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February 1, 2005 > Advocating for the Homeless

Advocating for the Homeless

Tri-City Homeless Coalition Helps Those in Need

by Veronica Velasquez

The Fremont Tri-City Homeless Coalition is an advocacy program for those who are homeless, providing outreach and preventative services for everything from medical care to work training to permanent housing subsidiaries. The goal of the coalition goes beyond finding temporary solutions; it aims to end homelessness altogether. Fortunately, these efforts are spearheaded by someone who believes wholeheartedly that it can be done. Despite government cutbacks, the high cost of Bay Area living, and the cold outdoors, Director Mary Ellen Gallagher doesn't just lead the program, she removes obstacles in its path.

TCV: Tell us about the grant you recently received.

MG: We were selected by the Charles and Ellen Schwab Foundation to participate in a Bay Area initiative to end homelessness. We have the possibility to make a real impact on family homelessness in our area. The grant is $75,000 a year, for two years to develop a two year plan to end homelessness.

The Housing First initiative is the concept of rapid re-housing, as an alternative to keeping people in shelters for long periods of time. The research has shown that the faster you can get families and individuals into housing, the more stable they're going to become.

TCV: Will the funds go into building low income housing?

MG: Instead of building houses, we're going to be working with the housing authority to develop more Section 8 vouchers, and other housing subsidies. That's what makes housing affordable for many people. We wouldn't have a chance of ending family homelessness if we had to build enough units, so what we really need are some housing subsidies. Section 8 is a good, permanent housing subsidy.

TCV: How about people who aren't homeless, but they're on the verge of it because they don't make enough money?

MG: There are people who are working in the service industry who are not going to be able to afford a house in this area, ever. So this makes it affordable, it means they can live in the community that they work in and that's really important; I think they're helping the community.

So much of affordable housing is structured for 80 percent of median, which means you have to have an income of $60,000 to qualify. If you're targeting homeless families who are making maybe 30 percent, or under $30,000 for a family of four. You can see with that kind of an income how easily it can be to slip into homelessness.

We deal with people who have already fallen out of that precariously-housed position. So that's the focus of our agency, and the focus of the housing first grant, but it's also about prevention.

TCV: What other programs does the coalition rely on for funding?

MG: The other thing we're working on right now is a matching grant. The Fremont Bank Foundation has given us a $10 thousand challenge for our Winter Relief Program. This program is for homeless families who are on a four to six month waiting list to get into Sunrise Village. There is always a waiting list to get in there, and it's always full.

We developed the Winter Relief Program, which costs about $90,000 to $100,000 a year to run. In an effort to help us save the program this year, Fremont Bank has pledged that for every new dollar that we raise, the bank will match it up to $10,000, so it has the potential of becoming a $20,000 overall proposal. We'd like to get the word out to people in the community that we could use their money to match this challenge.

TCV: It's amazing how some of the local businesses have stepped up to help out.

MG: Hattie Hughes, the executive director of the Fremont Bank Foundation, is very involved with our organization and is chairing our Capital Campaign. She's part of that Morris Hyman family that has a real sense and heritage of community involvement. We're building 18 housing units here behind our offices (on Fremont Boulevard) it's another effort to get homeless families into stable housing; these units are specifically for disabled adults. Because it's one thing to be homeless, and have the potential to earn money, but when you're disabled, it's really difficult.

TCV: Are there donations from the community that assist the program?

A "Pizza with Santa" party is hosted by the Niles Rotary Club every year. The Rotary members interview the kids about what they want for Christmas, and then they bring Santa in, and there are horseback rides, and all the pizza they can eat, and it's amazing to see how excited they are when they get the gifts they had wished for.

All of the food at Sunrise Village is donated by the community. We don't have a kitchen at Sunrise Village, so our hot meals are cooked by outside groups. People in the community donate all sorts of other items: coffee, which we always need, diapers, milk, travel soaps and shampoos from the hotels, tea, so many things. Corpus Christi Church bought brand new sleeping bags last year for the Winter Relief Program. They were so nice, just wonderful to us. We're really blessed that this community helps out so much.

TCV: How about the staff? Are there resident and volunteer staff, as well as paid employees?

MG: We have paid staff and volunteer staff. The volunteers are usually recent college graduates, who come to us through the Brethren Volunteer Services. They donate a year of their lives, and we give them an apartment in exchange. They all live together in the apartments behind the office, and they get their food and essentials from Sunrise Village. They are all just amazing people.

TCV: What other ways does the coalition devise to help those who've fallen on troubled times? How about work programs? Child care?

MG: One of the preventative programs we're planning is for foster youth. Studies have shown that at least 40 percent of those who have experienced a period of homelessness in their lives had at one time been in the foster care system. It does not prepare kids to be out on their own at age 18, especially not here in the Bay Area. We rent apartments, and they lease from us. They pay no more than one third of their income for rent, and we help them get jobs, or get into school, and they can stay in the program for a few years. By then they're pretty much ready to be independent.

We collaborate with the one-stop employment centers - places like Mission Valley ROP (Regional Occupational Programs) and Ohlone College. A lot of times what people need to get on their feet is education, and they haven't been able to go to college for one reason or another. We can help them get into training, such as the ROP nursing program, and then they'll have the income that will ensure that they won't end up homeless later on. We'd rather work with existing mainstream resources, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel.

As for childcare, we have a site next door to Sunrise Village called Kidango. They are a non-profit agency and they have a sliding scale payment system.

TCV: What is the capacity for Sunrise Village? How long can residents stay there?

MG: Sunrise Village houses up to 30 single men and women on one side of the site, and there are another 36 spaces on the other side for families. Residents can stay for about three months. We have some residents who are victims of domestic violence, so we'll recommend that they go to domestic violence counseling at SAVE, and we'll do a case-management with them. It helps them to develop an individual service plan. What is it they need? A better job? Affordable housing? A better job and affordable housing? This helps them to get whatever they need, so that they are no longer precariously housed.

TCV: I have heard of Journey Home. What is it?

MG: We would like to get people over to Sunrise Village for Journey Home tours to explain who we serve, and what we do. We're not asking for money on these tours, they're really just informational. But we do give out wish lists of things that they can donate. Then they'll be invited back to an October event, so hopefully if they were moved by the Journey Home tour, theywill make a donation.

The tours are one hour in length, so that we can tell the stories of the people we serve. It's not just about statistics and things that make your eyes roll. These are real stories about real people. We've just started doing the tours. The next one will be on February 9th, from 5 to 6 p.m. The address is 588 Brown Street in Fremont.


40849 Fremont Blvd., Fremont

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