I feel blessed to have two daughters who have lived in Martinez for at least 30 years. They live among intelligent, caring, and empathetic neighbors, people who are achievers and hard workers, and for the most part, people who care not only about their community, but the healthy welfare of others in our society. On the negative side, I have traveled and conducted business all over the state in the past 50 years, including poor neighborhoods, such as the Los Angeles Barrios, East Palo Alto, San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland, where I have witnessed again and again the pain and poverty that has foreshadowed homelessness by those disenfranchised by inequities of economy and education and drugs. Maybe that is why I feel a story about people who have lived in this type of community and for reasons not entirely their own fault are now living today in tents, in doorways, under bridges and overpasses is important and needs constructive change. Some communities are impassioned to find appropriate guidance and solutions, and now there is one right here in the east county.
A month ago, while in Martinez, working on an article for a newspaper, I met and conversed with several homeless individuals in that community seeking safer places to sleep in some comfort with toilets and showers. Hoping to find jobs and turn their lives around, they needed to clean their clothes, cut their hair, find help preparing resumes and cell phones to keep up job searches and appointments, a place where they could work and contribute to the community, for the goodwill of all.
I called Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder, seeking answers to my questions and he in turn introduced me to former City Councilmember Noralea Gipner, CEO of the Homeless Action Coalition, a program that she established a year ago for the homeless residents of Martinez, a place of safety and promise, now known to that city as Camp Hope! Two weeks ago, I attended their weekly camp management meeting to discuss currents needs of every individual, where they receive mandatory work assignments, discuss camp safety monitoring and re-affirm their affinity with the Martinez police (who do background checks) and fire department crews, a very positive experience.
I was so impressed with the affirmative action they engaged in, that when they discussed the need to raise additional funds for personal and camp needs, Noralea queried as to what kind of little cottage industry they might all engage in to serve that purpose, I reflected on the great job Alamo resident Aiden Cox was doing in creating emojis to lift spirits in Alamo and Danville.
I called Aiden when I returned home and told him about this incredible self-help community and the many accomplishments they had engineered over the past year. I told him how I would love to see these caring and determined people (in need of inspiration and work) accomplish even more with his guidance, creating their own money-raising pocket industry in their little village.
Just as I suspected, this innovative young man immediately responded “How can I help” and “Heck, I will even find the time to go to Martinez and assist with their new startup Happy Face inspiration signs business”. Then this past Tuesday’s Camp Hope management meeting, in my allotted time slot, showed them a sample Happy Face sign and I asked them what they thought about this kind of money-raising project, and the group immediately applauded saying, “how soon can we get started.”
What has Camp Hope accomplished in the past year, starting with a leadership team of good will mothers and ambassadors who had never ever had any prior experience or training in creating a non-profit home-front support organization? Well, to start with, they have gotten more than 25 folks off the street in one year’s time, into hotels, shared housing, sober living environments, rehab programs, and provided transportation back home. They have helped more than 50 campers in the past year to access services of different sorts, including food stamps, general assistance, Social Security, personal ID’s, Medi-Cal, and healthcare for the first time. They provide transportation for their residents to their doctor’s and surgeon’s appointments. Through out Covid, Contra Costa Health has come to their camp once a month to test everyone for Covid. And they were the first homeless camp to be served the Johnson and Johnson vaccination. The volunteer staff were able to address at least 4 medical emergencies in their camp, including a heart attack, a stroke, sepsis, and an aneurysm, getting their people immediate life-saving care. Another resident received much needed eye surgery that restored his eyesight. He had been blind for two years. Now the camp is working to secure dental care for its residents.
They started this camp with some money in the Homeless Action Coalition checking account and actually have very little knowledge of how to do what they wanted to do. They knew that every community needed to be taking care of their own homeless folks in responsibly. All of the women involved know how to manage a household and deal with people. They had plenty of support from their Police Chief (Manjit Sappal) and the county CORE (the Cordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement) team. The CORE team serves to assist unsheltered persons, while working to locate, engage, stabilize and house chronically homeless indivduals and families still living on the streets. These CORE teams co-ordinate with Camp Hope in providing the additional benefits of social workers, nurses, and/or primary care physicians, psychiatrists, and behaviorists. In addition, they recently included the Veteran’s Services group by the name of Roads Home, associated with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project.
Originally, they had to purchase all their own foods and supplies, but as of today, one year later, most of that is supplied by surrounding communities and organizations. Last summer, they won a $15,000 Grant from the Contra Costa Regional Health Foundation, which they spent on upgrading the original tiny tents into one the residents could stand in. Even the Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the Martinez Police department have an excellent relationship with Camp Hope, stating that their own occupants keep the place immaculate, safe and a perfect example of how such a camp should be and an example for others to follow. They praise Camp Hope’s other community projects where their “Green Team” goes out weekly and help to clean up and de-weed areas that need that service. There is even more to this story than I have told today!
I have a young Danville photography student, who with her mother, accompanied me to the last camp meeting and provided their support and assistance, and came away inspired by this dedicated group’s example of “can do and will accomplish”, saying more of our local talented entrepreneurs should check this project out and if possible share what they see with others. Brian Finley produced an incredible video about this camp, what they do, and why this example is so very important to serve as an example to others. Please check it out, I am sure you too will be as inspired.
photo by Danville resident Peyton Haas