Thoughts from the Students at CSUMB
By Jill Allen, Executive Director.
I often wonder how people see Chinatown in Salinas. Sometimes called
Skid Row, the three to four streets that make up Chinatown are always in transition. I see changes every day. There have been efforts to erase the neighborhood or change it and it always seems to endure.
Chinatown is the place to go when there is nowhere else to go. It has long been the place where people are welcomed with a meal and a place to sleep. Though currently the place to sleep may be on the street, and may be in a tent on the sidewalk, these streets continue to be a refuge for people seeking safety and acceptance, people who have nowhere else to go.
When I look at the community surrounding Dorothy’s Place, I see why people continue to make Chinatown their home. On the street, where people are living in tents and vehicles, there is a sense of comfort. No matter how we came to be here, and why people stay, there is a desire to be safe, and accepted as who we are.
I would like to share some words from a few students who are attending CSUMB. I believe it is helpful in our work, to see how others view Chinatown, Dorothy’s programs, and the issue of homelessness in general.
Each semester CSUMB students volunteer with local organizations to fulfill their “service learning” requirements. As you will see by the words of the students who did research on homelessness last fall, the students are curious and open-minded about the causes of homelessness, and where they themselves fit into our society. The students also offered possible solutions.
Following are excerpts from the students’ writing. Due to COVID safety precautions they did their service remotely. Their writing has been gently edited with permission.
CB, Psychology and Human Development Major:
“My research has taught me a lot about my own privilege, and how homelessness can affect just about anyone. I am personally very privileged to have a roof over my head. Prior to doing my research I believed that people who were homeless had the ability to make the necessary changes to their lives. I thought that it came down to them being lazy or unmotivated from being in the streets for so long. I now know that anyone can end up homeless, and that it’s usually not easy to get back on your feet. A person’s life can change in the blink of an eye, something I think people should take into consideration before judging a homeless person.”
JDL, Business and Marketing Major.
“I grew up near Los Angeles. Seeing the homelessness around me daily was something I always wanted to fix because seeing people without a place to live just doesn’t sit right with me. One day when I have the power, I will fix a lot of homeless problems because I believe all people deserve to live decently.”
MM, Human Development and Family Sciences Major
“I plan to go into Social work/ caregiving for young adults with special needs. I have always had a passion for helping others in any way that I could. I discovered that there are several experiences of homelessnes; chronically homeless, episodic, transitional, and hidden homelessness. The lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and mental illness all contribute to homelessness. We need to be able to come together as a community and address these issues head on. I had no idea before taking on this research proposal that mental illness was such a large factor in homelessness. We need to create better resources for tackling homelessness.”
“I found it incredible that despite this pandemic a majority of agricultural workers have still been working. I’ve lived in Monterey County for all of my life. I’ve seen firsthand how hard agricultural workers work each day and how necessary they are for our society. Thankfully, there is a housing program that helps workers who contract COVID-19 to safely isolate in motels. It’s good to know that we are trying to do something about slowing down the spread of the virus by offering to house workers who contract the virus.”
DT, Business Major, interest in Sports Marketing
“I have always been motivated to help out people that are stuck in challenging situations. Every time I go to Los Angeles the number of people living on the street gets worse and worse. There is so much poverty, and I’ve always wondered why this problem can’t be fixed. People may have lost their job, suffered from an addiction, or just had bad luck with life, and they didn’t have the help they needed.
I’ve heard of recovery centers, but I didn’t know how much treatment costs. I researched the prices for different centers and the costs were crazy. At some centers the cost is more than my full-year tuition at CSUMB for just 30 days in treatment. It costs too much for people to get help. I think we need to lower these prices and try to get more people into treatment.
People are quick to judge people for their situation but don’t know the root causes for them to be in that situation.”
OE, Business Management, International Business Major
“Based on my research, I must say that local non-profit organizations are doing a tremendous amount of work to help homeless people. They provide food and clothes, shelter, consulting services, medical care services, and transportation. I wrote these two first sentences of my reflection, and all I pick up is “provide,” which also appears (repeated) many times throughout my research paper.
Do you know what I think of the word “provide”? I think of it as an act of enabling. Sure, good Samaritans will help people in need by providing mostly tangible help, which is received and consumed. And tomorrow? Tomorrow it will be precisely the same thing. Someone provided, and someone received and consumed.
I understand that every homeless person has his/her unique circumstances that forced them to live on the streets. However, I firmly believe that many people would like to have a second chance in life. They do not want to depend on the soup kitchen. They want to rely on themselves.
We should help them get free professional skills training. For example, computer skills and literacy, communication and interpersonal skills, or other hands-on training will help them get the job.
I think Dorothy’s Place should expand services by offering a free skills training program.”
PD, Psychology Major
“In order to get a deeper feel for the community that Dorothy’s Place serves, I decided to take a look at Salinas’ Chinatown myself. There is only so much a person can learn about a place without physically being there. I am glad that I did because I understand after having driven down Soledad and E. Lake Streets just how much people need an organization like Dorothy’s to help them. I had a picture in my head of what it would be like, and that picture did not at all prepare me for what I saw when I drove through the encampment on a Wednesday night.
I have never seen anything like the dense row of tents and tarp overhangs that line each side of Soledad Street. In between the tents there was a menagerie of stripped bicycles, buckets, and even a baby’s crib. There was a beautiful German Shepherd that reminded me if my own dog tethered to the right side of the street, almost entirely out in the street.
Seeing Chinatown for myself, and knowing that further funding is vital for the community, I am more motivated than ever to apply my skills in whatever way I can to aid Dorothy’s Place with their most worthy cause.”
AC, Business Administration, Information Systems Major
“In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in encampment homelessness. Many individuals choose to live in encampments rather than shelters. Shelters provide a bed, food, and other comforts that can make life easier. However, some shelters have restrictions that separate friends, family members, and pets. There are often requirements such as sobriety. Encampments sometimes offer a sense of safety, of neighbors watching out for one another. I would like to see individuals in an encampment recognized as a group so they are provided necessities like restrooms and trash pick up.
It is crucial to see the person for who they are, and to work with them from a human perspective.”
Thank you, Students, for your sincere words. It is greatly appreciated and helpful to learn how others view the issues and their thoughts on possible solutions.
Dorothy’s Place continues to welcome everyone who comes for a meal, a shower, a place to sit down. And, as we get to know each other, our staff offers support and guidance for those who have dreams, goals, and want change. For many this means moving into permanent housing, and getting off the street and creating a different life. We offer professional counselors and social workers, as well as safe, clean, fully-staffed transitional housing. If permanent housing is the goal, we know how to meet that goal.
It is an honor, privilege, and, yes, responsibility to join our guests on this journey.
With love, respect and compassion, Dorothy’s Place provides essential services, transitional support and housing assistance to people experiencing the injustice of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Without your financial support, our work doesn’t happen. Join us! Stand with us as we assist people from street life to home life. Your solidarity is humbly and gratefully received.