‘IF YOU STOP FEEDING THEM, THEY WILL GO AWAY.” The Street Beat in Santa Paula. Week No. 491 on June 27, 2018.


STATS JUST THIS PAST WEEK: Thanks to our volunteers and our supporters, 500 meals were prepared for our guests at Many Meals;  192 families took advantage of our food pantry and USDA food distribution with fresh strawberries, peanut butter, rice, beans, bread, yogurt, orange juice, crackers and green vegetables. This is the hub of weekly connections for own community to receive support in small but meaningful ways.

If I had a nickel every time I head that statement, I could pay the water bill for 100 families. There are many good reasons why we are so keen on serving so much food.

This friend lives on streets in Santa Paula. He is from a family of nine and has a brother also on the streets. He shies away from groups and rarely comes to the Drop In Center.  As a result, he earns his money by dumpster diving–a dangerous and nasty sport. His elbow was invaded by a shard of some kind and became infected in hours. After a trip to the ER, we had to come back in the morning for another examination when the doctor said he needed surgery. He was transported to Ventura County Medical Center and after surgery, was discharged two days later to the street. Within a day, his bandages were dirty.  For those who see us daily, here is why food is basic.

  1. They are healthier
  2. They panhandle less.
  3. They steal less. 
  4. When they feel better, they have more energy.
  5. When they have been fed, they are often more cooperative to get things done.
  6. Like us, they will be healthier when they die.

“Just Walk With Me.”

Today we had a visit from one of our shelter-fragile Cynthia and Maria 6.27.18 walkingguests. She was crying. Apparently her living situation is deteriorating. Someone in the house tried to take her wheelchair away and she was  frightened. She was so upset she couldn’t talk. She came to the Drop In Center after hours for some comfort and said to Maria, “Just walk with me.” They did. We’ll see what to do for her. Sometimes that’s all they need and we know how to do that.

Pragmatic Solutions Welcome Here.

The dialogue about “what we wish for” is passe and has no place in the war against poverty and homelessness. As a professional property manager, I see a new class of homeless as a result of rising rents. A four bedroom home on No. 13th Street in Santa Paula just rented for $2,300.  Already, the tenant can’t make the second month’s installment due to an illness in the family.

The solutions are:  shelter, health care, basic necessities, child care, wider use of existing Section 8 vouchers, education, access to mental health services, stable incomes… to mention just a few. And, we need equity in the application and availability of services.

Great steps are being taken in a variety of areas. SPIRIT of Santa Paula has been approved to participate in the Ventura County HMIS (Homeless Management Information System which creates multiple opportunities to serve our vulnerable populations. Local groups are working towards improving access to services by establishing an “Under One Roof” facility. SPIRIT received a grant from the County’s CDBG funding cycle to do more with our homeless and family support shelters. Dialogue is underway with the City of Santa Paula’s top leadership and the County of Ventura for housing options and programs.

Wednesday is Many Meals — for Anyone.

As always, we anticipate new people with new needs at Many Meals, every Wednesday from 5 to 6 pm. We have seating in the dining room, family style, and take-out for the evening meal and likely the next day. It worries me when I  see a homeless person take  three meals. I always pray it is for someone else and not to be saved til the next day.  Grandmothers and grandkids eat together, spouses come to have a night out with friendly hosts. The address is 121 Davis Street, Santa Paula, hosted by the First Presbyterian Church who also sponsor church at the park on Sundays at 11.

This week’s menu is:  Chicken and angel hair pasta casserole with sesame dressing, fresh tomatoes, olives, celery, onions; fresh strawberries, orange wedges, cooked carrots from Garman’s Pub, rolls and butter.

Some of our best helpers are high school students who show up to help and have fun at the same time.


It can be done.






“Now I lay me down to sleep.” News from the Streets of Santa Paula and a Report from Many Meals for Week 492 on July 4, 2018

This is how they do it. Natalie is sleeping in the park and this is how I found early this past week. She came into the Drop In Center, famished and weary. It has to be a long day for her and sleeping in such an exposed manner is fitful, making for the beginnings of a hard day, every day.

In two cases, they aren’t ready for a sober life. In the other

Natalie sleeping on bench 6.18

case, she needs a variety of help and care. Most of all, she needs gentle words.

She takes everything to heart and doesn’t want to bother anyone.

Gabriel sleeping behind church 6.18

Gabriel is sleeping behind one of our churches on a Saturday afternoon. He was rousted by an officer due to a “No Trespass” sign just above his head.

Jeremias was at the park on Saturday and extremely intoxicated. He thought about going to the Rescue Mission but after a snooze on my office floor, thought better of it.

Jeremias sleeping in office 6.18

Thanks to the regular visits of our mental health and Whole Person Care professionals who visit our streets and follow up at the Drop In Center, many of our homeless people are coming closer to the source of help.

It’s an old adage, but they truly don’t care to help themselves until they feel they are worth it. We believe all things are possible.

Are these things easy? No…. sobriety is very hard work.

We wish to the thank the committee known as Project Hope, chaired by local resident, Pam Marshall and initiated by Council member Martin Hernandez three years ago. The goal was to bring light to the subject of homelessness in Santa Paula. There were 29 committee members and partners who met regularly to learn, express concerns and share ideas about how to end homelessness. Thank you for the hard work and genuine enthusiasm.


“It Makes Me Want to Drink” – News from Many Meals on June 6, 2018 

Each week I have experiences revealing again that homelessness is not just about vagrants or transients, the new names that further categorize and stigmatize people who are homeless.

She is 74 years old, has an elegant name and dresses like a model. She rents a room with no kitchen privileges so the Drop In Center and Many Meals is a life-line for her during the week. She has lost her upper teeth and is very conscious of her appearance. She came to see me today in tears and told me the person who rents her the room has been mean to her and borderline abusive.  She is afraid of him and he is threatening to kick her out.  She is fearful and confided in me that this circumstance makes her want to go back to drinking.

I think most of us have a trigger of some kind that pushes us to shop, or to that chocolate donut, latte or frozen yogurt when we need something to comfort our wounded spirit or calm a fear. In her case, it’s the bottle and she knows it. She can sense she is moving closer to homelessness and drinking alleviates the fear for a while. I assured her I would be there to help her. She has a permanent disability and just finished a bout with cancer. We started her application for senior housing and will get into the Pathways to Home Program with the County of Ventura. Jennifer Harkey and Jackie Villanueva are case workers and saints in my world.

Jose agreed to go into detox last week. He was there for seven days and looked so good when he came home. But, because he is homeless, he went back to the streets where he quickly found his buddies.  He figured he could have a couple of beers, but it turned into two six packs and it’s all undone.  He had a very responsible job but too much time on his hands, His mother cries and so does he. He is very ashamed of his habit and his weakness.  He was offered a bed at Kephera House, arranged by Tom from the Whole Person Care Program, but decided he was “good” and passed on it.  I’m told your body can reach a point where you can die from one more drink.

The wonderful Shelby Hardy is a caseworker with Whole Person Care. She was successful in helping one of the better known men, who is in clear view of our community every day, enter a rehab program last week. She transported him on a Friday. The program is about 30 days. On Monday, he was back in town because he didn’t like being with drug addicts and being confined. There you have it.  What to do?

I’ve mentioned a woman who lives in a commercial building in town. She’s doing what she needs to do to gather her paperwork for the County’s housing program for disabled seniors who are homeless. Her birth certificate arrived today and we are just waiting for her divorce papers and social security card.  She learned today that it was election day and she cried because she didn’t get to vote.  Clearly being homeless doesn’t mean you stop living. It just means you have to find a way to get through the days, find food and a safe place to sleep.

Her government phone finally died so SPIRIT got her a new one. She needs to stay in touch with all the agencies connected to her search for housing and medical care. The One Stop in Santa Paula has made the difference in her quality of life. While not in the best place, she is not on the street with her little dog. One reason people who are homeless languish in that state is because they change their phone number so often. They lose their phone, it gets stolen, it’s a cheap one and it crashes, or they use up their minutes and have to start over when they have money for more.

It was graduation at one of our elementary schools today, and the son of a woman in our circle received top honors winning a trip tomorrow to a famous place with one other student. This family is homeless but safe in a very marginal living environment. Clearly he does his homework and gets the encouragement and support he needs to make his way.

A counselor in the Fillmore School District called today asking for help for a family with three children. They had to leave their apartment due to flooding while they were at work. They have no family here and no resources of their own. They slept in their car last night and we were asked if we would put them in a hotel for tonight. I learned who the landlord is and called him to suggest he needs to offer them lodging or at least vacate the rent for the days they are out. He was slow to agree to the latter, but he did. He shared the name of the property manager so we will follow up with him to be sure credit is given. If their home can’t be repaired, we will have a serious problem.

So you see, homelessness is not restricted to vagrants and transients. We know that category is the group that makes the mess, creates problems, causes trouble and irritates a community. Many of them want “out” of those circumstances but feel trapped or are enslaved to drugs and alcohol. They aren’t ready to do the hard work and there is no place for them to go.

SPIRIT is reaching out to partners in the housing industry and in the business of social services to act diligently in creating housing opportunities. We will be relentless until it happens.

Meanwhile, we continue to rescue unserved food from the Santa Paula Unified School District providing wonderful quantities of meat, milk, sandwiches, hamburgers, burritos, fruit, etc for use at the Drop In Center. Nothing goes to waste.

We closed the Drop In Center last Friday and served breakfast at the One Stop instead. We had our best day I’m told, about 25 people checked in for medical services and showers. James Boyd is the master of ceremonies there and has the same heart for this work as we do. He agrees that “one at a time” is worth it all.

So, in preparation for the weekly lifeline at Many Meals, we are serving Turkey Pot Pie with vegetables and gravy, mashed potatoes, cooked carrots with orange glaze, orange slices, rolls and butter.  Our cooks are the best and prepare these meals as though for their own families.

I can’t thank them enough, or the members of the Presbyterian Church who allow us to use their wonderful commercial kitchen and facilities.

BTW, once in a while, a reader chides me for grammatical errors. I write this late on Tuesdays and often while a little bleary. I will take a little grace on that if you will.

Our Goal:  End Homelessness in Santa Paula  

Kay Wilson-Bolton is the volunteer director of SPIRIT of Santa Paula.  She can be reached at 805.340.5025.

Website is www.spiritofsantapaula.org.

Address is 113 North Mill Street, Santa Paula CA 93060.

Mailing address is: P.O. Box 728, Santa Paula CA 93061-0728

“Serving the least Powerful and Most Vulnerable People in our Community.”

The Good Neighbor Award 2017

How Many Times Can You Get Arrested? – Week 488 at Many Meals on May 30, 2018

It happened again this weekend. He was belligerent, half-dressed and wandering the streets talking to himself.  He was arrested a week ago.  That makes 15 times since 2015 and many of these were in the last few months. What to do?

The Police can do nothing more until this person is declared “gravely disabled.” It won’t be soon. He is very resourceful, having lived on the streets for several years. His brother is also on the streets, as was a brother before him who died while incarcerated in the Todd Road jail. What is the common thread?

One homeless man in another part of the County visited the ER 152 times last year. One of ours who died in January, was at the Santa Paula hospital ER no less than an estimated 30 times. I took her numerous times and she was transported by medical professionals many more.

A woman in town was arrested today for throwing a rock through a car window.  She’ll be out soon and the cycle begins again. She is homeless half time, coach surfing here and there.

The One Stop is  making such inroads into helping our people who are homeless find their way. The shower is everything to them. Some are lazy however, and come by the Drop In Center for a breakfast snack and then decide to forego the shower because they don’t like to wait in line.

Starting this week, James Boyd from the Whole Person Care program agreed we will close the Drop In Center on Friday mornings and serve a light breakfast at the Church so there is no excuse for missing this important engagement. They can see a doctor, a nurse, get assistance with their MediCal and other benefits including Pathways to Home.

Through that program, four of our people have found rentals; one in Camarillo, one in Ventura and two seniors right here in town. While they prefer to stay in Santa Paula, it’s likely a good idea they relocate so they can make new friends and find new opportunities.

I learned again this weekend what causes homelessness beside alcohol and drug abuse.

A woman with three children had her water turned off because her family stopped making the monthly payments. There is a back story to that, but while the property was posted with a disconnect notice, the water remained on. She thought the bill had been paid. She came in last Friday with a water bill of over $1,000. Someone called CPS and reported her for living in a home with children with no water, making the dwelling uninhabitable.  Thanks to Father Charles at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, we raised the money to get the water back on.

Another single mother with six children, attending school to become an x-ray technician, couldn’t start her car on Friday. We had it tuned up as someone suggested. $184. No luck. We put in a new starter. $139. No luck. Last night we put in a new battery and still no luck. $179. Someone suggested a new ignition which apparently leads to other things and we realized the 1999 car isn’t worth fixing.  Her children attend school in another city for several reasons and she has to transport them on her way to school/work.

Another woman working closely with the County to get housing discovered yesterday that her “free government phone” died. There go her contacts and her appointments. She has no way of communicating with the outside world that can rescue her.  So we got her a new phone.

The absence of money is one thing; the absence of resources to solve problems is another.  Many Meals continues to be the link to fragile people. A woman came in last week who was so anxious to be around people she almost fainted. Fortunately, Ted Perez from Behavioral Health stopped by after work and recognized what was going on. He reached out to her and was able to make an appointment for this week and they connected again today. She came to our food pantry on Saturday and she called today to see if anyone was able to give her $20 so she could pay someone to bring her into town to get food.

The Bible talks a lot about money and how wonderful it is to give it. It is the love of money that traps us, but I have noticed that many are trapped because of it’s absence and scarcity. One seemingly small event can turn a family upside down and jeopardize their ability to pay rent, leading to eventual homelessness.

We can’t buy batteries for every car or pay everyone’s water bills. It seems we are presented with one or two at a time we can help and with some of the angels who hang out with us, we make a difference.  Susan Kulwiec, Jill Wallerstedt and I are regularly writing grants to find funds we can use to help stabilize our families and be the safety net they need to get through a day.  I just pray their kids grow up to be successful and able to support their parents in later years as a  “thank you” for the hard work done in these.

Our work is more than just with those finding shelter in the streets. It extends to the least powerful and most vulnerable in our community.

I am pleased to report the City Council approved forming an Ad Hoc Committee to study and work on the issues of homelessness. They members are Jenny Crosswhite and John Procter, two fresh faces looking at the problems and opportunities and willing to engage the locals on what is being done and must be done.

There is another side to this work that can hurt. Last week, one of the men who lives on the streets as a result of alcohol addiction, has been asking for another phone. He is one who misses appointments, won’t attend the One Stop, consistently asks for bus fare so he can visit people in Ventura and is taking his medication with alcohol.  He makes promises he doesn’t keep and sleeps at a local church.  He called from the Job and Career Center and challenged me about when I was going to get him his phone. I told him I wanted him to use some of his monthly check to get one. He flared back that “my talk was cheap” and he had no use for me.  I told him “thank you” and hung up. I’ve been thinking about that but know he’ll be calling soon when he needs something. This is the test. Will I be there or not?

As we wait the 5 pm hour on Wednesday to serve our nutritious meal, I can’t wait to see who comes to find us.

Our meal tomorrow  is beef enchilada casserole with rice from El Pescador, cooked carrots from Garman’s Pub, cole slaw with raisins, croissants and orange slices.   Many of our student volunteers have promised to come during the summer. They are the best help.

Thanks for listening.

Our Goal:  End Homelessness in Santa Paula  

Kay Wilson-Bolton is the volunteer director of SPIRIT of Santa Paula.  She can be reached at 805.340.5025.

website is www.spiritofsantapaula.org.

Address is 113 North Mill Street, Santa Paula CA 93060.

Mailing address is: P.O. Box 728, Santa Paula CA 93061-0728

“Serving the least Powerful and Most Vulnerable People in our Community.”

The Good Neighbor Award 2017



A Hand Up and Not a Hand Out

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.






The State of Homelessness in Santa Paula

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.

The new link between homelessness and mental illness

The City of Santa Paula is experiencing an alarming increase in crime from members of our homeless population. There are assaults and fearless attempts to rob and steal for their next beer or fix. Begging is on the rise. They are sleeping closer to town and pee and poop where they will.

We are at crisis stage. The level of violence among street people is leading to elevated police response and with heightened public scrutiny all around, this is a situation we must avoid. In my view, the new level of violence is fueled by the lack of housing for people living on the street and from mental illness due to drug and alcohol abuse.

A mental disorder or mental illness is a mental or behavioral pattern that causes either suffering or a poor ability to function in ordinary life. As our culture progresses, disorders becomes more numerous often, in my opinion, creating excuses for poor behavior. For example, in the latest version of the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), doctors have labeled road rage as a disorder and given it a new name, “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” affecting up to 16 million Americans.

Since Christmas Eve 2008, when we found a homeless man dead in one of our churches, I have come to know many of our homeless people like family. We have fed them, counseled them, sheltered and housed them, buried several, visited them in jails and hospitals and cried with and over them.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that there is a “definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances”. Mental health disorder patients are responsible for the consumption of 38 percent of the alcohol, 44 percent of the cocaine and 40 percent of all cigarettes. People who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder are responsible for the consumption of 69 percent of alcohol, 84 percent of cocaine, and 68 percent of cigarettes.
There’s a connection between substance abuse and mental health disorders, and any number of combinations can develop.
A necessary component of treatment is housing of some kind to get them off the street and manage their recovery. A nexus is needed for those who have moved to Methadone treatment so there is an automatic plan to taper down the doses.

I make no excuses for my homeless people, and I am an advocate for their care and restoration. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t made a bad choice in our lives. Fortunately not all bad choices led to others or did permanent damage. There are many from all walks of life who daily make the ultimate devastating choices, for whatever reasons, to drink excessively and use drugs.

A recent public statement was, “homeless people are criminals.” Not all are and certainly not all criminals are homeless. The reality is that many suffer from mental illness because of their addictions impairing their decision-making process. This can lead to homelessness and compound criminal activity.

Economic homelessness can be solved and there are success stories everywhere. The subset of that is homelessness stemming from the impact of mental illness, whatever the cause. It is hard to solve and requires new strategies.

The criminal activity of homeless people ranges from petty theft to armed robbery, intimidation of bystanders, compromised uses of public facilities and tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars on many levels. This includes the awarding of social security dollars to many who have self-inflicted health issues and the expensive cost of medical treatments in our urgent care facilities and ER’s.

One young man pretends to throw himself in front of cars and yells at pedestrians about fighter jets. A young homeless woman on meth gave birth recently to a baby who was taken by CPS. The mother is coming undone and believes in a conspiracy between the police and hospital staff.

The treatment of homeless people who are mentally ill must include housing. Neither problem can be solved without the ultimate collaboration of Mental Health Services and housing providers. Here’s how it goes.

Give someone a shower, clean clothes, a meal, a bed and a case manager. Housing makes homelessness easier to solve than to manage. A famous case study was reported in The New Yorker, February 13, 2006. It is titled “Million-Dollar Murray”. The study claims that a small number of chronic homeless people cause a large drain on social services. It also shows it is less expensive to house them than it is to chase them. I don’t mean place them into an apartment and give them the keys. A treatment program, structure, counseling, and case management 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is required.

In one specific 18-hour period in Santa Paula in May, one homeless woman was transported by police, fire and ambulance three times and treated in the emergency rooms of two County Hospitals. She is an addict and has transitioned to Methadone. She received extraordinary treatment in the hospital for almost three weeks for her chronic illnesses. When she was almost well she was discharged with nowhere to go but the streets. She misses follow-up appointments, loses her prescriptions, and can’t keep her sores clean. She is nearly back where she started. The cost to taxpayers is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine the cost over the last 25 years of her homelessness.

We need people on street who are the warm fire that draws them in. Partners and response teams need to be trained professionals who know who to call and where to go when someone is ready for sobriety. Clinicians need to be on scene–not in an office hoping someone drops in.

Failure to provide the team power at the entry level has brought us to the hard task we face now. Bits and pieces of good work are being done but there is a disconnect in some. One is that not all communities have the resources to deal with the problem. This is especially critical since the central winter shelter in Oxnard has been terminated for 2015. Unless a community provides one, homeless people will be on streets this winter–in all communities. This will elevate the need for police and fire services.

The Mental Health Services family must convene a task force to address the specific issues that communities face within the homeless population fueled by drug and alcohol addictions and develop pro-active strategies that include housing. They must also bring trained clinicians into our schools to deal with children facing suicide and depression. They need to help parents struggling with financial stresses and all the issues facing our culture. Santa Paula deserves financial and resource parity with every other community.

No entity is better equipped or informed than this County’s Behavioral Health system. The approach needs to be radical to achieve radical and positive outcomes. The goal is to solve a problem that affects the whole community—business owners, children, public safety and relieve the taxpayers who are funding millions annually to treat and transport. We need to treat the whole person.

When there is both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse issue, it is important that the patient enroll in a treatment program that addresses both problems at the same time. The untreated symptoms of a mental health disorder can cause the patient to be unable to remain clean and sober, and untreated substance abuse issues can make mental health treatment ineffective.

I often feel crushed with the weight of human need from our homeless people. The need now is the heavy artillery and chariots of trained professionals who will work until it’s done. It won’t take long–just money and talent and commitment.

I wonder why love isn’t enough. Why isn’t the family tie or the memories of affection, security, holidays, birthdays and graduations enough to motivate an addict to and seek sobriety? Why do they love the drug more than the people who love them most.

I have wondered that since our own daughter, Kathy, died of a drug overdose in 2006. What would have made the difference in her last day, or in the days preceding that one?

I pray the hope and encouragement I offer will make a life-changing difference in someone’s last day. I know that if I fail to try I will answer for it.

Daddy, are we homeless yet?

February 23, 2009

It seemed like a simple trip from Santa Ynez to Fillmore for a family funeral for Mark and his little boy. It meant a day out of school for a sad occasion, but an outing together nonetheless.

Mark’s friend lives in Ventura and they decided to spend the night so that the last leg made in the morning would be less hectic.
Mark and his son left Ventura about 7:30 am and they planned to stop at MacDonald’s. He had $15 to last to the end of the month and they spent $8 of it at breakfast. Foolish he knew, but rarely did he have a day out with his son.

Near Hallock Drive, something happened to the car. It was raining and a little dreary. Mark’s car began to slide into a large truck in the lane next to him. A car behind them both struck mark’s car. The little boy was wrenched in his seatbelt and the air bag’s exploded

Santa Paula’s medical team and Fire Department were dispatched within seconds. The passengers were transported to Santa Paula Hospital Emergency Room. The calm one was 8 years old.

Dad knew that someone needed to be called but his cell phone was in the car. While the Fire Department had searched for it, it was not to be found. Mark was not able to remember anyone’s phone numbers but could remember the name of his son’s elementary school. They were able to provide emergency phone numbers needed to summon help.

Mark called several people but no one answered. No one knew about the car accident and no was standing by to help this family. The ER doctor insisted the patients remain for a while for observation

At about 2 pm, the pair was released from the ER. They sat in the waiting room wondering how they would get back home and how they would get their personal items from the car.

A local Chaplain heard about their plight and agreed to take them home. They first went to McCoy’s Automotive to see the car. It had been moved to a remote location for storage and a nice man guided them. It was raining by now, the windows in the car were smashed and there was no power to close them.

Fortunately, the cell phone was found up under the seat. In 30 minutes, all their personal items had been removed and they were headed home. Their car was a total loss and Mark had no damage insurance for his own car.

Mark was not on able to reach his son’s mother, his parents were too sick to make the drive. His brother did not get off work until 5 pm and could not be reached either.

There was only one thing to do and that was for someone to take them back to Santa Ynez. On the way, reality began to reveal itself. Only $7 remained for the 11 days left in the month, this month’s rent had not been paid, and their car had been demolished. How would Mark make his doctor’s appointments? How would he look for a job? How would his son get to school?

The son was very concerned about what would happen to his dad and their belongings. He soon asked, “Dad, does this mean we will be homeless?”
No one answered his question, including me. It is now the end of the month. There by now must be no money; there is no car, there never was a job; the first of the month is here again.

On their way out of town at the gas station, the ambulance crew was on a move-up and recognized the riders. They made their way to the car to greet them and wished them well.
This family was changed by their day in Santa Paula. Most of it was good; some of it was problematic and they clearly could have been dead.

What it points to is the fragile circumstance people encounter when they have no margin for error. They live in an affordable housing complex paying $1100 in rent. They are on the waiting list for Section 8 which is 3-4 years out.

Their resources are tapped and there is no safety net. So goes their story. For them it is now way day at a time and the future is not promising. Did they cause some of their problems they face. Probably. Didn’t we all?