Repulsion or compassion—it was a decision I had to make in a split second. His feet were blistered, with fresh wounds oozing. He wanted to try on the new shoes donated from the Elk Grove Church of Christ. The guests at HART's Winter Sanctuary had been waiting for weeks for these promised shoes and he didn't want to miss out. He wanted them on his feet. Now.
"You're next in line for a shower. Why don't you wait to try them on?"
But he was adamant, "Someone else might take them. Please." His desperate plea won me over. Fresh socks and bandages didn't make sense before taking a shower, so I carefully put the shoes on his feet, trying not to hurt him. His face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. "Can I really have these?"
Disbelief was common during the 12 weeks of HART's Winter Sanctuary. Why would people care enough to give out new shoes, feed delicious hot meals, drive in the pouring rain and then pick everyone up at dawn, to hang out with them, to become friends.
Repulsion or compassion is often a decision many of us must make every day when encountering a homeless person. Love or hate, selfishness or selflessness. Lives are always changed during our 12-Week Winter Sanctuary, because over 1,000 volunteers choose selfless compassion. Thank you volunteers of Elk Grove HART's Winter Sanctuary! You have made Elk Grove a better place.
Dear Friends of Elk Grove HART,
Wow...What an AMAZING first Big Day of Giving event we had! Thanks to you, we have received $16,470 in donations during the 24-hour giving frenzy! Funding for our two transitional homes, the Grace House and the Meadow House, is now guaranteed for over 4 months.
We are overwhelmed with gratitude for your generosity, giving where your heart is...to HART!
Our Elk Grove Nonprofit Roundup event was well attended, and filled with excitement. Many of you stopped by to learn about the variety of excellent organizations right here in our city. As we tallied up the donations, we were awestruck by the total. Our organization started small, but we are mighty...and so grateful for your continued support.
We expect to be distributing the Gilly's Car Wash coupons next week for those of you that donated $25 or more. Don't forget, it's a $16 value, and when you redeem your coupon, HART will receive an additional $8 from Gilly's.
A special thank you to board members Linda Strom and Debbie Schoeneshoefer for their coordination efforts, and to Project R.I.D.E. for inviting us to be part of the Nonprofit Roundup event.
And, sometimes they will drink. She was thirsty, parched from the struggle that had been her life for too many years. She wanted a different life for her 13-year-old son and herself but couldn’t seem to get out of a cycle that was more like a tornado. No drugs, no alcohol, just poor choices none the less. She was done and ready for change, thirsty for it.
She worked hard to meet her goals while at the Meadow House for families. Her part-time job went to full-time. She saved money each month, even amid expensive car repairs, but she was determined. Determined to have a better life, to set a good example for her son.
This week they proudly moved into their very own treasured home. A dream come true through her hard work, with the help of HART’s Meadow House for families. The stability she longed for was now a reality.
Elk Grove HART provides $3,500 per month to operate the Meadow House for homeless families and the Grace House for Homeless singles. Please consider partnering with us to support these homes. Help us to change lives one at a time.
By Board Member Debbie Schoeneshoefer
"All I have to do is park my empty car and I'll be moved in," she said with a big smile. "I lost everything in my storage, I just couldn't pay the bill." But that didn't diminish the thrill of her finally getting an apartment, a place to call her own, a place for her 3 children.
Just 3 weeks before, while sitting in DMV, she had gotten a crushing phone call. The apartment promised to her had been rented to someone else. In front of the masses, she burst into tears. "I will never find a place. No one wants to rent to me. It's hopeless."
Now, the sun was shining again. This is a sure thing, Volunteers of America helped her to find an apartment and even paid for the deposit. Relief seeped out of her pores. Furniture was the last thing on her mind. She will now have a floor to lay down on and she was thrilled about it.
HART wanted her to have more, she had worked so hard to get to this point. A call to furnish her apartment was put out to our HART supporters. And, they responded to the call. She will have a sweet surprise when she moves in. Beds, linens, and furniture will all be in place. She and her precious family will be moving into a fully furnished apartment. She will no longer be homeless, and we are thrilled for her and her family.
Our organization is run by volunteers and dependent on your generous donations. Please consider giving to help us move others out of homelessness.
By Board Member Mark Hedlund
Sean was out on the streets with nowhere to go.
He's a young adult who moved out here from his Florida home to stay with his father. Unfortunately, it didn't work out and his father would no longer let him stay. With few resources and little knowledge of surviving on his own without shelter, Sean was then victimized by having his backpack and cell phone stolen. The first glimmer of hope came when he learned about Elk Grove's Winter Sanctuary.
Sean was a grateful guest for several nights. Our volunteers gave a listening ear, letting him know we'd do what we could to help. In the meantime, we assured him he would have several weeks of being confident in the knowledge that every night, he’d have a safe, warm place to stay and a hot meal.
As quickly as he came to our doors, Sean was gone. Volunteers were concerned. But he left a note tucked into the door jam at our intake center, the Elk Grove United Methodist Church.
Sean wrote that he was finally able to make contact with his sister. She agreed to come get him and pay for his ticket back to Florida where he would be reunited with his mother. He wrote that he left behind his own sleeping bag at Impact Community Church, which was hosting that week, saying, "You can give it away to anyone who needs it."
"I am very thankful, and my heart goes out to all of your staff and the new friends I made here," wrote Sean. "Thank you soooo much for everything you’ve done and God bless!!!"
Many of our guests have long term needs for shelter. Some, like Sean, only need a boost for a little while. In either circumstance, our volunteers realize that a little kindness can have great impact on those in need.
My willingness to volunteer with the WINS program really started many years ago. I was a young 21-year-old girl who went to work in the grocery business. Yes, I did grocery booking, checking, and bagging. But what is interesting about this job is that I was a WASP from a very nice family and comfortable neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. I only knew that Van Nuys Blvd went north and stopped at the major department stores Robinsons and Bullocks. I never expected to be driving past my favorite shopping center and discovering that Van Nuys Blvd went east and west.
Then one day I found myself going into uncharted territory where nothing looked familiar. I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions and was told, "Oh, get back in your car and go back where you came from."
"I can't," I said. "I have a job to go to."
He told me to drive a little further and I would come to the train tracks and when I thought I'd gone too far to keep going. I'd finally see a purple building (a structure like today's Super Wal-Mart) and that's where I needed to be.
This was a summer vacation relief job for the grocery company I was working for. The very disadvantaged neighborhood was a mix of African-Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics, all of whom shopped at the store. This was a new experience for me, so I did my two weeks' work and went on to another vacation relief assignment.
Little did I know that at the end of August they were opening a new store not more than 10 minutes from my home, right in the middle of my "comfort zone".
You already know what I'm going to say—yes, I went back to the store in Pacoima and spent four years working with, and learning about, people from other cultures and walks of life. I learned a lot.
I volunteered at the local "Teen Post," a place for teens to go after school. I curled many a young lady's hair, getting her ready for a dance. I called a probation officer once, told him one of his "boys" was one of my pets, and asked what I could do to help him. He said he had to meet me because no one had ever called him to see what they could do for a boy on probation. Oh, the stories go on and on...
I cried my eyes out when I left that area and through the years I've often wondered how all those folks were doing and where they were today.
So, coming to volunteer for the WINS program was just as eye-opening as my days in Pacoima.
Once again, I've learned a lot. These men, women and children are just like me but haven't been able to overcome some of the hardships they've encountered today. They are looking to live the best life they can, seeking a job, housing, and a way to move forward. They grasp at every opportunity to use the resources available to them through WINS.
And it is a blessing that we have the Freds, Lindas, Debbies, and Marks who have given hours and hours of their own lives to assist our guests in any way they can. What I've done is very minor compared to the dedication of those I've mentioned.
It just takes lots of volunteers and churches to help us with this unfortunate situation we have here in Elk Grove. I'm happy to see the young church members come and help serve dinners so they can be thankful that Mom and Dad are looking out for them and doing the best they can. They are being exposed to some of life's realities at an early age which is wonderful because they will be better prepared to help those less fortunate in the coming years.
And as I write this article, it saddens me to know that tonight is the last night of our Winter Sanctuary. Our guests will be on their own tomorrow morning and I wonder where they will seek shelter for the rest of this month through the inclement weather and on into the spring and summer until we open again in the fall.
Best of Luck, my friends! Stay safe and I hope you find shelter, warmth, and happiness.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
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