I am so grateful to announce that we will be able to house 10 unhoused young adults starting this summer. We are partnering with Dignity Moves, the County of Santa Barbara, Good Samaritan Shelter, and Marian Hospital to create Hope Village. A village of 94 rooms for the unhoused in the Santa Maria Valley. When asked why this project is so important to me I often talk about my childhood friend, Lee.
We never know the impact that we are going to have on each other. A kind word, a harsh word, a gesture, a friendship can make an impression that lasts a lifetime.. I can’t remember when I met him. I went to a very small elementary school in the country. When I went to middle school it was in the city, at least it felt that way to me. Lee was cool, but I was not, Lee knew so much about music and art and well everything. I did not know anything. We became fast friends. He invited me to spend the night and he had wallpapered his bedroom in one-dollar bills. I still can’t figure out how he did that.
Art is a risky business. It is one thing to draw something, but to put it out there for everyone to see is brave. Lee did that. He drew these funny people for the yearbook. He did this in middle school when no one is brave. The goal is to hide and get through and he just put it out there in our yearbook. It is forever, his drawing sits on my shelf now decades later because he was brave enough to put it out there.
When we headed to high school Lee and I drifted, as we all do. We were friends but not close. He continued to be brave. First person to spike his hair, wear a leather jacket. He was punk Rock before there was Punk Rock. After graduation, I headed off to college. He called me my junior year. Said he was thinking about me. He had recently decided to follow Jesus. He said that I had a part to play in that. He remembered (I did not) that I had picked him up one day and had given him a ride. We pulled over and I shared my newfound faith with him. I even gave him a little white bible that he still had. I had no idea. What was amazing at the time of the phone call was that I was discouraged and struggling with what to do with my life. Lee’s call on that specific day was an answer to my prayers.
After that call, I lost track of Lee. I heard later that he had a break. I now know that it was likely Schizophrenia or some other psychosis. It lines up with his age. I have no idea the pain he went through and all of my friends back in Virginia and his family. It had to be horrible to witness knowing how amazing he was. This type of crisis has so many ripple effects. I was spared the pain of witnessing it because of my distance.
Then in 2018 I heard that he had died. One of the thousands who succumbed to life on the street. I was not surprised that despite the efforts of loved ones around him, Lee was not able to get stable and healthy. The intervention for so many people like Lee has been to ask them to get stable, to get sober, to get well then we will provide housing. Housing first is a strategy that says we will house you and provide you a place to sleep, rest and find peace. Then out of that stability helps you on your path to success. Housing itself is a balm for so much trauma, so much pain, that it can lead to healing.
I am hopeful that by providing young adults with housing, they can live for up to a year. We will be a part of their journey to stability. By providing housing, unconditional love, and support we can be a part of a foundation that they can build on. The residents of Hope Village will have immediate on-site access to jobs, housing, medical, mental health, substance use disorder, and case management services.
When I meet an unhoused young person, I think of Lee. I realize that all of them belong to someone. That they too are a part of someone’s story and deserving of our empathy and our compassion.
Thank you for your trust,