Pastor Linda Lampe, through her nonprofit Hollister Community Outreach, a faith-based organization, is on a mission to change the face of homelessness in San Benito County by altering the way the homeless see themselves, the way they see others, and the way others see them.
“If they’re so broken they don’t think they have any value, they’re going to continue to act like that,” she said of the county’s homeless population. “But when we help them find purpose and we see who they truly are, that they have so much value and Jesus died for them, it affects the way they see others.”
Lampe recently sat at Mars Hill Coffeehouse and told BenitoLink how people in Hollister won’t look a homeless person in the eye, which makes the homeless feel like everyone is against them. Most homeless, she says, don’t know there are people in the community who are working to help them.
In 2015, she started trying to do something when she opened the doors to My Father’s House, located in the basement of what was once Hazel Hawkins Hospital at 910 Monterey Street. In trying to help the homeless, it has been both a mission of compassion and misunderstandings.
“I’m the most misunderstood woman in San Benito County,” she relates. “Some people think I’m rich. Some people think I’m part of a big church. Some people think I’m funded by the government. Some people think I’m crazy. Some think I’m with the police.
“Last night, someone on Facebook called me a bleeding-heart liberal. I thought isn’t that humorous. I posted on Facebook, ‘You can’t sit here and solve the social ills of the world’. People say ‘what about the government?’ Well, I have a question for the people in the church, ‘what happened to the body of Christ?’ Why aren’t we fulfilling that? When did we become so dependent on the government?”
Misunderstandings and outright suspicion prompted a number of those who live nearby to declare My Father’s House an illegal nuisance and petitioned the city to shut it down, declaring it was a “daycare center for the homeless.” They tried to convince the city it posed a danger to the area by attracting undesirables. (BenitoLink: “Residents claim My Father’s House illegal nuisance.)
Lampe said the homeless often don’t understand unconditional love. She said, at first, they suspected her motives when she and her husband, Patrick Lampe, would show up at their camps scattered around the county towing a garden trailer with a barbeque on the back, along with water and clothes, and “lots of TLC.”
One of the big misconceptions is that My Father’s House receives public funding from the county.
“They don’t give me a penny,” Lampe said. “That used to bother me, but now I thank God I haven’t, because I’m not beholden to them.”
Few would know that Lampe once owned an advertising agency and then went into real estate lending for 23 years. Along the way, she raised two sons and has devoted over 20 years to her ministry. In 2014, she joined a committee working with the county and Hollister to build the new homeless shelter. (It opens Dec. 1.) She said because she was already working with the county’s homeless, the county hired her under a 90-day grant to round up some of their basic needs, such as sleeping bags, tents and other necessities.
“It gave me insight into what they (county) was doing, but it also helped me to know that the way we (she and Patrick) did things was so different,” she said. She referred to a Bayler University study that determined government can actually promote homelessness with its programs. “Faith-based organizations actually have an impact. I already knew that, but it was great having it validated by Bayler University.” (2017 Baylor University Study: Faith-Based Organizations Shoulder Majority of Crucial Services and Develop Creative Solutions for Homelessness)
Lampe said the genesis of Our Father’s House came about while she was on that committee. She said at every meeting she would ask, “What about today?” She wanted to dual-track their efforts by offering the homeless help immediately as the committee worked toward building the shelter. She claimed the city and county officials told her it couldn’t be done and the committee needed to stay focused on a single vision.
Lampe was frustrated because she could drive around the county and see people sleeping under trees or bridges or, if they were lucky, in a car. She didn’t blame either the city or county, saying she recognized they were dealing with the state bureaucracy to obtain grants. She uses the analogy of having car problems to waiting for a state grant.
“Your car breaks down and you call for a tow truck and they say they’ll be there December 2014. No, make that December 2015. No, make it December 2016,” she said. “But you’re in a car and you’re waiting, just like these people who were waiting under a bridge in 2014, then 2015 and 2016.”
Then one day in Feb. 2015, she recalls how she was pleading again for something to happen sooner than later when inspiration struck.
“Clearly, the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘If you’re not willing to stand up, then you need to shut up,’” she said. “I realized this is on me. I walked out the door and we drove over to Monterey Street.”
The building on the corner of Monterey and Hawkins Streets had caught her eye a few months earlier. Built in the early 1900s, it had once served as Hazel Hawkins Hospital, and had definitely seen better days. She and Patrick went in and she told the owner, Dante Bains, about her vision for Our Father’s House.
“At first, he said, ‘nothing doing,’” she recalled. “He wanted to know why I was so excited about that place that had a bathtub in it. He asked ‘don’t you have a bathtub at home?’ I said, ‘Yes, but my friends (homeless) don’t.’ Fortunately, he heard my plea and agreed to rent me two rooms. The place was a mess, filled with boxes, it was dark and dank.”
When they got down into the rooms, they discovered the water did not work. Bains and Pat suggested she go ahead without the tub, which she wanted to convert into a shower. She told them she had promised her friends that she would have a place ready for them in time to watch the Super Bowl together and that they would be able to take a shower. She insisted she couldn’t go ahead without the shower because she felt if she compromised on this one thing it would mean a first promise broken.
It took the two of them from March to October to get the place ready. She said it took a lot of work and a lot of money, thanks to Patrick, who continues to pay almost all of the expenses from his real estate commissions to operate Our Father’s House. She credits Patrick for much of the success and is amazed at how much he has changed since they first met while working in real estate together, to the point where nearly 90 percent of what he earns and a great deal of his physical energy goes into the running the facility.
She laughs when she remembers their first non-working related adventure.
“He drove me to the San Benito County Jail and he didn’t know why,” she said. “I was going out there to get a girl out of jail. We weren’t even dating at that time. He was a business associate. He was a very staid businessman. My kids used to say I needed a normal life and I’d tell them ‘normal is a setting on a dryer.’ I didn’t know there was such a thing as normal until I met Pat.”
As the interview continued in Mars Hill, Lampe’s phone vibrated constantly. She commented about how it never stops as people call her from jail, the streets, or the hospital for help.
She said Pat had once asked her why she wasn’t depressed at all the sorrow and hopelessness she witnessed every day. She tried to assure him that he had not yet seen “the end from the beginning,” meaning the rewards she had witnessed when she was finally successful in getting one of her friends off the streets. She remembers the first days of Our Father’s House.
“We opened our first shower on August 26, 2015,” she said. “That was a milestone, but we weren’t really fully open until Oct. 31, and the first lady who came in, it was so awesome. She had not had a shower in almost two years. She had been living in a camper and would go to the local fast-foods to wash up.”
When it comes to contributions, Lampe said some of the smallest things that people take for granted can make all the difference to someone coming to Our Father’s House for a shower, food and clothing.
“It’s so exciting, all the little bars of soap and shampoos that people bring in,” she said. “We got some from Milan, Italy, and I’d like to think we planted a seed here in Hollister, and while someone was in Milan taking a shower they were thinking about My Father’s House. It took her 15 or 20 minutes to decide which bar of soap to use. She sniffed all the little bars of soap. I wanted her to luxuriate in that moment.”
After her shower, Lampe took the woman into a room full of donated clothing she calls My Sister’s Closet. She calls it that because everything has a meaning at Our Father’s House.
“When someone asks where are you going and you say ‘My Father’s House,’ it gives those people a sense of destination, a sense of purpose,” she said. “Where did you get that? Oh, I got it out of my sister’s closet.’ My sister and I always borrowed clothes. It gives a sense of dignity for a woman to be able to say ‘I got it from my sister’s closet.’”
Lampe recounted how the woman was sitting on the floor in My Sister’s Closet while surrounded by shoes.
“She found these cute shoes and said, ‘Oh, I love these.’ And then she found another pair and said, ‘I love these. I don’t know which ones to take,’ and I said, ‘How about both.’ She was so excited.”
Lampe is an ordained minister who began her mission as an evangelist. It wasn’t an easy path for her. At one time, she was not in favor of women being ministers, but she says God constantly prodded her along the way.
“I’m not part of an organized church, but I’m part of the church,” she said of the biblical term as she described her initial attempts to gain support from area churches. “Several years ago, I went to a number of churches in this community with a calendar and a clipboard. I said if I could just get people one weekend a year we can take this city for God.”
She told of how she was sitting in the back of one church and God spoke to her.
“I was mumbling to myself as I prayed to God,” she said. “I was thinking I had lost my effectiveness in recruiting people to seeing a vision. I was upset with myself. I was upset with the people I had asked for help. I couldn’t motivate anyone. Eight people said they could come and help. A couple of them showed up. Then I realized it’s me. I wasn’t effectively communicating the mission. But one day I’m sitting in church and the music was beautiful, my friends were singing, and I’m sitting there and the Lord said, ‘Linda, I called you to go.’”
When pressed if she literally heard a voice or it was a feeling that came over her, she said, “It was such an impression on me. I believe if we study God’s word enough we will hear him. The scriptures I was hearing says, ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’ And then He said, ‘Go into all the world and teach the gospel.’ It’s very simple.”
It may be simple to Lampe, but apparently not so much for others who challenge not only the existence of Our Father’s House, but her own ministry.
“A pastor came down and told me we weren’t a church,” she said. “I told him we may not have stained-glass windows, but when I see the tear-stained faces and people coming to Christ, and I see people’s lives transformed, I know we are a church. He said I needed to be in church, and I said I am in church. He told me everything I was doing was in vain, because I wasn’t baptizing into that particular denomination. I said I baptize people in the name of Christ. We’ve baptized 16 people in the name of Jesus since April 2016.”
Because the city passed an ordinance to prevent religious assembly as part of the overall zoning ordinance in downtown Hollister, Lampe has had to fly under the radar at times. For baptisms, she said Pastor Kevin Kimura at City Life Church sometimes lets her use his baptismal.
“I’m baptizing an 84-year-old Korean War veteran this month,” she said excitedly. “He (Kimura) was the first pastor who supported me. He checked me out because he thought I was part of a big church too.”
Lampe said she has not been so successful with other churches, though.
“Some churches will come here and do what I call a ‘sandwich and a selfie,’” she said. “They bring sandwiches and take a selfie with a homeless person to put on Facebook. We don’t do that. We believe we honor them. Out of the thousands of meals I’ve served, I’ve only fed one homeless person. And the reason I fed him was because he was too weak to take the spoon to his mouth. It’s derogatory to say ‘feeding the homeless.’ I feed pigeons. I serve my friends a fellowship meal. There’s dignity in that.”
Besides forming Hollister Community Outreach, she also started her church, True Life Christians, in order to “separate church from state,” so if she is able to secure grants to help the community by getting people off the streets and also serving their spiritual needs.
With the opening of the new homeless shelter, through various funding sources the county will spend $650,000 annually to house 50 homeless people, which could be thought of as $13,000 per person, and as former supervisor Pat Loe pointed out at a recent county supervisor meeting, there’s not even a kitchen to provide hot meals. While not as grand as the homeless shelter and they don’t allow people to sleep overnight at My Father’s House, Linda and Pat Lampe serve up to 145 people hot meals each month and pay approximately $7,200 a month of their own money.
“The money comes from God,” she said. “It’s always a cliffhanger and about the time we’re running out of money, I say ‘faith not fear,’ and a real estate transaction will come along. I think of it as a faith-builder for Pat. The only thing I worry about is my husband’s worrying, but then we’ll get a call from a listing.”
Lampe said when she first envisioned Our Father’s House she thought how great it would be for someone to be able to simply walk into the kitchen and help themselves to a sandwich and glass of milk, just like they might have once done at their own home.
“The first time that happened was so cool,” she said of the day it happened. “There was a young man standing there and he had a sandwich and a glass of milk, and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s real,’ and it scared him so much.”
When Lampe says Our Father’s House has managed to get 126 people permanently off the streets, she means they’re not only off the streets; they’re recovering and working in one of many outreach programs around the state. But every day she is reminded how difficult it is when she sees someone casually posting on Facebook that the homeless should just “get a job.”
She asks poignantly, if an employer had a choice between someone who shows up for a job interview who is neatly groomed, has a resume, a cell phone and an email address, and the other hasn’t had a bath, didn’t shave, doesn’t have a phone or email address, who would get the job?
She also compares the difference in how the government handles homelessness to the way she does.
“The government will see you for 30 minutes and then they make an appointment for next month,” she said. “We hang in there with that person. We disciple that person and then, depending on the circumstances, we take them to the hospital to detox or take them home with us until we can get them into that place where they’re secure. We have people all over the state who we’ve helped get on that path. We don’t give up.”
Lampe works closely with Adult & Teen Challenge, a faith-based substance abuse recovery organization, which she said was inspired by the work of David Wilkerson and his efforts in New York to inspire disillusioned youth and later was described in the book and movie, The Cross and the Switchblade.
“We don’t believe in rehab,” she explained about the program. “We believe in recovery, where you become a transformed human being. It’s a 12- to 14-month program. Everyone who works at Teen Challenge graduated from the program, including my oldest son, who was bound by drugs and alcohol. He graduated from the program and became the assistant director for Northern California.”
Lampe says of her mission and the people she has met along the way, that she is blessed. She tells of the boxes full of Christmas, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day cards she has received from her friends. She is also thankful that some of those who live near Our Father’s House are beginning to understand the value it brings to the community. She said, however, she still deals with quite a bit of misconception about who she is and what she does.
“I went into the store the other day to buy a blouse and this lady said, ‘You’re that lady who brought all these homeless here,’” she said, and added sardonically. “When I flew back from Tennessee years ago, I had my son and my chihuahua. I did not bring one of these folks to Hollister, but when I got here, I saw the immense need. I almost left because I was so overwhelmed, but that’s when God said, ‘I called you.’”
“I had a friend ride with me one day and she said, ‘the reason people don’t help you is because it’s so overwhelming and they don’t know where to begin.’ I say if you choose just one thing to help with that I need, it would have an impact. I can’t change the world, but if I can help one person change their world for an hour, for a day, or for some, an eternity. Then we can change the world.”
Lampe said anyone can help in many different ways, from donating food, clothing, toiletries and even their time. She said on Nov. 18, there will be an event in the parking lot behind Our Father’s House in which a number of youth groups will bring items they’ve collected.
“One young man, Camden Eggers, has done a coat drive that is his Eagle Scout project,” Lampe said. “He has collected 64 coats that he will be giving away. If I could get everybody that excited about helping, we could shake up this town.”
Lampe has also planned Thanksgiving dinner for her friends and their families, some of whom have been estranged for a number of years. She said because there are so many and there is limited room in Our Father’s House, there will be three to four dinners served throughout the day. She said Sunnyslope Christian Church and LDS Church are providing the food.
Lampe’s voicemail is most often full because of the constant calls for help. She says that if anyone wishes to donate items it is easiest if they were brought to Our Father’s House in the rear of the building at 910 Monterey Street. Contact phone: Linda Lampe 831-801-7775 or email: [email protected]