Clean & Safe maintenance ambassador Raffaele Castaneda replaces a doggie bag station in downtown San Diego. In 2018, maintenance ambassadors filled doggie bag stations 3,908 times. / Downtown San Diego Partnership

By Jennifer McEntee

The Downtown San Diego Partnership takes on tasks large and small in the pursuit of a clean, vibrant, growing, and economically vital urban core. Whether power-washing sidewalks or providing referrals to people experiencing homelessness, the nonprofit looks after some 275 city blocks.

Some success stories stick with the partnership’s leadership. Ketra Carter, homeless outreach team lead for the Downtown San Diego Partnership, recalls the story of George, a blind military veteran in his late-50s who had been on downtown San Diego streets for more than 15 years.

The partnership’s Clean & Safe team connected George with a shelter bed and treatment services for alcoholism. Then George shared a deeply personal need: he wanted to be reconnected with long-lost relatives for whom he only knew their names and cities where they might possibly live, Carter said.

After some online sleuthing and a series of phone calls, Clean & Safe homeless outreach coordinators found George’s family.

“They thought he had passed away,” Carter said. “It had been years since they had heard from him, so of course they had assumed the worst.”

George’s family invited him to live with them in Fresno, and he reported back several months later than he was doing well and was looking forward to an upcoming family reunion.

“We have a dedicated team of people who truly care about the work they do,” said Alonso Vivas, executive director of the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s Clean & Safe program. “It’s sometimes a thankless job, but we have people working 24 hours a day to make sure downtown is a clean and safe environment.”

The Downtown San Diego Partnership is a member-based nonprofit that advocates for the economic vitality and growth of downtown San Diego. Its 400-plus members come from sectors including real estate, technology, banking, law, defense, insurance, communications, energy, and tourism, according to the partnership’s leadership.

The partnership manages a number of programs including the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District, known locally as Clean & Safe, and the Family Reunification Program that tries to connect people experiencing homelessness with loved ones.

Clean & Safe ambassadors focus their maintenance services on the public right-of-way in the downtown San Diego neighborhoods of City Center, Columbia District, Cortez Hill, East Village, Gaslamp Quarter, and Marina. Funded by property assessment fees on property owners in these neighborhoods, the services augment but don’t replace maintenance rendered by the City of San Diego.

To put some of those services in perspective: Clean & Safe maintenance ambassadors pressure-washed downtown San Diego sidewalks 17,950 times and filled doggie bag stations 3,908 times in 2018.

“Some of the stuff they do is not very pleasant, but it’s necessary,” Vivas said.

Homeless outreach coordinators Latara Hamilton and Jill Kernes speak with a young family about the Family Reunification Program. Since 2012, more than 2,500 individuals experiencing homelessness have been reunited with loved ones and support systems.

Meanwhile, the homeless outreach team operates the Family Reunification Program with support from the San Diego Housing Commission, the County of San Diego, Sharp HealthCare, Bank of America, and other sponsors. The Downtown San Diego Partnership estimates more than 2,500 people have been reunited with loved ones since the program began in 2012.

The Family Reunification Program endeavors to end the cycle of homelessness by helping people rebuild their support systems, according to Carter, who splits her office hours between the Downtown San Diego Partnership and Father Joe’s Villages.

Carter said the Downtown San Diego Partnership is among a larger network of downtown San Diego organizations that collaborate to help people find the social outreach services and referrals that meet their unique situations.

“Not one organization can solve all the layers of homelessness,” she said. “We’re not tied to one program. We connect people to the resources they need and will help them. We have an agnostic approach – there are no boundaries to how we help.”

Likewise, Vivas said the Downtown San Diego Partnership tries to be a good community liaison through programs like Clean & Safe. When someone reports graffiti, for instance, the partnership helps determine which agency should be involved based on the location of the property damage.

On public safety issues, Clean & Safe ambassadors communicate with law enforcement about potential risks while also interacting with the public whether they ask for directions or request an escort to their car.  

The Downtown San Diego Partnership aspires to do more than maintain downtown neighborhoods; the nonprofit hopes to beautify the area, too. Clean & Safe beautification efforts include stringing decorative lights on trees, enhancing landscaping along key corridors, and hanging flower baskets and neighborhood-specific banners on light poles.

“It’s an activation of public spaces through place-making,” Vivas said.

For example, light poles along the streets of Cortez Hill now have purple banners that identify the neighborhood while accenting the purple blooms of the jacaranda trees that grow there.

Vivas said the Downtown San Diego Partnership uses its advocacy role to cultivate distinct, world-class neighborhoods that work for and with everyone — visitors, residents, property owners, businesses, and community partners.

“We see value in collaborating,” he said.

[call_to_action color=” button_text=’Learn More’ button_url=’’]For more information about the Clean & Safe and the Family Reunification Program, check out the Downtown San Diego Partnership website at[/call_to_action]

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