When Daily Press Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera called to ask if I would like to write a human interest story every month about people who are homeless, I must have sounded a little off and out of breath with my, “Yes.” Right away he asked, “Is everything all right?”
I replied, “Yea. I’m OK. You will never guess where I’m at right now?”
I told him that I was riding in the back seat of a police car. I added that fortunately I was not wearing handcuffs or on my way to jail, this time. We had a good laugh. That day two Santa Monica police officers that my charity — West Coast Care — works with were helping me get to a local shelter as quickly as I could.
This particular story had all started the day before when I had responded to a call from the Senior Center in Palisades Park. There was a homeless person in her 30s who had wondered inside that was hungry, tired and asking for help.
The first interview was difficult because her jaw had been recently broken. Two guys had jumped her a few days earlier in an attempt to steal money from her. Just released from the hospital, she realized she had hit the bottom. She told me that she was really tired of living on the streets and wanted to go home.
When I hear that, it is like music to my ears. I learned that lesson in San Francisco where I ran a rehab for 10 years. The people graduating that wanted to go home to begin rebuilding their lives were in the highest percentage group of people who stayed clean and sober. Home is usually where the real issues started and home is usually where the most support and accountability are as well. The bottom line — this woman meant business.
I made a few calls to the several numbers that she partially remembered, then several more calls to 411, and then a series of other calls. Over the next hour I had finally made contact with her family and her Social Security insurance (SSI) payee in Northern California. The payee, who was also a social worker, started working on a plan to get her temporarily housed for that weekend and find permanent housing for her after that. The social worker also knew her family who lived in that area.
The morning that Kevin called me, her social worker had just called me back. She declared, “I’ve got it all worked out! We can pay for her bus ticket! Can you get her here by 7 o’clock tonight?” I quickly checked the bus schedules from my smartphone. We could get her there but we would have to hurry. Her bus left at 11:30 a.m. from Downtown L.A. and it was 10 a.m.
I was on my way to the shelter that had graciously agreed to give her an emergency bed the night before while we were all trying to work out the logistics. I needed to see if she would agree with her worker’s plan and make the final arrangements. Because of time constraints I had just ditched the bicycle that I usually ride and ran across the street to get a lift from the police officers who were waiting to take me to the shelter.
Every minute counts. I called my son Josh, who works with me, and told him to start heading over to the shelter, too. He had just picked up two other homeless people that were waiting on him at 10 a.m. at the canon by the Santa Monica Pier to be transported to the Greyhound bus station. We had successfully been able to reconnect them with their families on the East Coast.
When I got to the shelter, she was in the lobby. She agreed to the re-entry plan and just like that she was on her way. We actually got her to the station on time with a couple of minutes to spare. Her payee contacted us later the next week with a good report that she had arrived safely, was in housing, talking with her family and had started a recovery program.
I told Kevin that he had a great idea. The struggles that the homeless face are real. It’s time to start telling some of these human interest/perspective stories about the people who are trying to break free from homelessness.
More to follow.
Ron Hooks is the founder and executive director of West Coast Care, a nonprofit. WCC is part of the Santa Monica Police Department’s Joint Homeless Outreach Program. Since October 2006, more than 1,000 homeless have been compassionately helped to transition off of the streets of Santa Monica by reconnecting them with their families, placing them into housing and/or treatment programs. Learn more at westcoastcare.org.