After two weeks of hearing from me, I thought it would be a good time to “pass the mic” to someone else. Moving forward, this newsletter will feature a regular cycle of stories covering a wide variety of topics related to homelessness. As I mentioned in my first message to you, my plan is to “share stories that hold organizations and people accountable, stories that emphasize the humanistic aspects of this work, and stories that illuminate issues that you have questions about.” To that end, once a month you’ll be hearing “Straight from the City”, which will be our point of view on a major issue related to homelessness. Next, you will hear “What’s Working”. As the name suggests, we’ll be exploring ideas, both locally and nationally, that are getting results. After that, we’ll be sending out “Get to Know”. It’s often easy to forget that organizations that we refer to on a regular basis are actually comprised of living, breathing people with hopes, goals, challenges, and frustrations. “Get to Know” will give us the chance to peel back the proverbial onion and meet people who are actually engaged in the day-to-day work of ending homelessness. Lastly, we’ll have “From You.” This final series will focus on questions, comments, events, and ideas from the community.
Before kicking off our first “What’s Working” guest post from St. Vincent de Paul’s Executive Director, Christine Paquette (you can read more about Cristine in this recent Marin IJ piece), I’d like to share a few thoughts about “Vinnies”. During my time with Downtown Streets Team, we worked in constant partnership with the team at St. Vincent’s. Based on periodic surveying we did of the team, over 90% of Team Members utilized St. Vincent’s services, and for the last two years St. Vincent’s has hosted the weekly Downtown Streets Team success meeting in their Dining Room. While the Dining Room is probably the most well-known part of St. Vincent’s operations, there is actually some amazing behind-the-scenes activity going on. As just one example, we often think about the “downstream” intervention of getting someone off the street, but the best way to solve homelessness is to never let it happen in the first place. According to St. Vincent’s 2014 Annual Report (you can check out the full report here), in that year St. Vincent’s provided emergency aid to over 1300 households throughout Marin. To put that another way, if St. Vincent’s had not provided these homeless prevention resources, Marin’s total homeless population would have doubled!! This is an incredibly important effort that everyone should know about.
For this particular post, I asked Christine to share some information about St. Vincent’s Reunification Program – another very successful initiative that few know about:
The Return to Residence program at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin has been in existence for more than 15 years. This program helps people who are homeless to relocate out of the state (and sometimes out of the country) if they have family who can take them in. We even help people who are estranged from their families to begin communicating with parents or other family members in order to arrange for the homeless individual to go back home. Other times, people are stranded in Marin because they were traveling and ran out of money, or their vehicle broke down. St. Vincent’s never sends people out of the area to be homeless somewhere else; we send people who will be housed upon arrival. Each year, approximately 100 people who are homeless in Marin are sent out of the area to be reunited with family or other support systems through the Return to Residence program.
This week, Stacy* and her 12 year old son came to St. Vincent’s in a panic. When we met Stacy four months ago, she and her son were living in their vehicle, having fled domestic violence in their home in Corte Madera. With no safe place to go, Stacy thought she would have to raise her son in her car. But St. Vincent’s found Stacy a new place to live, gave her the rental deposit she needed to move in, and even helped her to find a job. Tragically, Stacy’s abuser found her. Stacy was forced to once again pack her bags and seek help from the Society. We encouraged Stacy to use our Return to Residence program, which pays for homeless individuals and families to relocate with family out of the area, rather than be homeless in Marin. She quickly found a cousin in Pennsylvania and the Society’s Return to Residence program paid for her and her son to relocate out of state in order to find a better life. Stacy and her son were on their way to Pennsylvania within two hours of seeking our help.
*details have been changed to protect this family’s safety