On the Other Hand
By Kay Wilson-Bolton
October 5, 2013
There are less homeless people in Santa Paula today than three years ago. The numbers have gone to more than 90 to around 30. They are what I call “hard core” homeless.
With some exceptions, most homeless people are choosing it over being housed in safe and clean places because of their drug and alcohol addictions. Plain and simple.
The SPIRIT of Santa Paula operated the winter shelter for homeless folks for three years. We chose to discontinue that program in 2012-2013. Our goal when we began in 2009 was to end homelessness. During the first two years we housed many children and single parents which was during the most difficult economic period. During the last year of operation, while there were some exceptions, addiction ranked high of the list causing homelessness.
It became apparent to the Board that we with great effort on the part of volunteers, simple making people comfortable in winter who were unwilling to help themselves and mark the hard decision and tackle the work necessary to change their lives.
We met with many of them and explained why we were closing the shelter and prepared them in September of 2011 to seek alternatives. Some of them entered the shelter programs in Oxnard for mothers and children at the Lighthouse and the men went to the Salvation Army, the Armory and Rescue Mission.
Many of them hunkered down into the river bed and suffered through the winter with terrible colds, teeth ache and catered to their addictions.
There has been a spike in panhandling since then. Many of the beggars you see on the street corners and at Von’s have addictions. If you give them money, you might as well give them their next fix.
We told them we were not abandoning them but when they were ready to change their life, we would be there for them. We have been and we are.
Some of them are in counseling and treatment programs and some of them are working hard at staying clean and sober. Some have put themselves on calendar at the court and done their jail time and entered rehab programs.
For three years, SPIRIT managed Richard’s House, a transitional homeless shelter on the edge of town. During that time, we served 59 people ranging from our two newborns to women over 70 years ago. Fifteen of them were under the age of 15. They were truly and legitimately homeless.
To my knowledge through today, no one from that prior of time is on the streets. Most of them have found permanent shelter and many of them have jobs. Some are in campers and garages but not hiding behind dumpsters.
On September 30, 2013, Richard’s House officially closed. It is not because the need ended but because we were not equipped as a small non-profit to adequately case manage each resident. We were not monitoring their daily schedules and following up with job interviews, doctor’s appointment and programs. Because of that some of them stayed a few weeks beyond their allotted time and left when we got very aggressive in monitoring their progress.
SPIRIT has reorganized our services and are working closer with individuals and local churches in small group settings and individual counseling sessions to see how to live the life God designed for them. We have found counselors and two trainees serving in the Valley Biblical Counseling Center. There is no charge for services.
Our drop-in center at the First Christian Church is expanding hours and services to help connect people with resources and services currently offered through the County which includes “stop smoking” programs, mental health, dental care, prescription assistance and others. Soon, nutrition classes will be offered during the day to help mothers prepare healthier foods and stem the overwhelming tides of childhood obesity and diabetes.
The Many Meals program at the First Presbyterian Church provides a hot meal for anyone who wants one. We serve about 600 meals each week to hungry families who by USDA standards can save $80/month for a family of four if they eat with each Wednesday. That’s a tank of gas or a utility bill. Some of the river people come for dinner; so do a few of our local business people.
We partner with the County in distributing literature on services for which they are eligible, the Rescue Mission, United Way for utility and rental assistance, Cal Fresh, USDA food supplies and cell phones. We are focused on healthy families so life is easier at home and kids do better in school.
We are the refrigerator connection in town. Many landlords do not provide refrigerators so we help people connect with one so they can live a normal life in a habitable dwelling.
The entire matter of drugs and alcohol should alarm us. We all need to be educated on the effect of having a methadone clinic in our community providing daily doses of substitute legal drugs to addicts.
Santa Paula also has a needle exchange program, controversial to most everyone. That question is always simple. Do we want our drug addict to use dirty needles and spread HEP C and HIV among other diseases? Or, do we prefer to have our addicts use clean needles and not spread them.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a major cause of society‘s meltdown and must be a contributor to our increasing violence and gang activity.
Harbor Church in Ventura is under attack by the neighborhood for the element it is attracting by serving the chronic homeless population. All the elements that concern those neighbors are fair. They were asked by the planning commission to take on the task of managing their homeless visitors with the goal of ending homelessness. The response was that is not the call of the church to take on that function.
I couldn’t disagree more. The Bible is very clear on the role of the Church in helping our brothers and sisters, admonishing and teaching them, and restoring them. It is also clear about helping the poor as it is on what happens to lazy people. If the church shepherds people within it, there must be way for Harbor Church to work within that structure to manage them. Delivering “no strings attached” services just doesn’t work.
The good news is our real homeless population is less than half of what it was. The count in 2007 was 97, in 2009 it was 91; in 2010 the number dropped to 54; it dropped again in 2011 to 50; it spiked in 2012 to 60 for unknown reasons and dramatically dropped in 2012 to 34 people. That should be considered progress.
Most of our homeless are second and third generation Santa Paulans who wore out their families trying to deal with their additions. Someone of our homeless men and women have mental issues and have deeply troubled souls. The hear voices and live with great fear. This adds to the problem of homelessness and demands on public safety personel.
There is someone dear to me in this work who has managed to hold herself above the tragic events that circle a home where addicts live. She has lost brothers and sisters and a niece. She has family in prison and cares for her mother who lives with a broken heart over the devastation drugs has unleashed upon her family.
She is a woman who despite all odds is a good and capable citizen, caring for her family, getting them all to school and church where good foundations for the future are laid by a caring teachers, administrators, and a pastor who encourages and preaches the Good News about redemption and how old things can pass away and all things can become new.
It can be done but hardly alone. It takes many support systems to prop up the one who is in front.
Our pastoral and counseling work has led us to families who visit their children in prison and pray for them while they try to care for and feed their grandchildren.
The issue of drug and alcohol addiction as it relates to homelessness and gang activity is no small problem in this community of ours and it didn’t happen in a short time.
However, it has accelerated in a short time and we have been surprised by the overt fearless demonstration of violence. It has not surprised the families who live in fear of very bad possibilities and the realities of wrenching outcomes. It breaks hearts of parents and grandparents and devastates children who don’t know where to look for stability, safety, consistency and genuine love.
I’m supporting our new Chief of Police, Steve McLean, and praying with many church leaders that he can return us to a time when we can sit on porches again and children can play safely in parks and the streets. Hopefully to a time when our grandparents can dream dreams again and our children have hope for a future free of violence.
We must provide a community that stops robbing children of being a child in a small community that is safe to play and learn and grow.
Kay Wilson-Bolton is the volunteer director of SPIRIT of Santa Paula, the advocates for homeless and hungry families.