Magazine article U.S. Catholic

See the Hope: When It Comes to the Homeless Population in San Diego, Father Joe's Villages Sees Hope and Potential

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

See the Hope: When It Comes to the Homeless Population in San Diego, Father Joe's Villages Sees Hope and Potential

Article excerpt

It starts with a dusty, gray lump of coal. The animated character waves at others as they pass her on the street, but she is met with scorn or indifference, cast aside. Until she sees yellow hearts of light coming toward her, leading her into a church building where other rocks are gathered around in community. She's embraced, and a little of the brightness underneath her dirty exterior starts to shine through. The character, named NiCoal, transforms into a sparkling diamond with the love she finds--and she shares her light with the world.

"Shine" is the name of this innovative short film, created by San Diego integrated marketing agency i.d.e.a. and Dallas-based animation studio Reel FX for Father Joe's Villages--one of San Diego's largest homeless services providers. Father Joe's started as a small chapel serving impoverished people more than 65 years ago and has grown into a trailblazing provider of housing programs and services. This film is their way of challenging and reframing a big issue in San Diego, which has the country's second-largest population of homeless people. "When society sees hopelessness and helplessness we see hope and potential," says Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages. They want to be sure that others in the community see that potential, too.

Father Joe's affords housing for nearly 1,900 people each night and up to 3,000 meals every day, along with healthcare, clothing, education, job training, and much more. "We provide anything and everything an individual needs to get better," says Vargas. "We want people to break the cycle and be able to be self-sustaining--a lot goes into that."

Vargas isn't exaggerating. Father Joe's has a federal qualified health clinic because, as Vargas says, "you can't get off the street with medical ailments plaguing you." They have a relationship with the University of California-San Diego medical school that goes back 20 years, and clients of Father Joe's get help not only with physical issues but also mental health, addiction, and dental repair or dentures, which Vargas notes are key when clients try to get a job. "The health side is very important--we want individuals to be able to have an income, and that comes from employment," he says.

The Education Center provides clients with an opportunity to earn a GED, learn computer skills, work on resume-building and networking, and pick up donated professional clothes for interviews. "We canvas the market to see which jobs are in demand, and we focus our courses along those lines," explains Vargas. The culinary arts program has produced local chefs, and the security guard and forklift operations programs have also created qualified applicants for high-demand areas.

Children, too, get interventional help at Father Joe's. "If kids have developmental delays, we work with them from an early age so when they get to preschool they're up to peer level," Vargas says. "Statistics show that if they fall behind and that's not mitigated, they'll drop out of school and repeat the cycle."

In short: It's a full-scale operation, and Father Joe's recognizes that there is no single solution to homelessness. Plus, they're nimble. For example, when the health clinic opened and doctors gave out prescriptions, they realized people weren't getting to CVS to fill them. So now they have a pharmacy on site.

One family's story

Marlene Ayala knows all about the comprehensive programs at Father Joe's. After losing her job at Walmart in 2010, she had exhausted her unemployment benefits by the middle of 2011 and was evicted from her home along with her husband and three children.

"The kids would sleep inside a friend's house while my husband and I slept in their yard under a tent," she says. After a couple of months, the family ended up in Tijuana with Ayala's mother, crossing back to California at 3 a.m. and sleeping down the street from the children's school until the day started. …

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