By HART Winter Sanctuary Volunteer Rommel Declines
The 2017-2018 Winter Sanctuary season started my first year serving homeless guests in Elk Grove. The program challenged me to look beyond my preconceived notions and current understanding of the state of homelessness in South Sacramento and Elk Grove. Our guests became friends and their stories were all broken pieces stitched into the fabric of our community. Not all stories were the same, but they are all part of the Elk Grove family. Mothers, brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents all came for a safe place to sleep and have something to eat. Life events like the loss of a loved one, medical and mental conditions, or dependency issues were only part of the story in their need for assistance. Elk Grove Hart provided a safe community for 12 weeks. Here are the 12 things I learned from the guests in Winter Sanctuary the past 12 weeks.
1. Each person has a desire to be seen and acknowledged.
2. Each person has a name. Learn it. Use it.
3. A smile goes a long way, especially when most people don't smile at our guests.
4. "How was your day or week?" Is always a great way to check in with a friend.
5. Don't assume to know what they need. Ask them and listen.
6. Stop, pause, and spend time with me.
7. Walking around all day or having to move around all day is exhausting.
8. Winter sucks when it is rainy and cold, and there’s no place to stay.
9. We need more affordable housing options in the city and around the county.
10. Everyone—guests and volunteers—needs dignity and respect.
11. There are a lot of wonderful people in Elk Grove willing to give and help others.
12. Guests appreciate it when you truly respect them.
As the program came to a close there was a sadness in realizing that some people may be out in the inclement weather when storms arrived. However, I leave with a sense of hope as I remember those guests who now have employment and transitional housing. The future is bright as Elk Grove HART continues to work in our community to find workable solutions. I look forward to volunteering next year and I hope more people come on board to help. Many hands make the homelessness problem easier to carry. See you next year!
By HART Winter Sanctuary Volunteer Liz Irons
Serving at the 2018 Winter Sanctuary has opened my eyes to the plight of homelessness in our community. At first, volunteering with this program was a huge step out of my comfort zone. Not familiar with interacting with those less fortunate than I am, I found the first conversations I held with Winter Sanctuary guests and the lives they lead were rather interesting.
But then one gentleman shared with me that if he just gets through the day, he’s lucky. He gets items stolen from him all the time.
I cannot fathom to how it would be to live like that. I cannot imagine fearing for my life simply because someone wants to steal a sleeping bag from me. Yet for this guest, that has been reality.
Through HART, I have come away with the realization that there is a huge need for medical, dental, and mental health that should be available for all people. I have learned that HART is a very caring program that wants to treat people…as people. It has also helped me realize that the homes the city is purchasing are great stepping stones for people, and I have learned that these guests have the potential to make great neighbors. I no longer have the “not in my backyard” perspective and would encourage anyone who may hold this view to spend some time volunteering with HART. Knowledge is power, and together we can make a powerful difference for others.
By: Debbie Schoeneshoefer
She had special permission to arrive late on Sundays and Wednesdays. It was on those days that she dropped her daughter off at the police station.
The nonstop tears evidenced her desperation. Only two weeks left of Winter Sanctuary and there were no housing options in sight. She was scared, scared of losing for her three-year-old daughter. Without housing the court would certainly not grant her custody. Her court date loomed, one week away.
Maintaining her job while being homeless had been so hard, being without her daughter had been almost insurmountable. He had changed the locks and gotten temporary custody of their daughter, telling the court that she was an unfit mother because she was homeless. It was a nightmare she couldn’t seem to escape. “I will do what it takes to get her back. She’s not in a good environment, she needs to be with me. But how?” she whimpered.
She smiled shyly when she saw me the next week. “I got an apartment.” What?! I was ecstatic! She explained that on Monday she was notified that she had gotten an apartment. On Wednesday she could go into court with confidence because she now had a secure place to live. Happiness exuded from her.
The 12 weeks of Winter Sanctuary had given her a safe refuge during this time of struggle. A place with friendly smiles, listening ears, and a warm bed. A place where she could feel secure amid chaos. The light is bright at the end of the tunnel for her—and her young daughter.
Thank you to all the volunteers from Winter Sanctuary that have made this possible—sharing not only your time, but your compassion. It has been a beautiful thing, Elk Grove.
RENÉE C. BYER firstname.lastname@example.org Jenna LeClerc, 30, and her daughter Elizabeth, 8, play in front of their home in the Tahoe Park neighborhood in Sacramento. The family of five had been homeless living in a van due to domestic violence. “We lived in our van for six months,” said LeClerc.
Jenna LeClerc hugs her youngest child Warren, 3, in their Tahoe Park home.
RENÉE C. BYER email@example.com Warren,3, plays with his mother’s balloon in his bedroom at the family’s home in the Tahoe Park neighborhood.
When a woman knocked on the window of Jenna LeClerc’s 1988 Chevy cargo van two years ago, LeClerc didn’t know the brief encounter would alter the direction of her life.
LeClerc, her husband and her three children were living in the van and the woman – whose name LeClerc never learned – politely asked if they were homeless. She gave Le-Clerc the phone number of Debbie Schoeneshoefer, the leader of Elk Grove’s Homeless Assistance Resource Team.
Schoeneshoefer helped the LeClerc family move into an orderly, well lit house on Meadow Grove Drive, which as been remodeled to serve as a transitional living facility for homeless families.
“We went from bathing with a three gallon jug of water to we took a shower for over an hour, the five of us just kept rotating in and out, in and out,” LeClerc said. “Just a long, hot shower that we hadn’t had in about six months.”
The house is one of three purchased by the city of Elk Grove to help people who are homeless. Last week, the City Council approved the purchase of a fourth house and authorized the city manager to seek a fifth.
“It’s really altering the lives of the children, especially if they’re in generational poverty,” Schoeneshoefer said. “The mothers become empowered when they see that their kids are doing well... While we’re stabilizing the parents, we’re changing the direction of the children’s lives.”
Families are allowed to stay in the Meadow Grove Drive house for roughly one school year, or nine months. They pay $125 per room per month to Sacramento Self-Help Housing, which owns and runs the homes. The families get the money back at the end of their stay so they leave with some savings or a jump start on a security deposit.
Each family gets their own fridge in the shared kitchen; a line of rainbow-colored, smiley face magnets added personality to one on a recent visit. There’s a shared living room with comfortable couches and a dining area. Three suites of rooms provide some privacy.
The home blends in with other ranch-style houses in this middle-class neighborhood near Old Town Elk Grove.
In an office, residents meet with mentors and housing specialists to clear up tickets or evictions, shore up their credit and look for a more permanent place to stay.
LeClerc’s family now lives in a small house in Sacramento’s Tahoe Park neighborhood with a huge backyard for her kids to play in without having to watch for cars. She can cook dinner without having to unpack a cook stove. When her middle son, Henry, needs some time alone, he has his own space to relax.
“It’s such a huge blessing to have a home, an actual home,” LeClerc said.
The families currently living in the Meadow Grove Drive house are the third cohort to come through the house. They often find the program through other low-income services like the Elk Grove Food Bank, and they have to prove they’re from Elk Grove. Many have gone on to permanent housing, but one left for another program and another went back to someone who abused her in the past, according to Schoeneshoefer.
The home approved for city purchase Wednesday evening, in the 5700 block of Moon Creek Way, would play a slightly different role with quicker turnaround, said Sarah Bontrager, housing and public services manager for Elk Grove.
The Moon Creek Way home will serve single adults, while the next home the city purchases will serve families with children. The city is calling them “navigation centers.” The money for the homes comes from $5 million in state funds intended for that purpose.
Bontrager said Elk Grove’s council around 2011 recognized the need for transitional housing. Sacramento Self-Help Housing had provided housing counseling in the city since the early 2000s and specialized in the scattered-site, shared housing model.
“It fit well for us financially and was scaled appropriately for our homeless population,” Bontrager said. She estimated Elk Grove has between 100 and 150 homeless people, though she noted that counts of the population are notoriously difficult. A biennial count released last year by Sacramento Steps Forward estimated a lower homeless population of 40 people in Elk Grove.
The model – placing homeless people in single-family homes scattered throughout the community – is similar to an approach approved by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in November.
Sacramento County recently chose Sacramento Self-Help Housing to manage 15 properties serving 75 people. The original plan was to create one 75-bed, full-service rehousing shelter, but staff couldn’t find an appropriate site.
Instead, the Department of Human Assistance suggested the scattered-site approach – turning 15 properties into temporary housing for 5homeless people and one house monitor each.
County staff and Self-Help Housing are currently finalizing contracts with the goal of opening the first site in late February or early March, said Eduardo Ameneyro, the county’s homeless services division manager.
“They’re supposed to function like a shelter... but a much smaller environment,” said Julie Field, homeless services program manager. “The guests will meet with a case manager, there will be a case plan developed. The guests will do things like looking for housing and going to medical appointments.”
Field said the scattered site approach might open up opportunities for people with shared characteristics who might be uncomfortable in a more crowded setting – for instance, a youth house, a house for women or a site for LGBT residents.
As part of a larger network of county homeless programs, the shelters are geared toward the hardest-to-serve population – those who have been on the streets the longest with the most serious substance abuse or mental health issues, and those who haven’t sought a shelter bed because they have pets or partners who wouldn’t be allowed.
“We’re going to have people who have been on the streets for a very long time,” Field said. “If they have some mental or behavioral health issues, it might be easier with a smaller group.”
Elk Grove has exported other parts of its model as well – its HART group was the first in the region and today there are active HARTs in Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova, Carmichael and Folsom.
“Obviously it’s a model that’s had a lot of success in getting community members and volunteers involved in serving the homeless population,” Bontrager said. “The homeless population looks different in different parts of the region and I think that all of the jurisdictions are trying to promote efforts that fit the population that they have.”
Elk Grove HART has recently been selected as the "Charity of the Month" by Gifts From The Heart of Elk Grove, a shop located right in the heart of our city!
Proceeds from the shop's 2nd Chance Boutique section will be donated to our organization this month!
If you are looking for a truly YOUnique gift, we would encourage you to visit this local business, and support both owner Susie Roeser, and Elk Grove HART.
Susan is the reason I became an advocate for the homeless in Elk Grove. She was the very first homeless person I held a conversation with which she ended by saying, “You know God created us all equal.” I started to spend time with her as much out of curiosity as compassion—curious how a bright, former teacher could get to this point, living in her run-down car. Over time it became clear. Her son had been murdered and she had never recovered from the trauma.
We walked through some crazy times together. She even won a car! She taught me many things. One of the most important was that she was an adult and wanted to be treated with respect and be loved just like the rest of us.
I know God put Susan in my life to drive home the point that we are in fact all created equal. When the housing crisis hit Elk Grove and our homeless population grew, I knew she had been the best teacher I had ever had, teaching me so eloquently how to truly care for and about the homeless.
The weather was perfect. Not too hot, with a light breeze rustling the autumn leaves.
Guests were immediately offered a tour of the new home, and then invited to feast on hearty hamburgers, hotdogs, savory potato salad, and freshly baked cookies. The conversation was friendly and warm as the “Welcome to the Neighborhood” BBQ kicked off. But this was a different kind of welcome celebration.
Instead of the neighborhood throwing a welcome party for those that would be living in this new house, the house instead hosted a BBQ for those in the neighborhood and beyond. Through the efforts of Elk Grove HART, the City of Elk Grove, and Sacramento Self-Help Housing, an affordable housing option has now been made available in the form of what is known as permanent, shared residence. Tenants that might not financially qualify for traditional housing options may move into what is known as the Sun Sprite home, and rent for as long as they wish. A house monitor, appointed by Sacramento Self-Help Housing, will also reside in the home.
This BBQ was held at the home to welcome the neighborhood to tour this affordable housing option, get questions answered, and dispel any preconceived notions of “group home” fears. In attendance were 26 guests, which included four neighborhood families in the area, many HART and Winter Sanctuary volunteers, City of Elk Grove staff, and representatives from both Mayor Steve Ly’s office and the Elk Grove Citizen.
The response to this affordable housing option was overwhelmingly positive. Compliments on the house’s interior design and decoration were heard throughout the evening, and Sun Sprite’s house monitor provided friendly and hospitable hosting. In addition to mastering the grill, the staff of Sacramento Self-Help Housing were very welcoming to those attending, and friendly social chatter was lively among those attending. By inviting the public to this event, it provided the opportunity for a glimpse into just one of the many creative solutions for our area’s housing shortage and the financial challenges of those who have experienced homelessness.
"As a Christ follower, how can I say that and not be involved with serving the needy in our community? There are lots of very worthy causes to get behind, some local, some abroad. I happen to feel led to serve on the Elk Grove HART board. Is it challenging? Yes. Is it daunting at times? Absolutely. But, knowing that in some way we were the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needed caring brings things into focus for me. The Bible is so full of admonishments concerning the poor it's staggering, but nowhere is it so plainly laid out as in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46. This is how I choose to give a cup of cool water." — Phil Machek
The community response to the needs of Elk Grove’s homeless continues to amaze us. Recently, we put a callout for much-needed donations to restock and prepare our Meadow House transitional home for a new round of families.
Supporters of HART responded promptly with enthusiasm, and went well above our expectations. The Meadow House once again feels like a warm home thanks to donations of new dishes, kitchen supplies, warm blankets, sheet sets, fresh towels, and many other household items.
With the Meadow House fully supplied from your generosity, simple household needs will not be a distraction for these families who will be working for the new three months to become self-sufficient again. We could not carry out our mission without you!
Police tape cordoned off a large area, a young woman sat on the curb crying and several police cars did not paint a pretty picture Tuesday afternoon. I had just come from a movie about a homeless family, The Glass Castle. Shortly thereafter, a text message explained it all, one of our homeless had died.
I didn’t know Harry. I called several other homeless advocates until I found one that knew him. That young woman on the curb was his fiancé, he has a child in our school district, he was very good friends with one of our other homeless men. He was loved, he was human.
It surprised me that he had a child in one of our schools. I don’t know why, having children is common. I guess what caught me off guard is that it made him more human, a child lost his father on Tuesday, a mother her son and a heartbroken woman, her fiancé.
Harry will likely not have his obituary in the Elk Grove Citizen, or maybe even a funeral… and that breaks my heart. Was he better or less than any of us, of course not. He was just human with human failings. A human with a child, a human with people that loved and cared about him. For those people, my heart mourns as it does for anyone that has lost a loved one. As I often remind myself, I am not here on this earth to judge but to love. I’m sorry I did not know Harry and have the opportunity to show him love, but am so thankful for those that did care about him. For the police officer that was deeply saddened, for the homeless advocate that choked back the tears when I told her of his passing. I’m thankful for the beautiful people of our community that care for the homeless, that see them as humans.
Goodbye, Harry, and God bless you. You leave a gap in the hearts of those that loved you. You did not die unknown or unloved.
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