July 26, 2005 > Crossing the bridge to independence
Crossing the bridge to independence
by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson
At the age of 13, Karen McCormick's (fictitious name) great-grandmother, her sole caregiver, passed away. Separated from her brothers and sisters, she was placed in foster care where she remained a ward of the state. On her eighteenth birthday, she was "aged out," the system's term for releasing youth from foster care. Alone and unsure of what to do, she looked for help and found it in Project Independence (PI). PI provides comprehensive case management, rental subsidies and other services to emancipated foster youth - 65 percent of whom leave the system with no place to go and are at high risk of becoming homeless. McCormick, now 21, recently graduated from California State University, East Bay with honors and will be attending a prestigious European university in the fall. McCormick said that she could not have done it without the support of Project Independence.
Project Independence is only one of the many services offered by the Tri-City Homeless Coalition (TCHC), a non-profit agency established in 1988 as a winter relief program offering warm blankets and shelter to the area's homeless. By 1993, TCHC opened the doors to its flagship program, Sunrise Village, a 17,500 square foot, 24-hour facility. Built specifically for housing the homeless, Sunrise Village is the only shelter of its kind in the Bay Area. Sunrise's capacity is 66 people and is occupied nearly 100 percent of the time.
TCHC's latest gift to the community is the Rotary BridgeWay Apartment complex named for the half million dollar combined contribution of the Rotary Clubs of Niles, Warm Springs, Mission San Jose, Fremont, Fremont Sunrise, Newark and F.U.N. Sunset. The $1.2 million project was also funded by generous assistance from many local corporate and private donations. BridgeWay is based on the Housing First approach to ending homelessness, pioneered by the Pathway to Housing program in New York City. This approach shortens stays in emergency shelters, allowing low-income families to transition to permanent housing with a network of support. Vulnerable families are more likely to take advantage of support services after they are in their own apartments, rather than while living in a temporary shelter or on the streets, according to TCHC's website, www.tricityhomeless.org.
Rotary BridgeWay, located on Bay Street in the Irvington District of Fremont, joins the Howard Collins BridgeWay Apartments in Fremont and the BridgeWay Apartments in Union City. All three are transitional housing for families who have graduated from Sunrise Village, or another shelter, giving them up to another 24 months to develop the skills they will need for employment. BridgeWay rents amount to no more than one-third of the household income while heads of households go to school or participate in job training. With improved job skills and higher paying jobs, these households are better positioned to move into market-rate housing.
Rotary BridgeWay is a new state-of-the-art facility comprised of three studio apartments, five one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units and eight renovated units. It also features an 800 square foot Program Service Center, a community kitchen, computer lab, community meeting room, outdoor play areas and gardens.
"I have seen how effective programs can change the life of an individual or of an entire family," said Hattie Hyman Hughes, Chair of the BridgeWay campaign. "I believe that [Rotary BridgeWay] will ignite the community to change people's lives for the better."
According to the Alameda County-Wide Continuum of Care Plan estimates, between 9,000 and 12,000 people are homeless in Alameda County on any given night, of which 1,100 are in the Tri-City area. TCHC views Bridgeway as "a visionary solution to ending homelessness," and has created an environment that helps families where they live, offering on-site services including; individual case management, parenting classes, physical and mental health programs, recovery support groups, a mobile health clinic, prevention workshops, children's programs, and tutoring and job counseling.
The Rotary Bridgeway Apartments are only the latest in TCHC's efforts to eradicate homelessness in the Tri-City area and ensure that people like Karen McCormick will never have to spend a night alone on the streets again.
To find about more about the Tri-City Homeless Coalition, call their administrative office at (510) 657-7409.