By Jennifer Islas, Social Worker I, House of Peace Transitional Living Program
Ms. Bennett is a native of Riverside, California,
and was raised on March Air Force Base. She
has experienced homelessness three times in her
lifetime. “The first time, I was nine years old and
we were relocating to California. My father was still stationed in Vietnam and the Air Force didn’t come through with their promise of housing, so we were homeless for about six months. We eventually did get a nice home in the suburbs. The second time was after my parents passed away. I sold that nice family home in the suburbs and tried to relocate to Northern California to be near my two brothers, one of whom was terminally ill. That was a strain on the
finances. Everything went boom, out the window. I
was homeless and I had to foster my dog at the time which was really stressful for me.”
I asked Ms. Bennett, “What is the main reason
you were homeless this time around?” She stated, “I was having some health care issues and at the same time I had a tax issue. Even though I made arrangements with them and withdrew the last out of my retirement accounts to pay my taxes, the Franchise Tax Board put a lean on my remaining account and it just wiped me out. Not having any money, I was living with my dog, Maggie, for about a year in the motor home. We spent a year on the side of the road and it was very rough. I wouldn’t have survived without her because my health started to deteriorate.”
Ms. Bennett currently relies on Maggie to help
maintain her mental health. “Maggie is a rescue I
got after my last dog passed away. I did not intend to get a dog that soon, but I was having too many symptoms of paranoia and PTSD. There was a radio advertisement for a pet adoption event where they pay all the fees, so I went to the pet store and opened the book and there was Maggie on the front page. She just melted my heart. She’s the sweetest creature and she’s got such a calming influence.”
To many animal owners a dog is a pet or an
addition to the family. I ask Ms. Bennett what her
dog means to her. “She gives me a reason to wake up every morning. I have to have something to take care of and Maggie takes care of me emotionally. She recognizes when I get into a manic stage, and she will make motions like, ‘Let’s go for a walk!’ If she is
asleep and I am talking to myself, getting wound up, she will make a noise, roll on her back, and put her paws over her muzzle, and ‘side-eyes’ me, like she is saying, “Shut up, calm down.”
Ms. Bennett has a message for property owners
who do not rent to individuals with an emotional
support animal. “Big dogs are often safer than
smaller dogs, but big dogs get discriminated against. Dogs are also a level of security. One of the top reasons people need an emotional support animal is because they don’t feel safe. People with emotional support animals tend to take good care of them because they understand the value of the creature and want its needs met as much as they want their own needs met.”
Ms. Bennett expressed her appreciation for
being a part of House of Peace by stating, “I am
very thankful and eternally grateful to the staff and
everyone at House of Peace. I feel like sometimes I’m in church. The staff holds a moral standard and a standard of professionalism and that’s amazing in the environment they have to work in. That really helped to turn me around in terms of looking at what could be done for people, and it gave me hope, so, many thanks.”
Our Multidisciplinary Encampment Outreach
Program connects social services with medical
services for our neighbors who are living outdoors, in tents, vehicles, and shelters made from cast off materials found on the street. We learned from our experience managing Project Roomkey that our outreach would need to provide wrap-around services – a team-based, collaborative approach. We want medical services to play an equal role while providing social services.
People who are living in encampments are often
distrusting of outsiders. We expected reservations
and we knew that trust was going to be a major
factor on how successful we were going to be.
Agencies often made promises and, in the end,
they were not able to follow through. The tone of
most of our initial conversations was, “What are we going to do that’s different from all the others? And they were right.
What could we do that hadn’t already been done?
What could we offer that would make a significant
difference in their lives?
When we started, the Encampment Outreach
Team consisted of two social workers, and our
task, to offer support that might lead to permanent
housing, felt impossible. How could a team of two
gain the trust of over 100 chronically homeless
individuals? The second group we encountered
had purposely set up their encampment so that it is difficult to find and difficult to traverse. Inadequacy was constantly on our minds.
(Continued on page 2)
Jill Allen, Executive Director
From last issue: The results of following the dollar are an inability to execute a long-range
plan, and because of that, inability to collaborate with other services to create synergy around growth and development, because we are all operating in our funding silos. History is showing us that service provider-centric modality fails. Service providers are necessary, and should be nurtured to succeed, but in a role that is purely supportive of the consumer-driven plan.
• We need to gauge consumer capacity and
allow consumers to drive their own plan. The
Monterey/San Benito County Continuum of Care
already gauges consumer capacity through a very
simple assessment designed to define the consumer’s mortality. The higher the score, the more likely it is that they will die sooner. It’s a health and housing assessment that isn’t perfect but does yield a rough “score” that is valuable to service providers. Performance of this assessment is mandatory for all service providers – its primary use is to determine which consumers get “Housing First”. The highest scoring consumers are those that are chronically unsheltered and have numerous chronic and acute medical and mental health barriers. They are offered the very limited transitional and permanent housing first. But service providers didn’t really see the first glimmer of how to best use this information until the COVID pandemic made it necessary to offer motel room isolation to the consumers that scored the highest. As we grappled with how to move these consumers out of motel rooms and into permanent housing, we were forced to come together as a small group of providers on the same mission, and then truth prevailed. Looking at 80 consumer assessment scores, the rapid-rehousing specialists asked for the lower-scoring consumers, knowing that they would be more successful with them. The disabilities specialists felt they could work best with those consumers with a declared disability in the medium range, while specialists that were experienced working with consumers directly in encampments agreed to work with the upper third. Specialists knew all along which consumer they specialized in, they just had never been given the choice, but that was only half of the concept.
• Continuing the example of what we are
experiencing during COVID-19 precautions, this
new collaborative of service providers observed
something else. In the beginning of this isolation of COVID-vulnerable homeless consumers, the project, now named Project Roomkey (or PRK), was operated by the Coalition of Homeless Services Providers (which consists of most of the homeless services providers in our area). After two months, Coalition funding ran short, but nonetheless, the State of California still announced its expectation that PRK
consumers NOT be discharged back into homelessness, and instead be permanently housed. Unwilling to lose the PRK consumers to homelessness again, the Coalition asked the County of Monterey to fold Coalition consumers into the separate County PRK project. Overnight, the rules changed for the consumers. Consumer choice was taken away because the County operation, out of its usual risk aversion, did not prioritize consumer choice. The monitoring
visits were reduced from three per day to once per day, and those consumers who were unable to be found during that single visit were discharged (into homelessness) from the project, no questions asked. Consumer trust, at a very healthy, cooperative level in previous months, dried up completely. Overnight, consumer need was no longer driving the plan, and consumer cooperation all but ceased.
• Just as in any other successful business,
consumer trust and consumer choice, rules.
Consumers drive the plan. The old adage holds
true: you can lead a horse to water, but . . . if the
consumer doesn’t hit the gas, the vehicle of change remains static.
• “How can I trust you?” The most crucial
element of the consumer/service provider
relationship isn’t money, or shelter, or health or
safety – it’s trust. Any successful plan must be built around consumer trust and confidence. A couple of examples:
• Rhonda was asingle mother of two teenage girls and suffered from chronic depression that is usually well maintained by medication. Due to a number of cascading circumstances, she found herself divorced, out of the home she had maintained for a decade, and in an RV that while comfortable, didn’t have a door that locked, and she was in constant fear for the safety of her daughters.
For a year, she kept her daughters in school while she inquired with every housing services agency she knew of, and a couple of municipal governments. She got nowhere. She didn’t qualify for most services and those she did qualify for couldn’t get her out of the RV and into housing. Angry and afraid for her children, she stepped up to the podium in a community event and spilled her story, then humbled herself by begging for help. Through that encounter, Rhonda found that someone was listening, and that agency didn’t TELL her what she qualified for, they ASKED her what she wanted to do. She quickly came up with a prioritized list: fix the door on the RV, showers and laundry for her girls, a safe place to park. These needs were quickly addressed, and at the same time, an assessment performed. With immediate needs met and trust established, Rhonda chose to be assigned a social worker who was available whenever she had a question or concern. Deeper trust developed quickly, and Rhonda was housed using a Homeless Set-Aside Voucher with a landlord that was prepared to house a chronically unsheltered family. Five years later, Rhonda’s family is still sustainably and permanently housed.
(continued on page 3)
(continued from page 1)
We have an unusual advantage, though. We face
barriers and difficulties every day while working
at Dorothy’s Place and we don’t let them stop us.
We realized that a collaborative approach was
necessary to be successful. With a stroke of luck, we met Dr. Francesco Tani who was getting ready to create a “street medicine” program in Chicago. He was interested in gaining experience with an outreach team and asked if he could join our Encampment Outreach Team.
We walked the first encampment with Dr. Tani
and talked to people about their medical needs.
We met a young woman who had bandages across her chest. She was in pain. She was staying in an encampment with her boyfriend. They had gotten into an argument and the boyfriend accused her of cheating. In anger, he threw boiling water on the woman’s face, neck,
and chest with the intention to disfigure her so others wouldn’t find her attractive. Initially she did not trust us although due to the pain of her injury she accepted our help.
Dr. Tani examined the woman and determined
that she needed immediate medical care. We
were able to transport her to the hospital and
she became the first client in our Encampment
Outreach Program. Other people who were living
in the encampment heard about us and began to
seek our assistance.
As we became known and trusted by the people
living in the encampment, we found that one of
the critical health needs was access to COVID-19
vaccinations. Dr. Tani provided information about
the vaccine and answered questions for those who were hesitant to get vaccinated.
In collaboration with Natividad Medical Center,
Monterey County Public Health, First Tee, and
the Salinas Police Department, we set up COVID
vaccine clinic in the encampment. The staff from
Dorothy’s Place helped us vaccinate over 40
The Encampment Outreach Team has expanded
and now has three social workers and three
community health workers. Even so, we are still
a relatively small team and there are still many
obstacles. Regardless, since January of 2021
we have been able to provide services for 112
individuals and we currently are providing case
management for ten individuals.
We know the path to getting off the street and
into permanent housing. It is a journey, and our
support is greatly needed and appreciated. Building trust with our neighbors in the encampments is the first step. Encouraging them to let us know what they want and what they need is also primary. We believe that everyone belongs here and has a right to be here. Everyone has the right to be who they are and who they want to become.
David Ligare & Gary Smith
De La Salle High School, Concord, CA
John & Kimberly Beardshear
Kathy & Sheri Dawes
Lim Family Enterprises
Marina Motorsports, Inc.
Michael & Ann Briley
Robert J. Brandewie
Salinas Valley Communtiy Church
Santa Fe Mercados Inc
Sturdy Oil Company
Thomas A. Kieffer
Thomas R. Prelle
Yellow Bus, LLC
Carlos C. Lopez
Martin A. Vonnegut
Order of Malta, Western Association
Ron & Linda Borgman
Sunset Cruise for Dorothy’s Place – Ben
F. Robert Nunes Family Fund of
Community Foundation for
Community Foundation for
Monterey County Dept of Social Services
Monterey County Whole Person Care
Salinas Housing & Community
Sousa Family Trust
Just in time for your holiday shopping! When you start at www.amazon.smile and choose Franciscan Workers as your charity, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases to Dorothy’s Place Hospitality Center!
We are grateful for the many ways in which you support us!
How do I shop with AmazonSmile?
To use AmazonSmile, go to www.amazon.smile on your web browser or activate AmazonSmile in the Amazon Shopping app on your iOS or Android phone within the Settings or Programs & Features menu. On your web browser, you can add a bookmark to smile.amazon.com to make it even easier to return and start your shopping with AmazonSmile.
How do I activate AmazonSmile in the Amazon Shopping app?
AmazonSmile is available for Amazon customers with the latest version of the Amazon Shopping app on their mobile phone, including Android devices with version 7.0+ or iOS devices with version 12+. To activate AmazonSmile in the Amazon Shopping app, simply tap on “AmazonSmile” within the Programs &
Features menu or Settings and follow the on-screen instructions.
How do I select Dorothy’s Place as my charity of choice?
The first time you login to www.amazon.smile, you will be asked to select a charitable
organization. Use the Search tool to find “Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra” and select it. Now, each time you login to Amazon Smile, you’ll be donating .5% of the purchase price of your items to Dorothy’s Place!
(continued from page 2)
Dale experienced a lot of trauma in Vietnam, unrecognized at the time, and afterward, wanted nothing to do with the Veterans’ Administration. Having grown up in Prunedale and employed after military service in several local agriculture businesses, his personality disorder could
not allow him to develop a career, and he became homeless, medicating himself with alcohol. Living outdoors and coming to Dorothy’s Place for meals, restrooms and showers, we tried to convince him to get more involved with progressing out of homelessness, but he resisted. It wasn’t until he had a chance encounter with the son he never knew about, and a nagging sore that wouldn’t heal, that he got more interested in what we could assist him with.
Now he had something to lose – his son (also sick and now deceased), and his own life. Dale decided to share his illness with a doctor he trusted, one that he’d developed a relationship with at Dorothy’s Place. That doctor advised him that he had a Stage 4 melanoma that could be treated, but that he should go into transitional housing first. House of Peace is trauma-informed, but that wasn’t what developed Dale’s trust. What he wanted was to be hired by our Kitchen, a place where he’d put in over 5,000 hours of volunteer service. Over time, Dale worked on grieving the loss of his son, on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and on financial literacy. He proudly retains the certificates that he earned for graduating all these programs, and a small scrapbook that a friend made of him and his son, but the turning point was when he was given custody of the keys to open Dorothy’s Kitchen every day. We trusted him with the keys, and he trusted us with his life. Dale’s transitional housing journey took four years, grief, behavioral therapy, reconstructive surgery,
radiation and chemotherapy, one lost housing voucher and another one found. He was assisted into a studio apartment near Dorothy’s Place four
years ago, and is quite excellent at his part-time job as building custodian for our social work offices.
This editorial continues in our next newsletter, which you should see right before Christmas. If what I’m writing causes you to question the system, or to question me, please let me know at email@example.com.