Guardians of the Alleyways: Homeless find jobs in PB working to keep things clean

In the twilight hours of morning, the Pacific Beach Street Guardians (PBSG) roll trash cans across the PB boardwalk picking up litter from the previous night’s beach town activities. The Street Guardians are homeless people, contracted by Discover Pacific Beach to clean up community grounds.

As one Street Guardian wields his trash-picker retrieving cigarette butts, a homeless man approaches him and asks for money. The Street Guardian politely tells him that he has no cash, and the parallel between the two men is immediately evident: They both may be homeless, but only one of them is jobless.

Last month, the North PB Sip N Stroll was a big hit as local business owners mingled with the community and met their neighbors. The proceeds from the event went to Discover PB’s Clean and Safe Program, run by its founder Sara Berns.

The Clean and Safe Program addresses three main issues in PB making it cleaner, safer and providing upward mobility to a specific sect of the community: those who are homeless. “We looked at different models (for programs) around the nation,” Berns explained. “We wanted to do something proactive.”

In February of this year, Berns and Discover PB secured a $20,000 grant from the office of District 2 City Council member Lorie Zapf for this purpose. Berns hired the PBSG just a month after receiving the grant.

Since October 2016, PBSG founder Caryn Blanton secured work contracts not only through Discover PB, but janitorial services for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, community cleanups and PB community events like the Sip N Stroll.

“We’re moving toward self-sufficiency,” Blanton said. “That’s the purpose of this program.” The Street Guardians started with two hires in October, and now there are six.

The Street Guardians don’t let this reporter take down their names, and they don’t want photographs either. “It’s not a glamorous thing,” one Street Guardian said. “We don’t want our picture in the paper. We’re just trying to get out of this (homeless) situation.”

As much as PBSG are dispelling popular stereotypes about the homeless, at the end of the day they’re people faced with hard circumstances, trying to get by. For one of them, this is his third time being homeless. The first time, he said he had nothing, not even a pair of shoes. This time he has a truck, and having a car is much preferred.

“The electrical system doesn’t work though,” he said. “If I can get that fixed I’ll be set!”

This mindset is what Blanton refers to when she talks about the homeless climbing out of their situations. “We have a ladder,” she explained. “We give them an assessment, like do you have a mailing address? or where’s your social security card? We like to think of it in small steps. With the money they make, maybe now they can buy a car, which is much better than the street.”

Anyone who’s visited or driven by the homeless encampments downtown knows of the dangers that lurk there. So, too, do the Street Guardians, who call PB their home. “A lot of our homeless neighbors are here because they don’t want to be downtown,” Blanton said.

When asked if he agreed with that point, one Street Guardian offered a surprising answer, “The police harass us a lot, especially lately. Once they get a file on you, you’re a target.”

Berns noted, “The police can go after loitering and such, but that only moves the problem. There are people who want help, and want to be employed, and we help them with that.”

PBSG operates with this intention: To provide life-skills education and a job that’s meant to lead to long-term employment. Many have been out of work for a long time, and their tasks with PBSG give them something with which to fill the gaps in their employment records. A few of them already have a second or third job.

As the Street Guardians move on the boardwalk from Felspar to Grand, they find all sorts of litter — everything from needles to blow-up dolls, and bottles of water to cases of beer. The shift manager, a homeless man with wit who commands respect, keeps them moving along their predesignated paths. They’ll be here three days a week, and there’s always plenty for them to clean up.

“A woman gathered her neighbors and hired the Street Guardians to clean up their back alley,” Blanton said. “Now her friend has a block that she wants to be cleaned. Can you imagine if we got every alley in PB?!”

Connections

For more information (or to hire Pacific Beach Street Guardians) visit: pbstreetguardians.org

For more details on the Clean and Safe Program (and how you can help support its mission) call (858) 273-3303 or visit bit.ly/pbclean

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