are able to then find our client and do what is needed for the housing before the voucher window expires.”

Donovan’s Team can assess resources they should recommend to a person, add notes, photos or documentation into the system and even help locate missing street residents.

In February of 2023, Donovan’s Team was instrumental in locating someone who was considered “lost.” The Consulate of Sweden came to DTSM looking for a Swedish citizen who had been living in the US for three years as a street resident. In collaboration with the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) and BBB’s DTSM Ambassador Program, Donovan was able to locate the missing man.

“[The citizen] was transported to and put into a motel by DTSM where SMPD was able to transport [him] to and from The Consulate’s office to prepare his passport and flight tickets. [He] has since returned to his home in Sweden,” Donovan said.

An Outreach Worker squats while speaking to a street resident.

Donovan speaks to a member of the street population.

Perceptions and Realities in DTSM

The City of Santa Monica conducts a yearly “Homeless Count” to determine the number of individuals experiencing homelessness. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of individuals living on the street increased 15%. Donovan co-led the 2024 count, and he said early results appear similar to or slightly higher than the numbers from 2023. He said while data has shown that people experiencing homelessness are finding housing, there are also many individuals exiting housing back to the streets.

“Affordable housing isn’t the most affordable.” Donovan says.

Housing rates have increased, the cost of living is not cheap and there is not enough affordable housing in Los Angeles or Santa Monica. He says that these factors, mental health and drug abuse are major contributors to the number of people living on the streets.

“Even spending a week on the street, your mental health will decrease drastically; living on the street puts you in survival mode,” he said.

When asked about the perception of individuals living on the street versus reality, Donovan says many people just want to be left alone and aren’t necessarily a problem to the public.

“There are a good amount of people who have mental health [concerns] and mix that with substances, can be frightening. Many people are just living their lives and don’t want to be bothered,” he said.

Because the Outreach Team has relationships with individuals living on the street, they are often called to de-escalate “scary” situations. They can address the person who might be causing a scene or other incident by name and ask them what’s going on, putting onlookers at ease and finding a resolution without police involvement.

Donovan recalls a time when his team was called to help with a “notable character” in the district suffering from mental health struggles.

“He did not engage well. He was racist…He did not do well with women either…so, there were gaps with engaging,” Donovan said. “He had severe mental health issues and was a high functioning substance user.”

While he wasn’t the nicest, he did want to get off the streets. So, the team was determined to help him. At one point, they managed to secure him housing, but he was kicked out for his behavior, making it unlikely he would be offered housing again. The team worked tirelessly with him to change his ways and, ultimately, were able to encourage him to take the medicine he had been prescribed to help with the mental health issues he was experiencing.

“He took the medicine [and] his behaviors changed drastically.” After that, Donovan said, he was admitted to housing and is still there today.

What’s Next for DTSM Outreach?

Donovan has many goals for his team in 2024 beyond connecting those experiencing homelessness to local service providers. First and foremost, he wants to build an even stronger relationship with The City of Santa Monica to make the best use of their investment in street-level outreach — ensuring the Human Service Department and DTSM Outreach efforts are in line with one another. To do this, Donovan aims to meet with Santa Monica’s Human Service Department, share DTSM Outreach success stories and plan collaborative events.

Another hope for the future? To get at least one dedicated bed in a local shelter where the team can send a person in need. Currently, the Outreach Team must work through other providers to get individuals in shelters. Donovan dreams of his team being able to directly provide that service to at least one person.

The Big Takeaway

When faced with a problem as large as homelessness, it is hard to imagine a way to effect real change. Donovan and his team are the boots on the ground doing just that — putting in the time, building relationships and trust with people living on the streets and guiding them in the right direction to live better lives.

What Donovan finds rewarding about his work is these relationships he builds and the growth he sees in many thanks to the help of the right connections. He watches and reflects on each person’s journey from those first interactions when they may be down on their luck, to those moments when they are housed and on the other side.

While the work may not always be easy, Donovan and his team are dedicated to making a real difference in DTSM. More than anything, Donovan wants people to know his team’s purpose: “To bridge gaps in communities by empowering people and promoting resources with a compassionate approach.”

An Outreach Worker squats to check on a sleeping street resident.

Ambassador Marc checks on a street resident.


Posted on Tuesday September 26, 2023 by Insider Look

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Bay Area Support Provides a World of Difference

Block by Block (BBB) prides itself on being a leader in the industry, serving more downtown districts and public spaces than any other competitor in the field. Part of what sets us apart is our dedication to the people we hire and the services we provide for our customers. This dedication can be seen in two individuals and the positions we have created specifically for our California Bay Area customers: Zori Nevarez as Regional Recruitment Coordinator and Bob Martins as Regional Maintenance Mechanic.

Zori and Bob are both exceptional individuals in their own rights, since even before they came to where they are now at BBB. In these roles, they provide customers with the best possible service entirely unique to BBB.

Zori Nevarez, Regional Recruitment Coordinator – A Passion for People

At her previous company, Zori was a regional manager for a retail financial company where she recruited and trained people for more than 20 years. Tired of the stress of finance and retail, she found her home here at BBB where she has been successfully recruiting and training Ambassadors for two years as Regional Recruitment Coordinator.

There are two parts to Zori’s position: recruiting and training. As far as recruiting goes, managers from various accounts will come to her with an opening. From there, she takes over posting the position on hiring sites and conducting initial interviews via Zoom or phone calls. She forwards suitable candidates back to the managers to interview and make their final choice. Once someone has been hired, she takes over again to do full-cycle onboarding and train the individuals on BBB standards and best practices for their work out in the field.

After employees have been hired, then comes the training. Every other week, Zori hosts a two-day, new-hire training for new employees from 15 accounts in the Bay Area in one central location in Union Square. Each training typically has an average of seven employees from all over the Bay Area but can have as many as 15-20 at maximum.

Training consists of videos, open dialogue and discussions about personal experiences. Zori will discuss a wide range of topics that not only include the work specific to each type of Ambassador or job title, but also important sensitive responsibilities like how to de-escalate a situation, interact with the street population and handle individuals experiencing a mental health episode.

Zori said there are benefits to having the training with Ambassadors from multiple accounts because they “can talk about the different areas and how visitors or residents affect each area and how to handle them.”

Operations Supervisor Freddie “Raven” Anderson with Union Square, San Francisco works closely with Zori as her training takes place in the same building where his account operates.

“Sending our incoming Ambassador staff upstairs to Zori for initial training is a huge advantage,” Raven said. “Often, trying to conduct in-house training during daily operations can be confusing to a new hire and there are often time constraints or distractions that causes a new employee to get less attention than what they get with Zori.”

Zori’s position is unique to BBB in that she takes the time to ensure that when someone first starts with BBB, they are trained for more than just their basic job responsibilities. Trainees not only receive the tools to do their job successfully, but they also learn about how to help those struggling with mental health issues, show visitors hospitality and more.

“When a new hire comes back to us from Zori’s training, they are up to speed on operational procedures and BBB protocols, which saves us a considerable amount of time and allows a smoother transition during the hands-on training we can provide in the field,” Raven said.

Zori’s attention to the new employees doesn’t stop after training, however. She follows up with each person’s manager to discuss employee strengths and potential weaknesses that need to be addressed in the field. She will even message the employee directly to wish them a happy first day or remind them of upcoming meetings.

When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Zori said: “I love it all; I truly love my job. So, I can’t say I have one thing.” She said that she is particularly proud that BBB gives second chance opportunities to individuals who may be facing obstacles preventing them from establishing steady work. She has even hired individuals who were living in their cars to help them get back on their feet.

“I love helping people be able to feed their families and see them successful in the various accounts,” Zori said. “I’ve seen Ambassadors I’ve hired become Team Leads, so helping them grow with the company makes me very proud.”

Bob Martins, Regional Maintenance Mechanic — “Mr. Fix It”

Bob grew up tinkering on cars with his father in the garage of their home in the 70s and 80s. He says cars were made differently back then. You could open the hood and work on them, take them apart, and put them back together. His dad was an IBM machinist by day but made working on cars the “fun stuff.”

Bob started working with a company that operated in the San Jose Downtown Association before BBB took over the account. He would watch maintenance technicians that the account manager hired to fix equipment as they made their repairs. It wasn’t long before he realized he could easily make the same repairs. After mentioning it to his boss, he became “Mr. Fix It.” He started changing the oil in the equipment, making minor repairs and ultimately repairing pressure washing vehicles. Bob worked with San Jose Groundwerx for 15 years, the first five with a company that would later be bought by BBB and the remainder with BBB.

The Regional Maintenance Mechanic position Bob now holds is a new position that BBB determined would be an asset to Bay Area accounts. From his knowledge growing up tinkering and the time he spent learning about and repairing equipment in San Jose, Bob was the perfect candidate to travel from account to account making repairs in the Bay. Each evening, Bob determines where he needs to go the next day. He takes off from his home base in Lathrop around 6 – 7 a.m. to make the drive to whatever account needs his maintenance skills.

Bob also manages BBB’s Bay Area Storage Facility with extra fleet equipment in case an account has a major breakdown or needs to borrow a piece of equipment for any reason. The facility houses extra All-Terrain Litter Vehicles (ATLVs), pressure washer trucks, a pickup truck and more. This equipment is loaned out, free of charge, to accounts that need it.

Bob’s position and the fleet storage facility were investments BBB made to bolster our regional support and ensure a quick repair time to keep Ambassadors out and about doing what they do best.

The purpose of this new position, which Bob began in March, is to keep account equipment working, reduce the amount of down time between breakdowns and save BBB and our customers money on what otherwise would be outsourced labor repairs. There are 16 BBB accounts in the Bay Area, and Bob performs repairs for all that have mechanized equipment — which is most of them. Account managers will call or text Bob when something goes down, and he will get them on his next available schedule to drive out and make the repairs.

He is also quick to respond to repair requests. “If you call me today, nine times out of ten, I will be there tomorrow,” he said.

“Bob is fantastic,” said Raven. When Bob worked maintenance for Groundwerx, Raven said he or his team members would drive from San Francisco to San Jose, about a 30-minute drive, just to have Bob fix equipment. Raven has also learned a lot from Bob over the years, as Bob has taken the time to show him how to make minor repairs like replace water pumps, hoses, unloaders and other parts on their equipment.

“Having regional maintenance support saves us travel time, labor repair costs, parts cost and gets us back in service faster than waiting on a shop or outside service provider,” Raven added.

Despite driving every day, Bob doesn’t think he will ever get burned out. Listening to comedy podcasts, seeing the scenery and what’s off the side of the road keeps him entertained through the long driving hours. He enjoys the freedom and trust he has from his boss Semu One Bear, Pacific West Regional Vice President. Working for Semu again, whom he worked with in San Jose years ago, is another highlight.

“I hope this lasts until I can retire,” Bob said. “I want this program to succeed. Maybe in the future if this succeeds up here and in Southern California, maybe we can implement similar programs across the country and find good people to do what I do.”

“And, maybe then I can run that from a computer and get off the road,” he added, laughing.

Posted on Friday June 30, 2023 by Insider Look

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Safety Day 2023

Team of Block by Block Ambassadors in Louisville, KY at The Paddock Shops posing for a photo.

Our Louisville Paddock Shops Ambassador Team with 1-2 Years Injury Free!

While safety is our No. 1 priority every day, Block by Block’s (BBB) official Safety Day comes only once a year. This is a day where BBB Teams come together for food, fun and important discussions about safety.

BBB’s Stop. Think. Act. Program began in 2014 as a commitment to regularly teach and remind our Ambassadors and Teams of the importance of our safety best practices.

Rubber bracelets with the motto “Stop. Think. Act.” denote the safety status of each account BBB contracts with and are a part of the daily uniform for all Ambassadors in the field. When we first open in a new location, each member of the Ambassador Team receives a black bracelet that serves as a daily reminder to Stop, Think and Act safely. Once an account has reached 12 months with no injuries, they receive yellow bracelets. When an account reaches 24 months with no injuries, they are upgraded again to green bracelets.

BBB and our teams across the country celebrated Safety Day on June 30. Operation Managers (OMs) met with their teams to discuss why safety is important and went over previous incidents that have occurred. The teams discussed how those incidents could have been avoided, as they bonded with the team over a meal provided by BBB. Team Leaders also facilitated discussions about close calls or would-be incidents that were narrowly avoided or intentionally prevented. They discussed what was done correctly and what could have been done better.

Ambassadors also tested their safety knowledge with quizzes, trivia and even jeopardy! Each account leader was responsible for making the day fun, engaging and educational. Teams across the country showcased their celebrations on our Block by Block Ambassador Facebook page.

At the time of BBB Safety Day 2023, 34 accounts were injury free for one to two years, and 38 accounts were injury free for over two years. That’s more than half of BBB accounts that are injury free for one year or more!

We want to highlight some of those accounts with outstanding injury prevention! Downtown Fargo Business Improvement District (BID) is one of these accounts.

“We are always talking about safety, during shift briefings and throughout the day.” Victor Heitkamp, Fargo BID OM, said. “We talk about items that are relevant for any giving day.”

Lately, Victor has been discussing heat safety at his account. “We have seen some extreme heat for our area, and I am constantly reminding teammates to stay hydrated, take breaks when they need and keep an eye out for one another,” he said.

“I feel we are fortunate because we have such a small crew of Ambassadors that it’s easy to look after one another,” Victor added. “I also give BBB a huge amount of credit. The efforts they take on safety and safety training are like no other! I truly feel that corporate cares about its people working across the country through the 140+ programs. There is great uniformity and expectation set with good direction that comes from the top.”

Another safety-focused account with over two years without injury is the University of Akron, Ohio. OM Jon Roethlisberger said he attributes their success to his belief that “safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”

We applaud these accounts for their success and encourage those with less than a year to continue keeping safety at the forefront of their daily activities!

2+ Years Injury Free

Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue BID, NY; Bethlehem EDC, PA; Castro/Upper Market CBD, CA; Charlotte Center City Partners, SC; City Center Partnership, SC; City of Albuquerque, NM; City of Beverly Hills, CA; City of Coral Gables, FL; City of Livermore, CA; Diamond City Partnership, PA; Downtown Association of Santa Cruz, CA; Downtown Columbia, SC; Downtown Dayton Partnership, OH; Downtown Fargo BID, ND; Downtown Jackson Partnership, MS; Downtown Lexington Partnership, KY; Golden Triangle BID, DC; Hillsborough Street CSC, NC; Hollywood CRA, FL; Japantown CBD, CA; Kailua Village BID, HI; Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, MI; Lincoln Road BID, FL; Memphis Medical District, TN; Montague Street BID, NY; Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID, NY; Playhouse Village Association, CA; Providence DID, RI; Rosslyn BID, VA; Sports Complex SSD, PA; Stamford Downtown SSD, CT; Temescal Telegraph BID, CA; Town Center at Levis Commons, OH; University of Akron, OH; Uptown Dallas, Inc., TX

1-2 Years Injury Free

Atlantic Avenue Bid, NY; Augusta Downtown Initiative, GA; Boulder Downtown Partnership, CO; City of Louisville, KY; City of Myrtle Beach, FL; Colfax Avenue BID, CO; Corpus Christi DMD, TX; Downtown Chico BA, CA; Downtown Development District, LA; Downtown Frederick Partnership, MD; Downtown Mobile DMC,AL; Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc., OK; Downtown Toledo BID, OH; Downtown Tulsa Partnership, OK; Downtown Ventura Partners, CA; Greater Easton DP, PA; Miami Downtown, FL; Mill Avenue District, AZ; Myrtle Ave. Business District Association, NY; Oakland BID, CA; Old Pasadena MD, CA; Paddock Shops, KY; Peavey Plaza MDID, MN; Rose Kennedy Greenway Park, MA; San Jose DA, CA; Short North Alliance, OH; St. Paul Downtown Alliance, MN; Sunset Park BID, NY; The East Cut CBD, CA; The Ohio State University, OH; University District SID, OH; University of Minnesota, MN; Visit Knoxville TN, TN; Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, MD

Posted on Friday May 12, 2023 by Insider Look

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While San Francisco Sleeps, These Teams Go to Work

Each night, just as San Franciscans are finishing dinner, tucking-in children, and getting ready for their nightly routines, Block by Block (BBB) third-shift Ambassadors are showing up for work, ready to make the streets of Union Square and the surrounding blocks spic and span.

Freddie “Raven” Anderson, Operations Supervisor, and Tinea Adams, General Manager, oversee BBB Ambassador operations at San Francisco, California’s Union Square. While many of their responsibilities match those of other BBB teams throughout the country, part of their job is uniquely special to Union Square’s needs.

Like every account that BBB operates, a one-of-a-kind workplan has been created to tackle the needs specific to Union Square. A part of this plan is routine, nightly power washing. While the Union Square Alliance is approximately 26 blocks (or 1.6 miles), the actual walking distance of both sides of the streets, all block faces and alcoves in the Alliance is approximately 7.5 miles. It takes the BBB third-shift Ambassador Team about a week to power wash the entire Alliance—a distance equivalent to walking the Golden Gate Bridge about 4.5 times from one end to the other.

Map of Union Square Alliance showing 26 blocks covered.

Map of Union Square Alliance with blocks covered.

Around 8 p.m. each night, three to four individuals with pressure washers are deployed throughout Union Square. To prevent late-night noise disturbances for sleeping residents, attention is first directed toward residential areas. A driver is also sent out in an All-Terrain Litter Vacuum (ATLV) to pick up larger debris from streets and curbs. After the residential areas have been power washed, next come the dirtiest areas, with customer requests given precedence.

Working in tandem into the early hours of the morning, the team makes their way through the district covering a different route of the Alliance each evening. The result of all this effort? Residents, business owners, and tourists wake up to clean streets clear of debris as they go about their morning routines.

Raven says working at night comes with unique challenges, with the safety of BBB crews a number one priority. In addition to ensuring the night crews are wearing proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Raven also touches base with all crew members throughout the night to know where everyone is and make sure everyone is accounted for. Typically, two Ambassadors will clean opposite sides of the same street, carrying walky-talkies and their company SMART devices in case they run into any issues or need to notify the Team Lead of a concern. Working in pairs adds a layer of safety for Ambassadors during this late-night work.

Other than safety concerns and preventing noise around residential areas, Raven and Tinea said the overnight Ambassador Teams encounter other issues day crews do not. On Friday and Saturday nights, Union Square comes alive with bar-goers and night life. They said it can be challenging to pressure wash while the sidewalks are busy with people. Cleaning the streets and curb-lines can also be difficult when cars are parked there, making it hard for the ATLV to get close enough to pick up debris. Despite these challenges, the Ambassadors accomplish their nightly power washing every evening, without fail.

Not only do the Ambassadors accomplish their tasks, but they excel at them, thanks to a 14-point Quality Control Audit System created by BBB. This system is a checklist for the quality of the cleaning completed in each section and by each Ambassador. It includes locations like curb-lines, sidewalks, tree boxes, alcoves/doorways, and other visible elements that need special attention in the Alliance. Cleaning Ambassadors are given a grade out of four, based on how clean each location is from a zero, unacceptable, to a four, outstanding. Individuals not performing to BBB standards are issued feedback and clarified expectations. If individuals repeatedly fail to meet expectations, they will be relieved of their position. This guarantees that the Alliance is getting the quality results they pay for.

Third-shift Ambassadors work an eight-hour shift with a 40-minute lunch break. Around 4:00 a.m., all Ambassadors return to the main operating station to clean the inside and outside of the vehicles used and debrief on the evening. This happens every single night, seven days a week.

Raven has been with BBB since 2016, having worked just about every position there is: cleaning, special projects, pressure washing, Team Lead and now Operations. Currently, because of his experience, Raven is covering as Team Lead during the night shifts at Union Square as they look to hire new supervisors.

Tinea came to work at BBB after working retail and being a stay-at-home mom. She wanted to work somewhere she could manage great people, something she is deeply passionate about. At BBB, Tinea has found somewhere she loves going to every day, where she can make a difference in the community and meet tourists from all over the world (while getting to work outside!).

Tinea believes the BBB Ambassador Team and SF Travel, another division of BBB in San Francisco focusing on tourism, are a family that works together to make Union Square clean and safe, keeping visitors coming back.

“When you walk through, how clean are our streets? They are very clean because we are doing a great job. It feels good to know we are making a difference. You can see the difference in the borders where we don’t work,” she said.

Raven shared similar sentiment. He feels it is amazing to be able to work in a world-renowned city with team camaraderie and where everyone knows you.

San Francisco’s Union Square is a bustling, historic part of the city with backdrops of quaint cable cars, large events, shopping and immense history, and BBB Ambassadors are there to keep it safe and clean for visitors and locals every step of the way—both night and day.

A group of people in uniforms at night posing in front of Union Square branded vehicles.

An overnight crew ready to get cleaning!