This past winter, as part of my graduate research project, I had the honor and privilege of meeting and getting to know a few of Elk Grove’s residents as they were having dinner and enjoying each other’s company. All told, I met and interviewed over a dozen local residents to gain a unique perspective on life that could only be viewed through their lens. At the end of each conversation with John, Linda, and Ed, I had a greater understanding and appreciation for their shortcomings. I also discovered that for Joe, Phyllis, and Brian, there was no such thing as a small victory. Success was measured day by day, hour by hour, and self preservation literally meant just that. It is difficult for many of us to truly know and grasp what it feels like to live on the fringe of our society. We see what’s on the surface, nothing more, because it is easier that way, and being self absorbed takes up much of our time. These individuals I have mentioned, and many others, all share the common experience of living without a place to call home as we know it, without shelter from the elements, without safety and security because they are homeless and suffer all the ailments that are associated with it.
I see both sides of the coin. I work for the City as a senior code enforcement officer, and respond to resident complaints of homelessness and its related issues. Most reports involve trash, encampments, shopping carts, graffiti; quality of life factors that affect property values. There is no shortage of literature and research by scholars on homelessness. It remains an unsolved problem for many cities and counties exacerbated by the lack of funding and affordable housing. More importantly, a political will is missing from the equation. If asked, people will say it is a dilemma that needs to be fixed, but few are willing to make the hard choices and sacrifices to do so. NIMBY remains pervasive.
Government has recognized homelessness as a problem and has committed resources via HUD, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and other continuums of care by local agencies and providers. (The current administration is slated to drastically reduce, if not eliminate much of this funding.) Evidence based models such as Housing First, which includes components of transitional, permanent, supportive, and shared housing programs have been implemented across the country with great success. The degree of success is tempered by the level of community support and buy in from local leaders.
For its part, the City’s efforts towards combating homelessness is increasing. It has already purchased two transitional homes operated by Sacramento Self Help Housing, plans to open two more, and hired a Navigator to do outreach with the homeless population. But much more work needs to be done and non profit groups like HART, which rely on volunteers and donations, fill a crucial void by providing important services such as the Winter Sanctuary. Also known as EG WINS, it’s a program that depends on local churches and volunteers to provide food, shelter, transportation, and safety during the cold winter months.
I won’t recite old rhetoric that everyone can make a difference if only they tried; in the age of social media, instant gratification, and opaque politicians, I will say it is long overdue for residents to ante up and kick in, to put some skin in the game. For those that don’t have the time, money, nor inclination, these folks can still perform their civic duty by voting for worthwhile, benevolent initiatives and supporting philanthropic organizations. You don’t have to be a member of HART to show that you have a heart.
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou
Sometimes those who spend time in our transitional housing program are so impacted by what they’ve experienced that they pay it forward. Kaleb is one of these individuals.
Kaleb is highly educated and earned a college degree in Museum Studies and various certificates in computer programming and networking. He has worked in various jobs ranging from managing a family owned business to working with US diplomats visiting his native country. The relationship he was in brought him to Sacramento where he cared for a number of children. At the end of that relationship he found himself homeless without many connections or family here in California. Being resourceful and self-motivated, he reached out to us at HART looking for temporary housing while he got back on his feet.
Almost immediately, Kaleb became committed to becoming self-sustaining, our ultimate goal at HART. He earnestly sought job opportunities, and was able to secure employment with a large organization that was united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers. With a caregiving history, Kaleb found this position to be one that resonated with his own concern regarding the important social issues facing the average working family.
At the end of his residency in Grace House, Kaleb moved on to actually give back by accepting the opportunity to manage/monitor another transitional home that would give him permanent residency, and began the journey to obtain a license to sell insurance. Those who have walked this transitional housing journey with him have nothing but praise for his efforts. Kaleb has learned the benefits of sound budgeting, continues to work with those that need caregiving, and has sought numerous resources to continue his own professional development.
Kaleb is an outstanding example of HART’s mission fulfilled. He has become independent and self-sustaining, and in the process has become committed to paying it forward for those still looking to achieve these goals.
PTSD is a curse. It shows up at the least opportune times—scary and out of control. A flashback to a hard, desperate, and uncertain time.
Many of our homeless have it, but his was particularly bad and he hated it. Those that knew him well could see it growing during times of stress, almost always impossible to reverse once it started.
How he hated it. He would try so hard to stay out of stressful situations that would trigger it—but that is difficult when you’re homeless and often preyed upon.
He would 5150 in the emergency room as a potential risk to himself when he recognized that he needed help to come out of it. Easily more than 20 times a year he landed there. He would spend a couple of weeks in a mental facility and then be back out on the streets again. The cycle repeated itself over and over again.
As tears welled up in her eyes, her words told a different story. "I am not going to let you or God see me cry."
Too late, the tears were already coming. "I can't believe I have my own room. I don't have to be scared anymore. I am safe." She had just moved into the Grace House.
I hugged her and quickly got in my car before she could see my tears. I quickly rolled down the window and choked out, "You are why we do this!" Her hands beat at her chest over her heart.
That night she texted pictures (below) of how she had arranged her room, the view from her window, and images of hugs and kisses. I won't lie, it felt good. Good to help this sweet, funny woman finally get off the streets after she had lost her home six months prior.
Elk Grove Citizen
By Lance Armstrong Citizen Staff Writer
The Elk Grove Winter Sanctuary (EG WINS), a program dedicated to providing temporary, emergency shelter for Elk Grove's homeless during the coldest time of each year, has returned for its fourth year. This year, the program runs through March 4.
A joint effort with local churches, EG WINS is a 12-week program of the Elk Grove Homeless Assistance Resource Team (Elk Grove HART).
Fred Bremerman, a board member of Elk Grove HART and a former management analyst for the Cosumnes Community Service District, described the idea behind the founding of the shelter, which serves homeless individuals who are at least 18 years old.
"Four years ago, we realized there were homeless people in Elk Grove that did not have a place to be safe (overnight) and get a warm meal," he said. "We could serve them downtown, but most people are afraid of that and they also don't have transportation. So, we figured we had better do something to serve those (homeless) in our community."
Cathy O'Neal (center, right)
A message from HART's President:
Cathy knew how I felt about her, I loved her. I would often kid her saying that I wanted to be like her when I grew up. What’s that look like? A godly woman who saw the pain of others the way Christ sees them.To care for them when they needed support, to walk with them when they were lonely, to carry them when they could no longer walk. She even set a beautiful example of how to be a good wife, shutting down the clothes closet at noon so she could go home and fix lunch for Mike each day.
When Mike died, we had lunch and I asked her how she had survived first the tragic loss of her daughter and then, her beloved husband. She said grief could defeat her, or she could use it to motivate her. She worked tirelessly, not only for organizations like the Clothes Closet and Food Bank, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and HART, but she those hurting on a personal level. She often paid the homeless to do odd jobs for her, always feeding them lunch afterwards. She took in the cat of a homeless girl so she could go to rehab. She would spend the night - all night - with the homeless during winter sanctuary. She worked with the police to send a young homeless woman back to her mom.
Elk Grove is a better city because of Cathy. To say she will be missed simplifies the tremendous loss of the most selfless, openhearted and giving person I have ever known. While her time here on earth has come to an end, she leaves a beautiful legacy.
Members of the Rotary Club of Elk Grove installed a swing set, play house, playground mulch and stepping stones into the backyard of a transitional house for homeless families in Elk Grove on Saturday. The backyard will be enjoyed by 4 families that currently occupy the house. Funding for the materials came from the Rotary Club of Elk Grove and the Rotary district 5180 Foundation.
By Tracy Rivera
Not many people can say they’ve been touched by an angel; Amy* believes her family has been touched by several. The young family of five are moving from Meadows House, a live-in program for homeless families, to an apartment after spending the last year homeless. It won’t take long, all their possessions fit neatly in 10 boxes.
How does a family become homeless? “Gradually,” Amy assured me. We settled into the communal office, a slight hum in the air from the computer running in the corner. They’ve shared this house with three other families over the last six months. “It’s been one interesting adventure.” She tucked a leg under her flowing skirt and sank into the couch. Pink cheeks and damp hair speak of a recent shower.
The family does not take running, heated water for granted. “It used to take three gallons of water to shower behind the van in the parking lot.” Amy had to boil water on a camp stove to wash the children.
Seldom does one meet a man the caliber of Ed Kelly. For this reason, we are sad to see him step down as the President of HART (Homeless Assistance Resource Team) as he moves out of the area. He has been an asset to our organization in so many ways. He handled all of the technology and filings, from creating our website to filing for our nonprofit status with the Secretary of State.
But what makes Ed truly stand out among people is his humble attitude of service. He has walked with many of our homeless here in Elk Grove, caring for them through their backsliding, patiently waiting for them to turn back around, ready to try again. His patience gave many, 2nd, 3rd and 10th chances, just as many as it took for them to succeed. This made many of them dedicated, lifelong friends, anxious to pay it forward as Ed always encouraged them to do.
Elk Grove HART is featured in the current issue of Ardent for Life Business magazine.
Ardent for Life is a magazine created to ignite ideas and enrich the lives of the contemporary woman. - www.ardentforlife.net
We are a 501c(3) non-profit organization;
100% of donations go directly toward providing services.
Tax ID# 46-4162394