What a difficult year 2020 has been. It has been particularly unkind to those who struggle in poverty.
So many of our local families, and particularly those who work in hospitality, have lost their jobs and have been struggling every day of this difficult pandemic. Many of those families are struggling to keep their families from financial ruin and homelessness.
Harbor House is a nonprofit that serves those who are experiencing homelessness and those in extreme poverty. We provide a meal every day of the week to those who are struggling.
During these unprecedented times, our staff has served more people, worked more hours, provided more financial assistance, lifted up more kids who are living without parental support, and fed the families who need it the most, and we still find the needs are growing every day.
We are working daily responding to people who are in the midst of a crisis. Since the coronavirus began, Harbor House staff have been deeply involved in the work of helping families survive this period of time with the least amount of trauma.
Today, there are more than 437,000 children in foster care in America. Of those, 55,000 are in California. An astounding 36% of California foster youth become homeless within 18 months of aging out and 46% do not graduate from high school.
Less than 3% earn a college degree. So many of the most tragic stories in our local community have come from children who aged out of foster care, straight into homelessness.
Because of the relationship between kids aging out of foster care and homelessness, Harbor House is working closely with young people entering young adulthood without support. We believe that one of the best ways we can have an impact on homelessness is by helping to improve the success rate of these young people who are so much at risk, before they end up on the street.
The homeless situation in America has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the homeless issue here in Ventura County has also worsened, as a result. Thankfully, the County of Ventura has temporarily housed the elderly and those with physical health conditions in a local motel.
But for those who are under the age of 65 or do not have a physical health condition, and therefore do not qualify for the motel program, COVID-19 has made their lives so much more difficult.
Restrooms, fast food, and indoor spaces are more difficult to access. For many, public spaces like libraries and the senior centers had been a refuge during the day. Those places are closed now, and this has deeply impacted the lives of our homeless neighbors on a daily basis.
They are unable to attend a sit-down meal as Harbor House has been prevented from continuing the daily indoor meal and shelter program that has been in existence for 24 years. There is no shelter for them to stay indoors and warm, and also socially distanced.
These people are out on the streets day in and day out, with no respite. Some are fortunate enough to have a car to sleep in, but most do not have that luxury and are forced to sleep in the cold.
Harbor House provides food to anyone who needs it every day between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 pm. The food is now distributed outdoors, in take away form in in the rear parking lot of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks. Guests are required to social distance and to wear a mask.
The staff at Harbor House feels extremely grateful to be of service in a community that is as generous as ours. None of the work we do at Harbor House would be possible without the very generous support of those in the community. Houses of Faith lift us up every day.
Our hearts are full, both for the staggering need we see increasing every day and also for the generous community who has continued to show up for their neighbors.
“When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock….The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in your heart.”
It is evident to our staff at Harbor House that serving our neighbors in need is indeed the work of God’s people. We believe that “we were born to heal the world.”
Denise Cortes is founder and director of Harbor House, a nonprofit in Thousand Oaks. She wrote as part of the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association, which meets monthly and welcomes clergy and representatives of all religious faiths. For more information, visit www.harborhouseto.org.