It’s already November, and it seems that COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways that we still don't comprehend. We all seek the “new normal." Many struggle with that. And all of us struggle with being restricted from doing the activities we were accustomed to in the “old normal". In this newsletter, we have three articles that speak to “new" versus “old". We hope they inspire you.
But first, we need to thank all of you, sincerely, for the very generous and much needed financial and volunteer support we enjoyed during 2020, and for all the emergency funding that we've received to keep us serving as essential workers during this health crisis. We all go through challenges and triumphs, and we do it together! Despite COVID, with your help we've assisted 18 more people into permanent housing in the last six months. You made housing happen with the investment of your time and financial support!
While much of our attention is rightly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, we think it’s important to keep in mind that our continuing goal here at Dorothy’s Place is to get our homeless population off the streets permanently.
As we’ve communicated before, permanent affordable housing of the homeless is something that everybody agrees with and supports. But actually getting it funded and getting folks off the street is another matter. It’s often a colossal struggle for a variety of reasons.
Maria's life story is particularly poignant (see page _) and starts on a farm in Mexico, where she was loved and secure. At age 20, she took a job across the US border as a maid, and since then, her life took a circuitous path, including her making stops in Laredo, TX (where she was homeless for the first time), Long Beach, CA, Chicago, IL, San Francisco (where she had a 2 decades-long career stop as a hospital laundry manager until the staggering costs of living in San Francisco forced a move), and San Jose, where she again had no family, and no resources.
So, in 2013, at 87, she gathered her things, got on a Greyhound bus, and came to Salinas.
Maria recalls that her first couple weeks in Salinas were rough. She slept on the pavement. One day, however, she was approached by a Mexican couple, who informed her she should go to “Dorotea’s” at Chinatown and there, they told her she would be able to bathe and eat. One of the services Maria connected to while in Chinatown was the Women Alive Emergency Shelter. When Women Alive closed, she went into housing transition in our House of Peace. While Maria says her transition from Dorothy’s to her new apartment at Moon Gate Plaza wasn’t easy, she says she is grateful for all the help she received to increase the quality of life she now enjoys. Now when asked, “Are you content?", Maria replies, “Si lo estoy. Gracias a Dios, si lo estoy.” (Yes, I am. Thanks to God, I am.)
From the Executive Director to the Dorothy's Place Team, March 18, 2020: “During the current health emergency caused by the spread of the COVID-19, Dorothy’s Place will continue to provide services, as usual, for our guests and clients. Service to others in need has always been our mission, often serving in ways that no other agency would, or could. Our uniqueness has always been supported by the greater community, especially by those that value service above self.
“There are no plans for disruption or cancellation of any of our existing services. That said, we expect that most of our volunteers will opt to take a break, and we expect that we will see a greater need for basic services. We expect that many of our staff will become ill, and will not be coming to work for a while. We expect team members that are age 65 and greater will not be coming in to work until COVID-19 has passed, although those that can will work from home.
“You are part of a radically brave and humble tradition of service to victims of chronic homelessness. I hope you’re as proud of that as I am of you. We will outline in this document our plan to preserve the safety and health of both our employees and our clients.
“These now become “company policies” and must be adhered to, even if it means altering or curtailing some of our activities until after the crisis passes, due to lack of staffing and other resources. Together in body or in spirit, we will surmount this, like we’ve surmounted so many other obstacles in the past. Thank you for being a servant to others.”
We are asked why we at Dorothy’s Place continue to work in the largest encampment in the County when it’s often dangerous. Those that support our efforts read about criminal or tragic happenings here and worry about us. Sometimes we’ll see a person, a potential donor perhaps, drive up to Dorothy’s Place, park across the street, look around, and immediately pull out and leave, too cautious to get out of their car. The public often gets an incomplete impression of our Chinatown area in Salinas.
Not to say that everything is completely safe, and that there isn’t a significant amount of violence here occasionally. There’s no denying that. Desperate people do crazy things. But there is much more to our neighborhood than violence and despair.
There is love and true friendship here. We see it every day.
There was Dwayne and Bob. They were true friends and protected each other daily. They had a lot in common – they loved music, small animals, and their families, whether related to each other or pulled together by shared experience. They’d both lived hard, all their lives. Neither wanted to go back to prison. They both had difficult, chronic health conditions.
Bob had advanced liver disease. He didn’t talk about it much. He knew it would kill him. This was before the days of a cure for Hepatitis C. The disease caused him a lot of pain. He’d go to the hospital to get the pressure from accumulating fluid relieved, also painful because of the long needle needed to aspirate. Dwayne had a beat-up RV that he lived in, which he shared with his son, and Bob. Often Bob was too weak to get out of bed and needed exceptional care. Dwayne brought Bob his meals, and cleaned up after him as best he could, but Bob was increasingly incontinent and Dwayne felt very bad that he had to ask his friend to sleep elsewhere. Bob moved into a tent on the sidewalk near the RV. It was a wet winter, and Dwayne worried. He asked us what could be done about a safe place for Bob. We failed to find a local agency that would take care of Bob, but instead found a friend that was willing to care for him. Bob died a couple weeks later, in comforting surroundings.
Soon after, Dwayne found that he had cancer. He went through chemo but the cancer was aggressive and took him faster than we expected. Before he died, he made sure to let us know how much he appreciated that we found a place for Bob to pass away in dignity.
Chinatown is a real neighborhood, with neighbors who know each other, are fond of each other, and look out for one another. They want to trust others, but after so many disappointments, it takes a while to develop the ability to trust again. At Dorothy’s Place, trust has become our most valuable asset, and we want to parlay that trust into huge benefits for our consumers and our community. We are developing a new program, a Multidisciplinary Encampment Outreach Team staffed by professionals, to provide medical care, mental health services, and social services, right in the encampments. We will serve our consumers where they live, but it will take a long and painstaking process of relationship development to make this happen.
Dorothy’s Place recently assisted with sheltering 44 homeless persons who meet the guidelines for high risk of COVID infection. These vulnerable unsheltered people had no place to shelter inside, isolated from other people. “Project Roomkey” offered safety from the coronavirus for some of the hundreds of people who live on our streets, in tents and cars, in Monterey County.
To accomplish this, we literally moved half our social work office into two rooms in the “Roomkey” motel (in an undisclosed location). Dorothy’s Place provided our motel guests with case management, three monitoring visits daily and three meals daily. We also assisted those suffering with addiction withdrawals by partnering with Sun Street Centers and Natividad Medical Center to provide speedy connection with withdrawal medications.
Now, Governor Gavin Newsom and federal Housing and Urban Development Department officials have directed us to transition as many of our motel guests as we can directly into permanent housing. We are asked to ensure that those who are the most vulnerable do not return to living on the streets. Since there is very little permanent housing available, we are moving 18 people from the motel to Dorothy’s Place’s House of Peace Transitional Living program.
“Project Roomkey” presents a superb opportunity to push past the red tape and get people housed. It only took a day for Dorothy’s Place to come up with a list of 80 candidates to place into the motel, ranked by health vulnerability.
Many of those who sheltered in the motel are regular guests of Dorothy’s – people who live in tents and cars on the streets, who suffer daily from traumatic experiences past and present, who eat at Dorothy’s every day, and who have come to us for help with housing. We know their stories and their needs. They know us.
The Housing Authority for the County of Monterey may provide a limited number of Section 8 federal housing vouchers. This will help people with a documented disability. But even with a voucher, finding a landlord that will accept a voucher is often very difficult.
In order to move our guests from their motel rooms into permanent, sustainable housing, we're going to need your help. We need compassionate landlords that can offer minimal low income housing. We need them to know that Dorothy’s Place will case manage their tenant for a year after lease-up.
Please support the work of Dorothy’s Place with your donation, either by mail or online at dorothysplace.org. Have more questions? Feel free to call me or my colleague, Lee Hulquist, at 831-578-4198 or 831-9320-8765, respectively. As always, we are very grateful for your kindness and your generosity!
Everything that we have built at Dorothy’s Place to get people off the streets and into homes came only through your help. Please help us take advantage of unanticipated opportunities amidst a crisis. Invest and help us get unsheltered people housed.