Founder and CEO, Downtown Streets Team
Eileen Richardson has been building and refining a non-conforming solution to homelessness, called Downtown Streets Team, for close to 15 years. She has relentlessly pursued her vision to build positive communities which include and empower unhoused people throughout Northern California.
A secretary, and single mother of two young children, the odds were stacked against her. But her street smarts, business acumen, and ambition led to an incredible career - 15 years in the high-tech industry, ten as a venture capitalist and five as CEO of two high-tech companies. It was her love of music and belief that the internet could change the world that led her to be the become the first CEO of Napster, where she helped grow the start-up from a few thousand users to 20 million--the fastest growing brand in history at the time.
With her children in high school, Richardson took a break from the high-tech world and began volunteering at a food pantry in Palo Alto. She fell in love with the men and women it served and witnessed the loss of dignity and the toll it took on these individuals living on the streets.
Guided by the principle that everyone deserved the opportunity to become a proud, productive member of their community, and driven to reduce the impacts of homelessness such as litter and panhandling, she launched the first Downtown Streets Team (DST) in 2005.
Today the agency has an annual budget of $8 million, operates in 13 California cities plus two satellite operations in Florida, and serves 1,000+ Team Members each year.
Her model offers volunteer opportunities and wrap-around services to individuals experiencing homelessness, opening the door for permanent housing and long-term employment. Team Members beautify the cities they volunteer in for up to 20 hours per week and receive case management, job training, employment services, and basic-needs stipends to transition from homelessness to productive lives. This approach renews dignity and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth.
DST has been named one of five ‘Evidence-Based Best Practices in Ending Homelessness’ in California according to the 2018 Homelessness Task Force Report released by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties. It has been named a ‘Top 50 Innovation in American Government’ by the Ash Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
In 2018 Richardson was named one of 30 Visionaries by the New York Times. In 2019 she was awarded the James Irvine Leadership Award and nominated as one of six ‘Visionaries of the Year’ by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Downtown Streets Team has been ranked nationally as one of the top 25 ‘Best Nonprofits to Work For’ by The Nonprofit Times in 2016, 2018 and 2019.