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Downtown Ambassadors program adds outreach coordinator

Posted Nov. 21, 2019

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Shinall talking to a person on the street
Homeless outreach coordinator Olivia Shinall, left, speaks with a downtown visitor to direct her to available services and housing.

The Downtown Ambassador program has expanded with the addition of a homeless outreach coordinator.

With a background in social service and a passion for helping others, Olivia Shinall fills the new full-time position.

Shinall acts as a conduit to services and a familiar point of contact for those in need. Like the rest of the Ambassador team, most of Shinall’s work will take place outside on the streets of downtown. But her efforts will be focused on building relationships with homeless individuals to provide strategic case-level management, directing them to the services or housing they need. The goal is to gain trust, identify issues and help people transition from their current situations into better ones.

Shinall’s experiences include working with MHMR of Tarrant County and Harris County, providing resources to those with severe mental illness. Most recently, she worked with Cook Children’s, providing primary medical care transportation services for homeless families. Shinall is well-versed in the services available from local providers and continues to make connections that can make a difference.

During her first month, Shinall logged 104 homeless outreach actions and 68 contacts with panhandlers.

“This is just the beginning, and I have to lay the foundation,” Shinall said. “It’s all about building relationships and understanding each individual. Gaining trust is the most important thing because they will start to open up and tell you their story. If you know their story, you can better know how to help them.”

Block by Block, the PID’s Ambassador service provider, manages similar programs in more than 100 other districts nationwide.

John Koch, regional vice president of Block by Block, said this role requires persistence and time. “Our outreach workers across the country are a very committed group of people that devote many hard hours of work every day to connect with and help our homeless population. When I think of the people we help, the families we reconnect and the lives we assist in changing, it makes the long hours seem simple.”

With the addition of the outreach coordinator, the rest of the Ambassador team is able to devote more time discouraging poor behavior, providing hospitality services such as safety escorts, restaurant recommendations, directions, parking information and beyond.

The Downtown Ambassador program is the hospitality service team provided by the Downtown Public Improvement District managed by Block by Block. The Ambassadors circulate throughout downtown in their bright green pickup, on foot, on bicycles and on Segways to assist visitors, creating a friendly and welcoming environment and adding extra eyes and ears on the street.

Program hours are 7 a.m. to midnight daily. The Downtown PID is funded through a special assessment on downtown properties.

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