Rob and Taj came up with the idea for At The Crossroads in college when they were working together at a nearby drop-in center for homeless youth. Both felt strongly that the organization’s approach was exclusionary of the young people who needed services the most. In thinking of a service that would address this need, Rob says, “We were both really interested in the kids who had the hardest time getting help.”
They weren’t close friends, but when they would talk, their conversation usually wound up centering around this shared idea: “Wouldn’t it be cool if maybe one day someone started a program that targeted them?” The night before the Echoing Green Fellowship application was due, Rob and Taj decided to apply. Several months later, to their surprise, they were awarded a grant to start a program for underserved homeless youth in San Francisco.
When he first heard the news, Rob wasn’t sure he wanted to accept the fellowship. He remembers calling Taj to tell her that they had received the money, “The first thing I said to you is, ‘I don’t think I want to take it.’ Because I had been still working at the drop-in and because of things about the environment there and the way they were changing the way they worked with clients I was really burning out on it.” After talking through it with Taj, what Rob realized was, “I wasn’t burning out on the kids, I was burning out on the change in structure and the model.”
And so they decided to start a program designed to meet the needs of the most disconnected youth in SF. They spent several months talking to youth on the street and asking them what they wanted from a program. They also reached out to existing service providers in the city. From their research, they decided to launch a nighttime outreach program in the Mission and Downtown and bring services onto the street to meet homeless youth where they were at.
Once they began offering services and building trust with youth, they saw their approach begin to work. Rob remembers a night several months into the fellowship when he and Taj decided they needed to turn At The Crossroads into a sustainable organization. “I remember we had a night where we went out in the Mission and we just got a lot of love on the streets. When we came back we started our normal check-in and you said something like, ‘Rob we have to figure out how to make this bigger than the two of us.’ You were like, ‘You plan to move back to New York and I’m going to go to medical school. This seems to be working and we need to figure out how to make it bigger than us.’”
Since those conversations in 1998, At The Crossroads has grown to a staff of 15. In 20 years, we’ve worked with over 8,000 youth on the streets of San Francisco, offering them much-needed supplies and building trusting, long-term relationships with them. Through these relationships, staff successfully help clients identify their personal goals. Each year, 90% of our clients achieve one or more goals, including getting housed, going back to school, getting an ID, and more. At our core, we meet clients where they are at. We are there to support them as they navigate their successes and challenges.
“What I have is my presence and it turns out I always have that, even when I have penicillin, I still have my presence.” -Taj, ATC Co-founder
Today, Taj is the Associate Program Director of the Med-Peds Residency Program, and a hospitalist in both the Department of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Her research centers around “medical education and how bias affects our learners’ experience.” She is interested in answering the question, “How do we change things so that we actually truly value diversity and create a healthcare workforce that is truly equipped to serve a large population and not just an elite population.” In her work, Taj still incorporates some of the founding philosophies that continue to be at the core of ATC.
Listen as Rob and Taj describe the importance of holding someone’s humanity at the center of your care for them.