The 2017 census of homeless people in San Benito County found 527 people living on the streets. While this is a drop from the 2015 census findings (651 people), it is a stark increase since 2011 when the census reported 193 homeless individuals. The county has secured a $5 million grant that will expand homeless services at a shelter opened by San Benito County late last year.
Enrique Arreola, deputy director of community service and workforce development for San Benito County Health and Human Services Agency, explained several reasons why people become homeless and provided insight to the measures the county takes to help people in need and prevent the situation from becoming worse.
“If an individual says ‘I need a home,’ and most of them do need homes of course, but some are more willing, more responsive, some have so many issues because having a home you also want to work,” Arreola said. “So if they are not clean, clean as in drugs and stuff like that, then it is really hard. We try to get to the root of the issues.”
In December 2017, San Benito County opened its homeless shelter, the H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities Meals Empowerment) Resource Center at 1161 San Felipe Road in Hollister. The facility, open daily from 4:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning, has 50 beds available for adults—28 in the men’s dorm and 22 in the women’s dorm.
Arreola said the county has secured a grant of close to $5 million for Phase Two of the resource center, which involves whole person care, hiring more staff for both the shelter and county offices to provide services including job training, substance abuse help, mental health aid and other needs. It includes plans for transitional housing behind the shelter and a kitchen in the shelter (currently meals are brought in and served).
Some services have begun and are well-attended. The county offers the Helping Hands program which provides housing assistance for up to 24 months. The amount of rent asked of tenants is based on a sliding scale.
San Benito County has a contract with Community Homeless Solutions to run the H.O.M.E. Resource Center. Christina Soto, program manager for Community Homeless Solutions, oversees the care and wellbeing of up to 50 guests a night, though she said the shelter averages 43 to 45 guests each night. The new shelter provides private showers for its guests, which Soto feels is important.
“Being able to shower privately gives them a sense of dignity,” Soto told BenitoLink during a tour of the shower and bathroom areas.
Unlike other shelters, the HOME Resource Center allows pets. Kennels are set up outside in the back courtyard for pets, which are not allowed indoors. A member of the community provides housing and food for the pets.
On a daily basis, the shelter picks up homeless individuals from three spots in the city, including My Father’s House in Hollister. The pick-up spots are where homeless individuals tend to gather during the day and where the shelter drops off guests in the morning. San Benito County Behavioral Health works closely with the homeless shelter to provide in-shelter services twice a week. The agency also helps set up therapy and case management sessions for some individuals at its facility next door to the shelter on San Felipe Road. America’s Job Center of San Benito County also works with homeless persons who are ready to re-enter the workforce.
Several local churches and restaurants sponsor meals at the center, and the staff at the facility has a birthday board to see that special days are acknowledged. There is a cut-out wish tree in the community room for items the shelter needs. (Donation contact information is listed at the end of this article.)
“We have several churches and restaurants that sponsor meals,” Soto said. “The LDS church comes in every second Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and serves dinner to our guests.”
Soto said that treating shelter guests with dignity and respect is important, as it brings a positive change to everyone, including her staff. She supports guests bringing their pets, as they love their pets as much as housed individuals do. Going into a shelter without them is often a choice that some guests will not make.
“They love their pets and should not have to leave them to come indoors,” she said.
Linda Lampe, who runs the daytime facility My Father’s House, speaks of that same respect and dignity that homeless persons, like all others, need and deserve. My Father’s House, located at 910 Monterey Road, offers a variety of services. Lampe provides housing, showers and meals to all who need them. She and her husband Pat go above and beyond to help people who seek refuge. Lampe offers substance abuse help, classes, training, and more. As a pastor, though she claims no denomination, she provides religious guidance and has officiated at weddings, funerals, and baptisms for her guests.
Lampe goes into the community for them, too, for court hearings and jail visits. She provides love and support beyond the walls of her refuge. “Words are important,” she said. She uses the term “My Father’s” because “My” gives her clients a sense of ownership.
Lampe is expected to open a thrift store in August called Worth Saving, at 101 Fifth Street. Known for speaking in metaphors, she said her work is about holding an acorn—symbolizing her clients—in her hand. She asks them to visualize an oak tree. Lampe provides food and comfort to many homeless individuals who do not use the shelters.
The reasons for homelessness are many. They include mental health and substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, medical issues, job loss and physical and domestic abuse.
“It is very sad, in America there’s individuals and families that are experiencing homelessness,” Arreola said. “America that’s one of the richest countries in the world. I think that every family, every individual deserves a dignity to have a home, and a dignity to be respected.”
To contact or support community services for the homeless, call HOME Resource Center at (831) 256-1852; or My Father’s House at (831) 801-7775.
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