VOM Rotary: Less Is More

Oakmont Rotary Club
  • John Brodey
Len Mirabella is the Director of Catholic Charities Santa Rosa

The above may be true, but not when it comes to the human condition. No one would choose hopelessness over hopefulness. Whether you live in Somalia or on the streets of Santa Rosa, having very little is not freedom, it is soul crushing. Homelessness is disturbing to us, an uncomfortable reminder of what can happen. While an occasional trip into the city is a graphic reminder of how frightening living on the streets might be, it might shock you to find out that Santa Rosa has a larger homeless population per capita than San Francisco. Various charities conduct a street census of the homeless population in our town. Guided by former street people, they have helped define this issue and given a face to people who are otherwise invisible to most of us driving by.

All but the most hardened homeless don’t live on the street by choice. A seemingly innocent chain of events can lead some to an unimaginable existence. At first, losing a job, one’s home and family don’t seem to be enough to remove all vestiges of a normal life. And for some it doesn’t. Living in one’s car (often with children) is still a form of homelessness. What’s more, a surprisingly sizable group even have minimum wage jobs. Identifying the contributing factors is only the first step in forging a solution.

The Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa has led the charge to not only confront the crisis, but they have worked on a strategy to reverse the process that leads to homelessness. It’s well known that around half of the homeless population are veterans and a slightly larger percentage also suffer from mental illness. Len Mirabella, director of Catholic Charities, spoke to us of their decision to focus all their resources to rethinking the steps needed to get people off the street and into housing. It has been an accepted theory that the process should first deal with the individual issues of mental illness and substance abuse. Once an individual has conquered those obstacles, only then would they be ready for long term housing. But how can you expect people to ‘fix’ themselves if they have no foundation or stability? Maybe, you provide a safe place for them to heal first and then do the work on rehabilitation. The success rate by simply reversing the process was 78% compared to 49% the old way. This has led the Catholic Charities to take the bold steps of developing the housing needed. The Palms Motel on Santa Rosa Ave is

their first effort (104 rooms). It is being followed by an even greater vision; turning an unused parcel of land downtown into a homeless ‘headquarters’ to be called Caritas Village. It will house a variety of services, offices, treatment programs, support personnel and security. Ambitious but game changing. Working with other organizations, this new vision presented by Catholic Charities will become a reality. And just maybe it will serve as a model for other cities and towns to not just remove or displace those who have been marginalized, but to reintroduce them to a life they barely remember

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