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.
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 imagine how bad it must have been for all 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 workers 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