As people complain about leaving a warm bed on a cold morning, they turn up the heat, make coffee, take a shower and enjoy a good breakfast, perhaps taking such normal things for granted. Homeless people across the country, the majority of whom sleep outdoors, wake up cold, stiff, dirty and hungry; there are many reasons for homelessness but the privations endured are all the same.
There are mothers with small children, entire families, teens and elderly people all homeless due to varied causes, including financial circumstances, job loss, drugs, mental illness, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Having no home is particularly difficult in winter, when it is cold, wet and snowy, and the shelters are full.
In Orange County, California, one of the most affluent counties in the country, there are approximately 12,700 homeless people and a great need for more shelters. Laguna Beach is a wealthy, seaside community famous for good restaurants, art galleries and ocean views, but it also has its share of homeless people.
The well-named Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach was incorporated in 1987 and cares for 100 people each night. They run four programs:
Self-sufficiency program – Serving 32 residents, who receive meals, case management and support services. Residents are required to earn, save and leave the program with a housing plan.
Alternative sleeping location (ASL) – For those chronically homeless and unable to work, each night, 45 people have a clean, safe place to sleep and access to support services.
Permanent supportive housing – This program is for residents who are chronically homeless and unable to work due to a disability including physical or mental health disorders; they are housed in apartments and receive supportive services from Friendship Shelter staff. Residents pay one-third of their income toward their rent, with the balance paid by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of California Mental Health Services Act.
Guest Chef program – Every night, volunteer “Guest Chefs” arrive, bringing groceries and recipes and prepare dinner for 32 residents. In addition to directly connecting volunteers with the people they are helping, the meal provides budget relief for the organization. Anyone can be a guest chef by filling out an online form.
Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter, said they have become part of the county’s permanent supportive system by renting apartments and placing chronically homeless people in them while providing continuing support. Tenants are not just given the keys and wished “good luck” but are extensively followed up to make sure they are transitioning well.
There are now formal assessments of homeless people based on a national model, which gives each homeless person a vulnerability rating and places him or her accordingly. So far, 11 people have been placed. Price said, “We knew even before we had an ASL that we had a lot of very vulnerable people here in the Laguna Beach area.”
A permanent facility was planned at the current ASL location but the city decided against it and are now fighting a lawsuit by the ACLU to provide supportive housing with additional mental healthcare.
One of the 11 people fortunate enough to be placed in an apartment of his own was moved in with help from the team and appeared dumbstruck as the team were leaving, he asked, “Is it OK if I close the door?” “Yes,” they told him. “It’s your apartment now.”
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Sovereign Health is a behavioral health treatment center. If you or your loved one is struggling with a behavioral health problem due to or resulting in homelessness, please call our 24/7 helpline for further information on our programs.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer