From showers to legal aid, Think Dignity celebrates 15 years of homeless advocacy
The nonprofit began when a group of attorneys united as Girls Think Tank to help people living on the street
BY GARY WARTH NOV. 4, 2021 6:36 AM PT
SAN DIEGO —
Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that cause the largest frustrations for homeless people.
Where to get a shower. Where to find toiletries. Where to safely store one’s possessions.
The nonprofit Think Dignity provides those services and more as part of its mission of advocacy and innovation to help homeless people. And as the name implies, the group’s cornerstone also is about restoring and advancing dignity for people living on the street.
“I love the name because it’s also a call to action,” said Mitchelle Woodson, executive director and managing attorney for the nonprofit. “Whenever we create any of our programs, we create them with dignity in mind. Our name is a reminder every day to think dignity. It’s our north star in everything we do.”
Approaching its 15th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Think Dignity has grown from a small group of like-minded women to an organization that has helped more than 500 people who use its storage center, provided more than 3,700 showers and served more than 1,000 people in need of legal help. Think Dignity’s legal clinics have recalled more than 30 warrants, eliminated more than 12 years of custody time and saved clients about $500,000 in legal fees and fines.
The organization’s origins began with an Oct. 5, 2006, dinner at the home of Rachel Jensen, who met with nine other professional women who had a shared concerned about the homeless people they would pass each day.
“They desired a tangible way to restore basic dignity to these individuals and understood these unhoused neighbors were citizens, too,” the group’s website reads. “Each person had their own story: mothers and fathers, someone’s child, a man forgotten after becoming disabled during war. Many endured great tragedy.”
The brainstorming session led to the creation of Girls Think Tank and their first project of distributing backpacks filled with hygiene products. That effort evolved to the bi-annual survival supply distribution that provides thousands of essential supplies including hygiene items, sleeping bags, flashlights, pet supplies and other items. Woodson said the next distribution will be in December and include winter clothing, with a goal of reaching 500 people.
Girls Think Tank took over the city’s storage facility on 16th Street in 2012, offering 400 lockers and bins for people to store their belongings, and launched a mobile shower in 2016, the first of its Mobile Operations and Dignity (MOD) Squad operations.
Woodson said the group also changed its name in 2016 to sound more inclusive.
Next came the Street Boutique, launched in 2017 as a pop-up held at women’s shelters or other public areas in the county to supply a month’s supply of menstrual or incontinence products, additional hygiene items and undergarments.
The Basic Dignity Coalition was launched in 2010 as a way for community members to meet monthly to identify issues that affect homeless people, develop solutions and advocate for changes.
Woodson said Think Dignity members learned from homeless people at the coalition that food that was distributed to them often was not very nutritious, but they could not afford to buy healthy food on their own.
“We wanted to provide well-balanced meals and healthy options,” she said.
Think Dignity hired a researcher to do outreach and talk to people on the street about what food was available, and Woodson said they learned many people wanted more fruits and vegetables.
In response, Think Dignity in 2018 launched its Street Cafe, which is styled after farmers markets.
“And along with that was expanding the idea of dignity,” Woodson said. “We allow folks to choose the items they want to take with them and hopefully have more nutritious meals.”
The Street Cafes are held the second and fourth Mondays each month from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Mariner’s Point, 1215 Mariners Way.
Woodson joined Think Dignity in 2017 and spearheaded the homeless youth legal advocacy project to help people ages 14 to 27. The project has helped more than 200 youths on a variety of matters, including fare evasion tickets and fines for encroachment and vehicle habitation, and has helped reduced felonies to misdemeanors.
“We have seen some incredible success stories of youths who started their own businesses,” said Woodland, who became executive director in 2019. “My favorite is a youth who has gone on to law school after earning a bachelor’s degree.”
Saturday’s online celebration begins at 6 p.m. and includes a silent auction with items including a Lebron James jersey, mounted Game of Thrones photo signed by cast members and a Fender Stratocaster signed by Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. To register for the event and view items, visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/nj6/.
Original Article: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/homelessness/story/2021-11-04/from-showers-to-legal-aid-think-dignity-celebrates-15-years-of-homeless-advocacy