Helping The Homeless
By Robin Britt, Executive Director, Community Conscience
There has been a lot of attention lately regarding the homeless problem, not only in the local news, but nationally as well. Recently the City of Thousand Oaks had a symposium on the dynamics of homelessness in the Conejo Valley. It was well attended and very apparent there is an army of caring people in our community. I encourage you to view a video that was shared at the symposium:
Helping the homeless is nothing new to Community Conscience. We have housed Lutheran Social Services in the Human Services Center since it was built almost 31 years ago. They have the only shower, laundry facility, food pantry, mail service, clothing, and supplies all in one location for the homeless. You must be a resident of Thousand Oaks for a period of at least 6 months to receive assistance. All clients go through an intake procedure prior to receiving services. Some of their clients are housed in severe poverty, but most are living in their vehicles or on the streets. They grew up here, went to school here, and some had homes and businesses here. They are residents of the community we share and are in dire need of assistance.
In January 2019 Harbor House, a new non-profit, was formed from former staff of Lutheran Social Services. At this time they are primarily working with housed clients who are very low income. Keeping people housed is critical to making sure the homeless population does not increase at a much higher rate. It is more cost effective to keep people safely housed than to bring them back from the chaos of homelessness. The goal of Harbor House is to expand programs to serve more homeless. Harbor House organizes a nightly year-round meal program located at seven different houses of faith for anyone who cannot afford a hot meal. December 1 – March 31 homeless people can have dinner and stay overnight at these churches — one for each night of the week. This is not new – it has been around for many years. There are hundreds of people who volunteer to keep this important program going.
A large number of the homeless population visit the Human Services Center each day resulting in an estimated 5,000 visits per year just to Lutheran Social Services. Many are well groomed and living with as much grace as possible. You would not know they were living in their vehicle and struggle for a safe place to park at night, gas money, and common comforts. There are also those with all ranges of mental illness and/or suffering from the disease of addiction and can be both vulnerable and dangerous. It is problematic to have people with unpredictable and sometimes inappropriate behavior spending day and night on your property. When services are completed, it is time to leave, but they have nowhere to go. There are 13 other agencies in the Human Services Center serving a wide variety of vulnerable populations. It can be very intimidating to walk past large groups of unruly people to get to much needed services. Each year a part of our operating budget goes to repairing or replacing things that are vandalized. In May 2018 it became necessary to hire a full time security guard. This is a big expense for a non-profit, but it has made a noticeable difference.
Homelessness is a complex problem. It will never be completely solved, however making life easier for those in critical need of help is our mission. I have personally seen people get housed utilizing programs from Lutheran Social Services. Working together with other agencies they assist them with mental health counseling, drug rehab, food, employment, and a life with responsibility. There is nothing more rewarding than learning someone’s life was changed for the better. For Community Conscience’s role in maintaining a permanent facility for people in need, we find the rewards far outweigh the challenges. The Human Services Center has been a mecca for change for over three decades. We ask the question, what can we do as a community to ease the suffering of our fellow man?