By Sharon McIntire We’ve all seen them. Those solitary, scraggly scarecrows that shuffle down our streets. They make us uncomfortable. Some salve our consciences by giving them money, wondering if we’re helping or just making things worse. The ones we don’t notice are the ones that look like us. Those who lived pretty much the same kinds of lives until Fate decided to take away all that was taken for granted, like the man who lived for years paying $600 a month for his apartment until there was suddenly a huge demand for housing and he was told his rent would be $550 a week. Overnight he was homeless. Fortunately, there are people who aren’t content with forgetting. A few are willing to admit that these people don’t go away just because we can’t see them, and a few have taken on the monumental task of approaching those lost souls in an effort to bring them back from the abyss. Gene Harbaugh, Johnnie Bradford, and James Shipp are shedding a light in that darkness. Harbaugh has led the fight since 1991 when he, with the deacons at the First Presbyterian Church he served and in partnership with five other churches, chose a day to count the homeless in our community. When a count of 52 was announced, Carlsbad was horrified. The details were worse. “The stereotype of a homeless person, of course, is a single man walking the street,” Harbaugh said. “But what we discovered was that homelessness is a very broad spectrum. Most of the homeless were invisible. Most of them were single women with children who had been abandoned, or abused, or both. They were struggling to survive. They couldn’t afford decent housing.” Carlsbad now has a number of resources to help those who are helpless. Among the first beacons of hope was Transitional Housing, which opened its first home in 1999. With the help of passionate and dedicated volunteers, they scrubbed and painted and produced a home for their first family. In 2015, the Emergency Shelter joined them. Offering eight rooms for a maximum of seven days, James Shipp oversees the needs of families or individuals who need short-term assistance. He and Bradford share an office at 315 W. Bronson, a phone number, (575) 200-3095, and a partnership dedicated to making the homeless functional members of society. Our community has been very generous in opening its pockets. “We haven’t taken any state or federal funds; the community has supported this,” Harbaugh states. “We started out on a shoestring and now we have five houses. And we finally have a budget that can support some staff and maintain the houses. Maintenance, as you can imagine, is just a constant issue.” And four years ago, the City jumped on the bandwagon. Their reluctance to embrace the idea for fear that providing for these people would only attract more to our community has changed as they see the transformation the group has made in the lives of these people. There is no waiting list for housing. When someone walks in seeking help, they fill out an application which is scrutinized by Bradford’ seagle eye. “We look for someone who needs a hand up to get back on their feet,” she says. “They have to have job goals and a commitment to putting their life back on track. They may need financial help, or education... But they have to have goals and be willing to work to accomplish them.” For far too many, that’s too much to ask. “We always have applicants,” Harbaugh states, “but many, when they find out what’s involved, don’t want to move ahead with their lives and change their patterns. “So many of some people come from communities that are not good,” he adds. “They’ve survived a lot of trauma in their lives, and the best way for them to deal with that is to back off and isolate themselves. You have to be kind of tough to do this work. You teach living skills because these people have never been taught these things.” If clients complete the rigorous CTHHS application process, they are scrutinized by the client services committee which chooses the next transitional housing resident. The board of directors then votes on the chosen applicant. This is not a typical board of suits and ties. Board members are working members who get their hands dirty and their backs strengthened. Lee Post attended a meeting three years ago and was impressed enough with the program to volunteer to install cabinets at a home currently being refurbished. His help was gratefully accepted -and he now serves as president of the board. Carlsbad has numerous agencies dedicated to helping those in need and Bradford is proud of the cooperation and lack of duplication of services between them. “The networking here is so very important,” she says, “and Carlsbad does a good job of not duplicating services.” But all three are frustrated by the lack of help for the mentally ill. “The need of these people in many respects is to learn how to be a neighbor –to learn how you live,” Harbaugh says. “Some people have never been taught basic living skills. Without mentors –forget it. You have to have someone who will work with these people; meet with them every week, monitor what they’re doing and mentor them in everything from parenting, housekeeping, to maybe literacy, job search, budgeting –all of those things and more.” For those who are willing to change their lives, that change can be dramatic. “When they come in to us, we say, ‘We want you to learn how to be a neighbor. We want you to be able to interact socially with people because that is what
it takes to live in a community in a healthy way.’ Most of them that succeed are just amazed that there’s someone that wants to help them. They’re so grateful –they’re so grateful –for what Johnnie does and what James does and for our board which supports them.” The Emergency Shelter offers those with short term needs. In fact, that’ show their director became involved with the program. James Shipp first came to the shelter when his computer broke. He asked if he could borrow a computer; he didn’t realize Bradford always has an eye out for talent. He now uses that computer to help people with various things, including writing resumes and finding birth certificates and social security numbers. Having spent eight years in the Navy on a nuclear submarine, he understands the problems of veterans who seek help, both financially and emotionally. He has let some use the shelter for their address so they can receive checks from the Veterans Administration or from Social Security. The Shelter is offered to anyone who suddenly finds themselves in a crisis situation, regardless of what that crisis is. People have come here recently to work and weren’t hired, or they were hired and it didn’t work out. Either way they found themselves homeless until they could get the resources to regroup and move on. Shipp assesses the situation, offers advice, makes referrals, and gets them back on their feet. Battered women have arrived with their children, victims of fires have found a temporary home and help finding a new one –there is no need that isn’t considered. “Carlsbad is an amazing community,” he says. “Everyone in this place pitches in and helps out. We all help each other.” Many of the people who seek help at the Shelter need long-term care and are referred to Transitional Housing. It’s a long, hard battle to repair the damage of a lifetime of abuse and neglect. “A large part of this,” Harbaugh notes, “is breaking the cycle of patterns where their relationships are with dysfunctional people. When you relate to dysfunctional people you never get out of that inability to function properly.” Monitoring their social relationships is partly why Bradford visits the home weekly, and why mentoring is so vital to their success. “It’s a long-term process,” Harbaugh admits. “We don’t turn them out until they have a place to go. Some of them stay as long as two years. Our goal is to help them obtain a sustainable standard of living. Some need education to meet those goals, so it takes them longer. Some of them do it sooner than others, but we’ve had people who buy a home –who are able to make a down payment. A lot of times we have people who assist and match that money.” Their passion has come at a price. “Every time we turn over a client in a house, we repaint, refurnish... A lot of times it requires new utilities –maybe a new washer or dryer.” Last summer they built a storage building to house donations and, yes, they have a constant need for donations, of any kind. They need financial support, maintenance support, mentors, financial planners... and they need clothes, furniture, dishes –anything anyone would need to set up a new home. Often, they pack up everything in the house and send it with the family to help them build their new life. It’s a lot of work. And takes a dedicated, tough, compassionate team willing to have their hearts broken as often as not. But there are a lot of people in Carlsbad who find it’s more than worth it. “To help a person with a violent, horrific past go through the transitional housing program, receive counseling, get some training and/or a degree and become a functional member of society makes it all worthwhile,” Bradford says. Harbaugh agrees. “One of our first clients spent, I think, 18 months in our home. She had trouble with addiction. She had a felony charge when she came and she had an ankle bracelet. The courts were going to take her children and put her back in jail and she was awaiting trial. We advocated for her and because she was doing well in the transitional house, they allowed us to continue with her. She finally got married and I did the service for them. She eventually got her cosmetology degree and now she has a career and her kids grew up, and as far as I know are healthy, active kids –I see them around the community. Those kinds of things tell the story of how important it is to help people make a transition out of this life that has just been chaotic. That’s why I say, if it ended tomorrow –there’s a lot to be grateful for.