Groundwerx in operation during COVID-19 shelter in place. A Q&A

Best known for keeping downtown safe and clean, our Grounderx team has been essential to Downtown during the shelter-in-place order with services continuing from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Here’s a Q&A with Chloe Shipp, Operations Manager, and Semu One Bear, Program Director, to update you on changes to Groundwerx’s routine and recent activities.


Q: How has Groundwerx cleaning services changed during shelter in place?


Chloe Shipp: Foot traffic has decreased significantly, leading to an expected reduction in the amount of trash we need to collect daily. Staff is more focused on disinfecting street furniture, trash cans, door knobs, and other things those still walking around downtown may touch. Additionally, there’s still a need to remove biohazards and other messes in downtown. Groundwerx staff have always followed OSHA’s standards around using personal protective equipment.

Groundwerx operational hours have been limited to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day in an effort to limit staff exposure, and shifts have been staggered to limit the number of employees working together in one shift. 


Q: How has ambassador services changed during shelter in place? In answering, describe what they have always done and what has changed.


Chloe Shipp: At this time, all of our safety ambassadors have switched to essential services work, primarily focusing on disinfecting fixtures in the public right of way and small-scale graffiti removal. 

Normally, they would be providing visitors with directions and recommendations on downtown businesses, providing safety escorts within the district or responding to calls for service from first floor businesses. With the reduction in people downtown these types of calls for services have all but stopped. 


Q: What comments are Groundwerx staff receiving these days?


Semu One Bear: The main comments we are getting from the staff is how clean everything is right now and how nice that feels, but also how unnerving it is to be the one of the few people still out in the streets. I’m also being told that the little things that the employees used to take for granted are now a much bigger deal, such as finding an open restaurant for a 10am lunch break since most of them changed their hours of operation during the shelter in place. With the new restrictions placed on the businesses that are allowed to stay open, even finding a clean restroom to use is almost impossible if the employee isn’t near the office. I will say that everyone that drives into work is really enjoying the free street parking right now, thanks City of San Jose!


Q: Are there any advantages to their ability to work these days, detailing, etc.?


Chloe Shipp: With a reduced number of “hot spot cleaning”, like coffee spills or biohazards, and less pedestrian traffic, pressure washers are able to spend more time deep cleaning blocks. Deep cleaning is harder during normal business hours due to the number of pedestrians. 

Semu One Bear: One of the main benefits to working during the shelter in place is the lack of foot traffic and the associated litter and spills that normally came along with it. It’s much easier to focus on sanitizing major touchpoints like crosswalk buttons, door handles, public litter cans and benches when you don’t have a lot of litter to sweep up or spills to clean. We have been able to concentrate more on special projects such as increased pressure washing on and around the VTA light rail tracks because the trains haven’t been running. Also, we’ve been able to tackle some sidewalk safety projects such as filling in deep tree wells so that distracted pedestrians don’t injure themselves. The current shelter at home and social distancing policies actually made it a lot faster and safer for us to complete these types of projects.


Q: Do they miss the interaction with downtowners?

Semu One Bear: I think it’s different for every employee. We always train our employees to be friendly and approachable, but that comes naturally to some and it takes a little more effort for others. I believe some of our staff is enjoying being able to work without having to worry about interacting with customers, but at the same time we have some “social butterflies” on staff who are really feeling isolated right now. For those folks I think it’s much harder to stay focused and motivated when the daily routine that they really enjoyed has been upended. 


Q: How are ambassadors helping homeless people during these times?

Chloe Shipp: Groundwerx staff still interact with individuals experiencing hoemlessess everyday, but are required to practice social distancing. PATH’s outreach team is still working in the downtown core, and focused on temporary housing instead of more permanent solutions at this time. If Groundwerx speaks with someone seeking services, they connect them directly with PATH, just as they would prior to the shelter in place. If they encounter someone experiencing medical distress, they call for emergency services, also another standard procedure for staff. 

The CIty’s Housing Department has placed temporary handwashing stations and porta-potties near encampments, four of which are in the downtown core. This is an effort to reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19 in encampments. Groundwerx is checking these stations daily to ensure there are supplies, and communicating directly with housing staff when supplies are needed. 

Additionally, The Housing Department has also established two temporary shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness in downtown, one at Parkside Hall and another at the Convention Center’s South Hall. These temporary shelters are for individuals who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and individuals are referred to these shelters directly from the County’s Office of Supportive Housing. Groundwerx, and anyone who encounters someone experiencing homelessness, can refer someone seeking shelter to call 408-278-6420 to receive assistance. 


Q: What are secondary enforcement officers doing differently?

Chloe Shipp: Our Secondary Employment Unit of off-duty SJPD officers has continued to work during the shelter in place orders. They are focused on connecting with businesses that are still open to see if they have any concerns, monitor shuttered businesses in an effort to discourage vandalism and connecting with individuals experiencing homelessness with temporary shelter services. 


Q: Has there been an uptick in individuals experiencing homelessness, graffiti, vandalism since shelter in place was enforced?

Semu One Bear: Immediately after the shelter in place ordinance took effect, we saw a noticeable decrease in the homeless presence within the PBID. After a little while, we started seeing most of the familiar faces come back and I believe part of the reason is that there are now so many more empty storefronts for them to sleep in. Luckily, we haven’t noticed an increase in criminal activity within the PBID, maybe a broken window or two but nothing widespread.


Q: What’s the best way to contact Groundwerx for on-street needs?

Chloe Shipp: As always, the best way to contact Groundwerx is to call the dispatch number, 408-287-1520, or use the Groundwerx Everywhere app. With the adjusted service hours, staff will only be able to assist you from 6 am – 6 pm.