About 40 residents representing different volunteer organizations in Lodi all agreed on Tuesday night that the most important tool in getting the homeless off the street is to connect with them.
“We have a fear of dealing with other people who may be tattooed, (or) maybe don’t have the same dress as us or don’t even speak the same language, but they have the same heart as we do,” said Michael Michelucci, with 3rd Heaven Ministries.
The Lodi Improvement Committee held a forum at Carnegie Forum to discuss if there were programs that local nonprofits or the city should consider to help the homeless.
The two things nonprofits said they need are more housing and a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic.
Several organizations expressed frustration that when a homeless person says they would like to get sober, the nonprofits have to tell them to go back on the streets and not use drug and alcohol for a few days before they can send them to a program.
During Dennis Buettner’s career as an outreach worker with San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Care Services, he has only had one person tell him that they got sober on the streets. Countywide, the number of substance abuse programs went from 21 a few years back to three now.
“People can’t cope with life, so they use. ... It’s an ongoing problem, but that doesn’t mean we give up,” he said.
Having housing and giving people a place to stay is the first step in helping the homeless, said Gary Kellam, who feeds the homeless with Grace Presbyterian Church every Friday at Lawrence Park.
“It’s pretty hard to get your life straightened out when you are being rained on and you are cold,” Kellam said.
Michelucci and his wife, Gayle, have opened their house in Stockton to homeless people looking to straighten up their lives. He challenged others with a spare bedroom to do the same.
A local rehab medical center is essential because it can be dangerous to try and detox on the street, said Vince Yorba with Gravity Church. Many people are afraid to sober up without help because it will be painful or, if they are addicted to alcohol, it could even kill them.
Yorba said Gravity Church and UPtown Thrift would be willing to insure a vacant building in Lodi to open a place where addicts could receive treatment.
Getting people off the streets is a long and complicated process because there are so many steps, said Karen West, director of Salvation Army Hope Harbor Shelter. Many need to start by getting sober first at a program outside of Lodi. Then, they have to have job training, find transitional housing, get a job and get an apartment, she said.
“We do have very good success in getting them off of the streets, but they might come in one night and then two and a half years later, they are in their own house,” she said.
The number of homeless is growing with the economy, West said, and this has been the worst she has seen in the 10 years she has been with the Salvation Army in Lodi.
Leaders said estimating the number of homeless is a tough task because many of them are dispersed throughout the community. Many move frequently or are passing through town.
During the city’s most recent count, when they offered a free meal at Lawrence Park, there were 68 sheltered residents and 26 unsheltered, Wood said.
But Kellam estimates the number is closer to 180 to 200.
Numbers from the Salvation Army suggest an even greater problem. During the last year, 400 individual people slept in one of the 82 beds provided by the Salvation Army, said Ted Van Alen, business administrator of the Lodi Salvation Army.
The nonprofit has also been contacted by 8,900 to 9,000 people requesting services during the last year who would be classified as low-income or very low-income, Van Alen said.
There are a variety of nonprofits and churches who offer meals throughout the community, and try to build bonds with the homeless to eventually guide them to other services.
For Grace Presbyterian Church, the main goal is to make sure no one is going hungry, and they get donations from local restaurants, Pastor David Hill said.
“Our goal has to been able to feed them in the short-term so they have food today. ... In some cases, they just want to get through the day; in probably many cases. Our goal is to help them get through that day,” Hill said.
The human connection is key because people often feel hopeless, even if they have a house and car, because they are on the verge of losing it all, Van Alen said. When people are hopeless, it is difficult to help them, he said.
“If they do not want help because of their hopeless feeling, they aren’t going to come for it,” Van Alen said.
Yorba said he keeps his faith in local organizations being able to help the homeless when he sees a success story.
“It may be one a month or one every two months, or one every six months, but lives are being changed and saved,” he said.Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.