It doesn’t matter how it happened because it happens from dozens of causes, from illness, depression, economic dislocation, drug abuse, spousal abuse, crime, poor education. Imagine it happening to your family or some of your loved ones.
You’ve got no running water. No toilets. Few, if any, hot meals. You’re “showering” in a fast food restroom sink. Struggling to keep your kids in school or properly fed or clothed or reasonably clean but it’s almost impossible without a fixed address and with basic living needs. And the longer you’re “out there” the more desperate things become and the more likely you’re going to spiral down.
Illness, addiction, crime, punishment, loss of kids, death – imagine the bad things you can think from “camping” in an urban environment with little or no employment and few safety nets to catch you or your kids to help you back… to home.
Now imagine refuge from the elements and rescue from the depravation from living on the outside. Imagine space and time to recover, to get back on your feet and to feel “normal” again. And imagine an ultimate restoration back to self-sufficiency, back to safety, back to living as a family with a dependable home and dependable job and dependable food on the table with even some money in the bank for security.
Imagine a chance to get back “home again.”
Refuge, recovery, and restoration. It’s what we know we need for L.A’s 60,000 homeless people but still, in a land of plenty we find in short supply.
I found refuge, recovery, and restoration last week and I was blown away, to experience a solution to the homeless problem so skillfully and effectively deployed and administered.
Welcome to Home Again, a 90-bed homeless shelter located in Northridge, dedicated to homeless families in crisis. A family and child focused shelter operated by the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission, Home Again is a physical manifestation of what the best of homeless response can be. And as the SCV prepares to invest Measure H, city, and private funds, the Home Again model can stand as an inspiration of how well a community can respond to the homeless crisis surrounding us.
Director Wade Trimmer has said, “Everything we do runs through the lens of, ‘Does it enhance dignity?’ “Immediately, our families feel the streets are behind them.”
Indeed, as I approached the two-story building, I viewed the facility that could just as well been an attractive private school or a wonderful apartment complex. This facility could be welcomed nearly anywhere.
Entering, one passes an office lobby, a lounge, a meal area, life skills training rooms, an outdoor playground, and looking up, one sees the second story filled with private rooms and classrooms. Everything is clean, orderly, programmed, and effective.
But at 2:00 pm on a Tuesday, no one was there. The facility was oddly empty, save for a few staffers and a mom with a small child. “Where are all the people?”
Wade responded, “At work.” “The parents are at work and the kids are all at school.”
At first, I didn’t get it. “They’re homeless.” “How could “homeless” people be working?”
Still with some confusion, I asked Wade, “And just what are they doing?” (Preconceptions dictate that homeless people are edgy, often disheveled, and make people uncomfortable) “Gary, they’re at work, just like you or me. A lot of them work in supermarkets, often in the deli, sometimes as checkers. They work everywhere.”
“All of our able adults are required to have jobs within 30 days of their arrival here.” “But I thought they were unemployable, and that’s why they are homeless,” I replied.
“Gary, the homeless are you or me or your neighbor – and then something or combination of things went terribly wrong. Sickness, depression, abuse, loss of jobs, debt – you name it – and one thing leads to another until they’re unable to, by themselves, pull themselves out and up. We help pull them up.”
“We’ve got life skills training, financial training, debt restructuring or repayment, medical services, educational tutoring. Our program is designed to stabilize, re-instill confidence and structure, and ultimately to restore. With our assistance, our clients move from their desperation to confident, structured, productive lives.”
Then, Wade really blew me away. “This past year we’ve had two USC post-graduates and a UCLA masters graduate come through our program. And one of our school kids is earning 4.5 and is among the top students in her class.”
Wade stressed with caution, however – “We can’t do drug cases and we can’t do felons, because of our children. Importantly, there’s no one silver-bullet approach to homelessness. “Drug abuse victims require medical intervention. Mental health sufferers require unique and sustained assistance. The long term homeless are perhaps the most challenging and require very patient and sustained assistance.” Each person, I learned, has individual needs that must be addressed in appropriate ways.”
Wade and the Home Again program has nailed it for homeless families and children. They’ve got an 85% success rate of secure, permanently housed families when measured at the 2-year “graduation” mark. His team is literally reclaiming and restoring hundreds and hundreds of lives.
It’s estimated the SCV’s homeless population is topping 1,000 today. We’re finally awakening to the crisis and our population is warming to address the problem.
As we work out our solutions and allocate our funds and efforts there’s one most important thing to remember: We must lose our preconception and bias: The homeless are you and me. Given unhappy twists of fate, they could be you.
Our response to SCV homelessness will be the measure of our humanity and the measure of our integrity of our professed values of virtue and righteousness.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.