Thursday, May 31, 2012
It’s Friday afternoon, and that means it’s payout day for the artists of the @risK Gallery on Salinas’ Soledad Street. Those artists who have sold pieces in the past week come in at the pre-appointed time and collect their cash. Today, it’s $138.75 for one artist, and $63.75 for another.
The only problem is, Jill Allen needs change for a $20, and if anyone in the group hanging out at the gallery/reading room/coffee house has the scratch, they don’t necessarily want to admit it in front of the others. Allen, a former U.S. Air Force mechanic and the development director for the Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra, the group that runs Dorothy’s Place and other homeless outreach services in Chinatown, decides to take her change problem to the Bank of Soledad Street.
If you weren’t aware there was a Bank of Soledad Street, you’re not alone. If you weren’t aware there’s a coffee house – one woman, tongue-in-cheek, calls it the Chinatown Starbucks – join the club. Allen takes the $20, walks outside and finds the bankers – one group out of several groups of young men slinging dope – and asks for them to break the bill.
She cringes for a moment when she remembers someone is writing it all down. But it’s part of a master plan: Make better connections with the regulars in the hopes that maybe the bankers will find a different way of doing things.
THE SMALLEST OF SMALL BUSINESSES MIGHT BE THE THING THAT SUSTAINS DOROTHY’S.
“I don’t shoot for the moon,” Allen says, “just for the crickets by the side of the road under the moon at night.”
There’s more dealing on Soledad Street than usual, and more around the gallery across the street from Dorothy’s Place. The dealers know not to sell in the “yellow zone,” the yellow walls that front Dorothy’s, but the rest of the street has seen an uptick.
“I normally don’t encounter two clusters dealing within 5 feet, but it’s springtime and the weather is warming up and people are frisky,” Allen says. “We’re encouraging people to come down here to do an art project, or read a book, and people who are drunk are coming in and doing that, and people who are dealing drugs are coming here and doing that. One of the outcomes is you can talk to the dealers and ask them to move down the street.”
The gallery and the coffee house – more of a coffee corner, really, with a Keurig-style machine, a regular drip-style maker and a few bottles of flavored syrup – the screen-printing enterprise next door and the commercial-quality kitchen over at Dorothy’s are all part of that master plan. As the economy has continued tanking, as cash donations have waned and as fewer next-generation donors are stepping forward, Allen has an idea that microenterprise – the smallest of small businesses – might be the thing that sustains Dorothy’s into the future. The gallery provides a way for homeless artists to sell their creative work; they get some cash, and Dorothy’s takes a small fee. At the Peter Maurin Screen Printers (named after the co-founder of the Franciscan Workers movement), the homeless or formerly homeless work on contract to fulfill orders for T-shirts, tote bags and other printed goods. The business on Tuesday finished a successful Kickstarter campaign in which it raised $3,200-plus in 30 days to launch Soledad Street Apparel, goods printed to reflect the edginess of the neighborhood and give the workers a hand up. At the kitchen across the street, they’ve launched the Red Artichoke Culinary School and Catering business, targeting catered lunches for pre-schools that want to serve students lunches but don’t qualify for free-lunch programs or have the bandwidth to prepare the lunches on their own.
“Soledad Street is a street full of businesses,” Allen says, referring to the dealers on the street. “I would like to give them an opportunity to embrace a business where they’re not risking their lives or risking life in prison.”
A lot of people on the street are not going to get jobs that will sustain them. But if they can move closer to being self-sufficient, and rely on social services to provide a smaller piece of the pie, Allen says Dorothy’s should help facilitate it. As long as 60 percent of the nonprofit’s income comes through traditional channels, it can maintain its nonprofit status but rely less on charity.
Microenterprise will serve another purpose, Allen says, and that’s shifting the public perception of Dorothy’s.
“The people who know us generally regard us as angels of mercy, in selfless service to the poor, and we don’t want to be thought of as angels. We try to be selfless, and we try to serve the poor,” she says. “But I would like the greater community to support the notion of building community, and creating a healthy community out of dysfunction.”
Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com. For more information on Dorothy’s Place, visit www.dorothysplace.org