The driving force behind a new local nonprofit, Homeless Action Sonoma, speaks with The Sun’s Anna Pier.
You critiqued my Sun report, “Where do the homeless sleep?” observing that I presented the viewpoint of the public face of the homeless question, but didn’t include the homeless, or details about where they do sleep.
Yes. I can tell you where they sleep. In cars, under hedges, in doorways, in tents. Or they walk all night to keep from freezing. Every one of them has PTSD from never getting a good night’s sleep. I felt you caved in to the status quo, accepting the view that the city and county are responsible for the care of the homeless, and that the issue of overnight shelter during the pandemic is “intractable.” It is a community issue, and we can solve it.
Tell me about Homeless Action Sonoma (HAS).
I started working with Homeless Action Santa Rosa, and now in Sonoma we have our own 501.c.3 with a board of six voting members, ten total, including two homeless. We have five therapists working with us pro bono, and six volunteer mentors. The mentoring follows the model of the Mentoring Alliance, but we prefer to call the relationship “befriending.” It’s one adult to another, two equals. The mentor can fill in the steps – like making appointments – following a social worker’s recommendations.
So how can shelter be offered?
Frankly, I am horrified that I can’t find shelter for ten people to sleep – people who were born here, work here. One church was working with us, but the neighbors objected. It’s going to take community support.
How can you get that?
Education. Unfortunately, the opportunities for community education have been pretty much cut off by Covid. We can educate, and then integrate the two communities. The homeless need education too. Both the sheltered and the unsheltered have issues of trust.
How did you get involved working with the homeless?
I volunteered at Sonoma Overnight Support. I got to know some of our homeless. I found out I really like these people. So many of them have lived here their whole life, and want to stay here, be part of our community. I discovered that every homeless person is as unique as every sheltered person. I decided to put my efforts to advocacy, rather than maintenance. And I am in no way discrediting SOS.
Tell me about the Sunday BBQ.
We’ve been having them for over a year at my home. The homeless do all the planning, shopping, cooking, and they set the rules. It gives me such hope to see 15 people seated to eat – socially distanced of course – and you can’t tell who’s homeless, who’s not. They are a “tribe” – they take care of each other even if they don’t like each other.
You just had a very successful weekend yard sale.
Over 300 people came, and HAS netted over $2000, after the homeless people who sold their refinished furniture and art got their cut. The best part is that five homeless people helped, and got to meet, greet, and sell. The community feedback was very positive.
Is this your first community service?
No, I volunteered for nine years at Teen Services, doing Art Wednesdays. I taught art to teens who were disadvantaged and struggling – and they performed through their art. We had an annual art show where they sold their pieces.
What’s your background?
I was born in Massachusetts, and my parents taught me that you help people, that’s just what you do. After getting a degree in social sciences, then living the ‘60s for a couple of years, through a friend I discovered flying. I was hooked. I got my license, and eventually was a pilot for United Airlines for 18 years. I retired early to spend time with my husband, who died two years ago. Larry believed, “You have the responsibility to leave the world a better place, because you’re on it.”
What do you want our readers to know?
There is so much money spent on this issue that the attitude becomes that it must be the fault of the homeless that the problem is not fixed. Much of the money goes to maintenance, like providing food. That definitely has its place, but there is so much more to do. I am very passionate about this work. Don’t think I’m a soft touch. I’m tough. But I am more convinced than ever that getting the homeless housed is futile without community support.
If you got that support, what would you do?
We would start a program like the amazing Homeward Bound in Novato. Instead of just throwing money at the problem, use public property and create a facility that shelters, supports, and trains people.