On Homelessness in Santa Paula
February 18, 2012
Begging in the streets is an ancient tradition. People of various diminished capacities have occupied the public squares or sat outside city gates to cry out for money. That scene is probably not much different on the streets of America—or Santa Paula.
Our city has an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. Santa Paula has a small number of folks who are successful at this and continue to do it because it works. Other panhandlers are very passive and simply flash a sign.
Many services are provided in our community which should offset the need for panhandling. Homeless and sheltered folks with addictions and enslavements generally need cash for a very limited number of reasons.
For those with no financial resources, they are in need funds for prescription co-pays, bus fare, telephone minutes, and unfortunately liquor or drugs.
Recently two well-meaning women recently had a conversation on Main Street with a homeless man holding his little dog. He has been living under the bridge for some time. Thanks to recent regular visits from dedicated volunteers, he is now staying at the Winter Shelter. One woman offered him a $10 bill for food. Sadly, the money will likely go for cigarettes, alcohol or drugs instead. By trying to “do good” in this way, we actually cause harm because we continue to fund bad habits and choices. Those doors have to close before they realize there are no options but seeking real help.
The local Winter Shelter has provided safe sleep for almost 30 persons a night at El Buen Pastor Methodist Church since the winter season began last December 3. More than 100 meals per day are being served which includes a sack lunch for everyone. We have working mothers and several children, disabled men, homeless men and women looking for work. One of the guests has a master’s degree from San Jose State University. She just can’t find a job. We have some guests who come for the evening meal and a shower.
The local transition home has housed at least 8 children and 20 adults over the past two years. They found us on their way to permanent housing.
The Drop-In Center at First United Methodist Church is a welcoming place where homeless and hungry folks can get a warm jacket, hot coffee and snacks and use the computers to connect to other resources. The Center is open weekdays from 9 to noon.
Many Meals is hosted at the First Presbyterian Church where about 650 meals each week are prepared and served to area residents. Thanks to FOOD Share for the past 162 weeks, over 64,000 meals have been served. By USDA standards, if a family of four would take advantage of Many Meals, they could conserve up to $80 each month—a tank of gas or a utility bill to keep them sheltered and mobile.
The non-profit that supports this work has been approached by the leadership of Children’s Hunger Fund to distribute food supplies through various local churches, and plans are underway to establish a Counseling Center where people can be helped to make lasting change in their lives. Pepperdine University has selected Santa Paula’s work as a study project in their non-profit funding studies.
Sending homeless people on a bus to anywhere or simply changing their environment will not solve their problems. Changing their hearts will. These folks are battered by life and, in many cases, their own bad choices over a lifetime. The goal is to provide the tools to make good changes last.
There are at least two local panhandlers who have gathered the wrong kind of attention. One of them is a non-hearing or speaking young woman whose name has been manufactured because we don’t know who she is. She knows “street sign language,” an informal sign language known to only a few. We have arranged for a specialist in street signing at Santa Barbara City College to communicate with her.
She is very animated when she attempts to communicate, and her behavior appears aggressive. Sometimes it is as demonstrated in a recent incident with bystanders at a local store. There are a few others who flash signs at grocery stores to gather money for prescription medications.
If you are tempted to give a panhandler something, purchase gift cards at MacDonald for $1. It gets them a hamburger meal after 11 am. Please don’t give cash.
There is a new view floating around Ventura that providing services extends the problem of homelessness. In our view, ceasing to provide services would make a bad situation worse. The goal is to keep homeless people from dying in the streets. It has happened more than once in our community. This particular work began when a homeless man from Santa Paula died in one of our churches.
It is a challenge to work effectively with homeless people and help them find that better way. It can’t all be done in a day and we wish it was for just a season. The work will likely continue in our town until every person who wants a job can get one. Til then, as hard as it is at times, we will continue to find new partners and joy in the service.
Most important, special thanks goes to the members of the Santa Paula Police Department who have the very difficult task of balancing the right combination of thoughtful care and duty to protect all citizens. We have so much respect and appreciation for their diligent exercise of training and individual talents to make our community safe.