Homeless Consumers & Service Providers Committee Chair Imelda Ceja-Butkiewicz of Kern County Public Health was happy.
So were the representatives from the 10 Kern County Homeless Collaborative (KCHC) partners present.
Why wouldn't they be?
Some 80 to 90 struggling households -- that's more than 100 people, one to two dozen of them children -- had been reached over a two-hour period with valuable direct services and information designed to help ensure self-sufficiency and prevent homelessness.
But behind the success of the KCHC's first ever Delano Outreach -- conducted in conjunction with the Delano Community Connection Center's (DCCC) monthly food commodities distribution Wednesday (11/14/2012) -- are the troubling stories of families living on the edge in Kern County's northernmost and second largest city.
Many of these families went to the DCCC like they do every month for a box of much-needed food items. But on Wednesday they also found information and assistance delivered in English and Spanish by Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, California Veterans Assistance Fundation, Clinica Sierra Vista, Community Action Partnership of Kern, Employers Training Resource, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, the Kern County Departments of Human Services and Public Health, Stewards Incorporated, and United Way of Kern County.
None of the individuals or families we interacted with said they were homeless. Some of them, however, joked ironically--"Ask me in a month or two," or "Ask me after the holidays"--using humor as a defense mechanism to cushion the blows dealt to them by hunger, financial insecurity and need. They are not homeless, but many among them are precariously at risk of becoming homeless.
Here are just a few snapshot views into the lives of some who kindly shared their stories. May they serve to educate the community about the need to continue providing homeless assistance and prevention services to the most vulnerable among us.
Mother of Three Homeless Adult Children
Fifty-six-year-old Carla Velez has eight children, four boys and four girls. Three of them are homeless.
She said she has court-appointed guardianship over three grandchildren that belong her 24-year-old daughter who has had substance abuse problems and is currently staying at the Bakersfield Homeless Center.
Velez also has a 35-year-old son who until recently was staying with another of her daughters. He has just started a new job but has not been able to come up with the money for a down payment on an apartment, she said, so he is having to live at The Mission at Kern County (formerly known as The Bakersfield Rescue Mission).
Her "baby daughter," who is 20, is staying with Velez and her retired 78-year-old husband because she has nowhere else to go. This daughter has a 9-month-old baby boy and is pregnant with her second child, who is due in January.
Velez's family income consists of her husband's Social Security and retirement benefits; a part-time salary she receives from Kern County Aging and Adult Services for caring for a disabled elderly person three to four hours a day through the In-Home Supportive Services Program; and cash aid from the Kern County Department of Human Services to assist with the care of her grandchildren.
Although she could use more help herself, this selfless grandma stopped at the various outreach tables trying to find solutions to her children's homelessness.
A Farmworker's Stay-at-Home Wife
Dulce Garcia doesn't speak English. She attended the outreach with her 14-month-old daughter, Paola Ruiz, one of several children who caught the fancy of Ceja-Butkiewicz.
Garcia is married. Her husband is a farmworker, she said, but in the off season--which is now--he has no income. She was there to pick up a box of food items for her family. She goes to the Community Connection Center to receive this in-kind assistance every month. Garcia and her husband make the food she gets last for about a week and a half each time, she said.
Still Recovering from Eye Surgery
Zoraida Santana doesn't speak English, either. These days, the 65-year-old's face looks small and expressionless behind the enormous sunglasses she wears to protect her eyes from the light. She had cataract surgery two weeks ago, she said, and her eyes are still very sensitive.
Santana receives a pension and Supplemental Security Income, she said, but still needs monthly in-kind food aid. She lives at home with her husband and a 38-year-old son who has a drug problem that has caused him to land in jail many times. She was glad to receive two bilingual pamphlets from the Kern County Meth Reduction Task Force: one for herself, one for her son.
Onward with Our Mission
The mission of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative is "to put an end to homelessness in Kern County through collaborative planning and action." Wednesday's collaborative planning and action involved our important new partnership with gracious host the Delano Community Connection Center.
Together, the KCHC and DCCC collaborated to impact homelessness, hunger, substance abuse and other challenges in the lives of Carla Velez, Dulce Garcia, Zoraida Santana, and many others like them.
Several goals and objectives of Home First! Kern County's 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness were addressed through Wednesday's outreach, including:
- Closing the front door to homelessness by preventing homelessness whenever possible;
- Increasing the capacity of, and accessibility to, no-cost or low-cost substance abuse treatment;
- Providing a fully integrated array of wraparound support services; and
- Delivering a coordinated countywide outreach.
Outreaches like Wednesday's will continue in Delano and other rural areas, as well as in greater Bakersfield, until our mission is fulfilled.
Will you help us end homelessness in Kern County? Please go back to our home page by clicking on the KCHC logo above, then, click on the "Donate" or "Volunteer" buttons to support our efforts. Or click on the "Membership" tab to learn how to become a dues-paying member of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative.
For additional information, please contact the Homelessnes Project Manager at Louis.M@uwkern.org or (661) 834-2734.