When the Bridges Burn – News and View from Many Meals – Week No. 481 – April 11, 2018

Some of you know that our daily visitors at the Drop In Center are people who are homeless. They become a part of our lives and we know their stories. We learned this week the homeless count in Santa Paula is up this year — as it is in every city in the County.  Why is that?

In the years before the economy began to rebound, people who were homeless as a result of economic challenges, that started with the job loss that unraveled everything, were the easiest to redeem. If they could get a job, they could find a place or room to rent. Not so now, particularly since the Thomas Fire. The rental shortage is significant and rents have greatly increased.  A typical $500 room for rent is now $800 minimum.  The cost to get into a one bedroom apartment can be $3000 or more with deposits

By seeing them every day at the Drop-In Center we get to know their stories. It’s astonishing how many of our people who are homeless are from Santa Paula. They were born and raised here, have kids, siblings, parents and grandparents. You would think that someone in that group of people would take them in, wouldn’t you?

Their stories are filled with sorrow. They are told either in anger, disgust or matter-of-factly. The stories range from a drunken parent, addiction in the home, unemployment, to abuse and neglect. Many took to the streets early in life to find fellowship and respect.

Many stories state they became addicts at early ages. We have several situations where a parent and adult child are homeless together, living in cars.

One story is of a 30 year old girl who was abused by uncles in her own home from the time she was 10 and it continued until she was 16. She ran away from home, became an addict, has several children being cared for by family members, both parents are sick and have adult children living at home with their own children. She wrote bad checks on the accounts of family members, stole the rent money and all but dropped out of school.  She is trying to kick drugs but has a boyfriend who is also an addict, and they sleep in various places, never the same place two nights in a row.

Another wanders the streets by day and hides at night. She has mental challenges and lacks awareness of personal hygiene and self-control.  Her parents are in another city nearby. They give her $50 each week and pay her rent. They are also her payee and she receives $950 per month.  She is  lonely, talks to herself and acts out in various troubling ways. The police regularly stop her.

Another is transgender and lives in a tent in an obscure place. She had a good job and was a well-known hair stylist. She is from Santa Paula and so is her family. No one will take her in.

A young man loved his years in high school. Good student, popular in his class at Santa Paula High School. In his senior year, he learned to love the taste of beer. His parents are in town and he is on the street. There were many tries to take him home and make it work. The drinking doesn’t stop so he wanders the streets half-dressed. He now has a beard and hardly recognizable

We have two brothers who live on the street separately. Their mother just died and so there no one–not even among their seven brothers and sisters to take them in. Too much drama, too many lies, too much stolen money and too much disruption in the household. Their future is on the streets until illness or accident takes them.

One senior citizen has a small dog and spends her days sitting in her storage unit at a local storage facility. She needs surgery to correct a serious bone break. Her parents live in town and she has three adult children–and she is homeless? Over the last two days, she was contacted by four County social workers trying to connect her with housing opportunities.

One young man regularly has seizures. He sits daily in a public place hoping for a few bucks to get through the day. His parents live in town.

 

You can only how bad it must have been for al doors to close and remain sealed.  So, what to do?

Shun them? Isolate them? Ignore them? Feed them to reduce panhandling? Give them basic necessities to ease the pay of the day and discourage stealing?

The best answer is to connect with them. Be the warm fire they are drawn to so they can be directed. The work of SPIRIT of Santa Paula isn’t the solution, but the people are part of the answer. We are uniquely positioned to be the initial link to help. Most will never make an appointment at the Mental Health Clinic, but they will let social workerss and mental health clinicians come to the Drop-In Center, and over a cup of coffee make a plan.

Oddly enough, the three men who consistently sit at the off-ramps of Palm and 10th will not connect with us. We don’t really know them except we know their problems. All three are from Santa Paula and one had very prominent parents, both are gone now.

How bad must it have been so they cannot go home again. I have heard their stories and in many cases, the bridges they once walked on have been burned.

Easy for me to say, but one of the solutions to ending homelessness is to encourage people to forgive those who have hurt them and for their families to be forgiven when hurt has occurred.. I’ve had the privilege of driving some of them home to help initiate good dialogue. I have witnessed the massive amounts of hurt and pain that gets shouted in both directions.  Without forgiveness and forgetting, they really can’t go home again.

So, what to do? They need a place to gather and they need someone to talk to. That is how our days go.  Thanks to the wonderful social workers and clinicians with Whole Person Care in the Ventura County Healthcare Agency, we see changes.  Where there are kind words, there is hope. Where there is no judgment, there is relationship. That is when change can begin.

This world is very hard, and there is much sorrow and sadness. Imagine feeling all that alone, in the dark and believing there is no hope. That is the beginning of the endless cycle of homelessness. Without hope, the people perish.

That’s a wrap.

Our famous spaghetti meat and pineapple sauce is being served tomorrow with cole slaw, rolls and butter, cooked carrots and orange slices. Thanks to my friend Karen Campbell for rescuing many pounds of radishes and fresh beets right off the farm from Food Forward.  Trucks and tarps are part of our gear these days.  Lots of food tomorrow for the pantry. You can visit us on www.facebook.com/ManyMeals

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 http://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

 

The State of Homelessness in Santa Paula

Kay Wilson-Bolton

October 6, 2013

Published in the Santa Paula Times

There are less homeless people in Santa Paula today than three years ago. The numbers have gone from 97 to 34. Those remaining are “hard core”  homeless.

With some exceptions, most homeless people choose the streets over being housed in safe and clean places because of their drug and alcohol addictions.

The SPIRIT of Santa Paula operated the winter shelter for homeless folks for three years. We chose to discontinue that program in 2012-2013.  When we began in 2009 our goal was to end homelessness. During the first two years we housed many children and single parents in a 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, were simply making homeless people comfortable in winter on their way to a lost eternity who were unwilling to tackle the hard work of sobriety.

We met with many of them and explained why we were closing the shelter in order to prepare 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 and teeth aches while catering 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 Courts, completed their jail time and entered rehab programs.

For three years, SPIRIT also managed Richard’s House, a transitional homeless shelter on the edge of town. During that time, we served 59 people ranging from two newborns to women over 70 years old. Fifteen of them were under the age of 16. They were truly and legitimately homeless.

To my knowledge through today, no one from their time at Richard’s house is on the streets. Most of them have found permanent shelter and many have jobs. Some are in campers and garages but not hiding behind dumpsters to find safe sleep.

On September 30, 2013, Richard’s House officially closed.  It is not because the need ended but because we realized 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 its services. We are working closer with individuals and local churches in small group settings and individual counseling sessions to help them discover how to live the life God designed which includes work, responsibility and accountability.  We have three trained and experienced counselors and three 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. 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 us 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 have become the refrigerator connection in town. Many landlords do not provide them so we help people connect with one to help live a normal life in a habitable dwelling.

The entire matter of drugs and alcohol should alarm and motivate us.  We 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 many. The question is always simple. Do we want our drug addicts 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 chronically homeless population.

All the elements that concern those neighbors are fair.  Church leadership was 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 respectfully disagree. 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 just 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—in my opinion.

The good news is our real homeless population is 65% less than what it was. The County’s homeless count in 2007 revealed Santa Paula’s homeless to be 97 people;  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 is progress.

Most of our homeless are second and third generation Santa Paulans who wore out their families trying to deal with their additions. Some of our homeless men and women have mental issues and deeply troubled souls. They hear voices and live with great fears. This adds to the problem of homelessness and demands on public safety personnel and services.

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 with a full time job, getting them all to school and church where good foundations for the future are laid by caring teachers and  administrators. She has a pastor who encourages her 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 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 and 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 this community 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 old folks can dream dreams again and our children have hope for a future free of violence.