SPECIAL REPORT: An unlikely group cleans up the streets of Salinas's Chinatown

SPECIAL REPORT An unlikely group cleans up the streets of Salinass Chinatown

SALINAS, Calif. - A new program in Salinas is aimed at cleaning up the streets and moving toward solving the homeless issue in our area.

At 8:00 a.m. sharp, the downtown streets team begins cleaning up the mess that litters Salinas’s Chinatown.

“I’ve noticed more people cleaning up their area, and using garbage bags and asking hey can you take this garbage bag away,” Homeless team member Jim Rempert said.

At any given time, there are more than a hundred tents on the homeless filled street, but for the first time the very people that live there are starting to clean it up.

“This is the first time I’ve felt any positivity in my life in a long time,” Rempert said.

Rempert was what you’d consider a successful blue collar worker, spending more than 20 years in the waste management business. However, several years ago he lost his job, got divorced and then alcohol took over.

“I’ve wasted a year of my life completely,” he said.

This is, until the downtown streets team came to town.

The non-profit has entered cities around the Bay Area, and even as close as Santa Cruz with the goal to rebuild the lives of the homeless. It may be working. So far they’ve housed and helped find jobs for more than 900 people in Northern California.

“Came across two different issues: basically debris and people pan handling. She bridged in those two concepts into one and developed the downtown streets team that environment impact along with providing them a basic needs stipend, and provide them with case management and employment assistance,” Downtown Streets Team Project Manager Maria Cambron said.

There are 16 people on the new Salinas team that proudly sport yellow shirts. Since the group started picking up trash five days a week back in September, the city says Chinatown hasn’t looked this good in years.

“It’s incredible to see an actual tangible result. They’re keeping Chinatown immensely cleaner,” Salinas Police Officer Gabe Carvey said.

Carvey is Salinas PD’s homeless outreach officer, and watches monthly as the city does necessary public health cleanups in Chinatown. But within a day, everyone floods back in and the cycle continues. However, this program could help these homeless turn a corner.

“Peer influence is much more significant that someone telling you what to you can see a cultural shift of what’s going on,” Carvey said.

“It made my pride go up higher it made me feel better it made me like a role model to the other homeless people,” homeless team member Linda Chavez said.

The Salinas team will expand into downtown Salinas in January, and with that means more responsibility more a few key members.

KION was at a weekly success meeting as Chavez, who’s been homeless for a decade, was promoted to a team leader, which means the case workers won’t always have to always be there for the groups four hour work days.

With the help of those case workers, Chavez is moving into a new apartment next month, and she’s far from the only success story.

“I started to get involved with a case manager here. She helped me build a resume and make a cover letter, and we’ve been going job searching. I got a job already, and I start Monday,” team member Ruben Rosas said.

“I went out on a job interview yesterday. I haven’t even applied for a job in over a year,” Rempert said.

A reminder that not everyone you see on the streets, plans on staying there.

The downtown streets team welcomes new group members weekly, and hold a success meeting every Wednesday at 12:30 at the Fox theater in Salinas.

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