Dreams of getting off the street
Daniel Rosales and Harry Jefferson have been in and out of jail since they were very young men. Like many of their peers, they learned survival...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Support for Clean DreamsPeople who wish to express support for the Clean Dreams project may write to City Council members at the e-mail addresses available on the city's Web site: http://www.seattle.gov/council/councilcontact.htm
Daniel Rosales and Harry Jefferson have been in and out of jail since they were very young men.
Like many of their peers, they learned survival skills on the streets of Rainier Valley, where they also added up multiple convictions for selling drugs and other crimes.
Without a high-school degree, their job prospects were dismal; and they had children they could barely afford to feed.
Selling drugs was, for them, a financial solution and a means of keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families, they said.
Even before they finished their most recent round of crime and punishment, they realized the street hustle was a dead end. And thanks to a pilot program called Clean Dreams they found a new way of living.
"I was tired of looking over my shoulder," said Rosales, 20 years old and a father of two. "I wanted to stop [selling drugs] and I needed to stop, but I didn't know how,"
Jefferson, who is 35 and sports a "Thug Life" tattoo, said, "I determined during the time I was locked up that there was no benefit to the way I'd been living and I determined I needed to stop."
Despite their good intentions, they weren't the guys people jumped to help.
Clean Dreams was different. Although the program's funding is now imperiled — it's been successful at teaching them and other "hard to reach cases" how to make a legal living and stay out of jail.
The two administrators of Clean Dreams will pay for rent, child care, food vouchers, GED programs and other vocational education; contractor licenses, traffic-violation fines and back child support to keep a person out of jail and buy him or her enough time to learn to make a living.
In one case, Clean Dreams paid the Department of Licensing fines that prevented one person from getting to work. For another, the program paid for a painter's license and that man is now a professional independent painter. For another man, they paid for barber's school.
"He called us to say thanks and ask if he can do haircuts for guys who are looking for jobs," said Hosea Wilcox, the program's peer outreach counselor.
The program, which was, until recently, overseen by the troubled Street Outreach Services, wasn't developed or funded out of altruism.
It arose out of efforts by police, city and county officials and the Department of Corrections to identify, reach and re-educate young people who had been identified as those most likely to cause public safety problems in a crime-ridden area.
The primary thrust of the program, which employs Wilcox and case worker Nature Carter-Gooding, is to offer immediate, practical support to men and women who are committed to change.
Most of Clean Dreams' clientele are not addicts but bright, hard-working entrepreneurial types, said Wilcox and Carter-Gooding, who turn to crime as a way to survive.
Wilcox, who grew up in the neighborhood and has been arrested numerous times for selling drugs, walks the streets and talks to people.
He has an eye for discerning the kids who still think street hustling's a lark, those who are too bitter and broken to change and the people who are ready.
"I tell people that life is bigger than these four corners we been walking around our whole lives," he said.
Those who are interested come into the Rainier Avenue South office and face Carter-Gooding, who makes them sit down, assess their own lives and talk about where they really are, where they want to go and how they can get there.
"They can recognize then that the hustle they used on the streets can be turned in a positive direction," Carter-Gooding said.
Clean Dreams gives those who pass their strictly enforced no-bull test tangible and immediate help.
"We don't make promises to help and then refer them to someplace with a waiting line," said Carter-Gooding, who was herself a prostitute and drug dealer not so many years ago.
The biggest obstacle for people trying to go straight is that a paycheck in two weeks doesn't pay for diapers and rent in the meantime, she said.
Carter-Gooding asks most of the 100-plus clients in the year-old program to first commit to a 10-week GED course, during which time she'll pay rent directly to the landlord.
Once that's done she'll hook them up with work-resource programs, such as those available with the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
Many of the jobs start at minimum wage, but Rosales — who's completed an apprenticeship and is looking for a job in construction — figures it's more than he was making when he was selling dope once you factor in all the bad days and the time behind bars.
"When you really add it up, hustling is harder than a regular job and it's less than minimum wage," he said. "The only thing is, it's faster."
The long-term success of the nonprofit program, which runs on $120,000, or less than it costs to incarcerate two people for one year, is not yet known.
Eric Anderson, the city's director of Youth Development and Achievement, said early results are promising.
"It does appear they have been successful in getting people connected to services," he said.
Wilcox and Carter-Gooding said their clients are not racking up new criminal charges, are staying out of jail and showing signs of long term stability.
Attorneys and others who work with the criminal justice system praise the program.
"It's just amazing," said public defender Lisa Daugaard, who said the program is lauded by police, the Department of Corrections and others who make referrals.
But the 54 people currently on Clean Dream's roster are in danger of losing the offered services because of "politics," said Wilcox.
The city and the department of Public Health Seattle-King County pulled funding after the program's umbrella organization, SOS, failed to meet several administrative deadlines.
Clean Dreams has been granted a one-month reprieve while it looks for an administrative agency, but what will happen after September isn't known.
The city has said it will consider funding the program again in January, but that will be too late for the people who are using the services right now, said Carter-Gooding.
"They'll just end up right back on the streets," she said.
"What we need now is for the city to hear from everybody who believes in this program or has benefited from it," said Lisa Herbold, legislative assistant to City Councilmember Nick Licata, who championed Clean Dreams and is fighting to keep consistent funding.
For the moment, clients like Jefferson and Rosales are trying to hold onto their dreams and not worry too much about what happens next.
"Everything is hard work and you gotta have patience and will power to wake and face reality," said Jefferson. "I'm gonna just keep trying and doing my best."
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf is included in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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