SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A program designed to help the homeless that started in Palo Alto has now expanded to San Francisco.
It's called "Downtown Streets Team"— a work experience program that helps the homeless back into the work force and into more permanent housing.
The program started in San Francisco earlier this year in the Civic Center area with teams of homeless people cleaning up streets. It will officially expand to Union Square Thursday.
Organizers hope it encourages the public to see the homeless as people. Lisa Siragusa is taking one day at a time.
"This program has helped me survive because there are times when I want to hang myself or take pills. Being here gives me something to look forward to," says Lisa.
The 48-year-old says she moved from New Jersey a year ago, when her brother asked her to come to the Bay Area to help care for his children, but that didn't work out.
"I ran out of money. I had nowhere to go. My family turned their backs on me," says Siragusa.
But a few months ago, through word of mouth, Lisa found Downtown Streets Team, a newfound family with others who are in the same situation.
John Bryner says he lost his job, then his home. He says he also struggles with alcoholism.
"I try to stay hidden, like invisible. I didn't tell anyone I was homeless. It was really a lonely way to be," says Bryner.
But since joining Streets Team, there is a new spring in his step, a new purpose in life.
"It makes me feel a lot better. It's kind of depressing when you're out of work. It's something to look forward to during the day," says Bryner.
Each team member is paid up to $140 a week in gift cards for food and clothing.
The program gives team members access to case management and employment services. Team members can stay in the program a year, more if they become team leaders.
Joining the team is simple but staying on isn’t always easy. Individuals are required to show up at weekly meetings for a month and a half. Staying clean and sober while on the job is another requirement.
For those who can't stay the course, they can always try again.
"It started with me and four team members," says Eileen Richardson. She says she was CEO of Napster and a venture capitalist.
She says she was living in Palo Alto when she wanted to volunteer her time helping the homeless.
She ended up starting Downtown Streets Team.
"We also focus on rebuilding confidence and dignity because once that's rebuilt, people can flourish and they do," said Richardson.
She says the program has transitioned more than a thousand people into full-time jobs or stable housing.
"I'm here to try to get my life together and I just need a helping hand," says Siragusa.
Richardson says Downtown Streets Team is funded by tech companies, private donations and the cities it serves.
The program is currently in eight cities in California and two in Florida.