Homeless outreach program reunites families
By Dave Schwab
The Downtown San Diego Partnership, through its Clean & Safe Program and sponsored by Sharp HealthCare, recently passed a milestone, having reunited 1,000 Downtown San Diego homeless people with their families and loved ones nationwide.
Launched in 2011, the comprehensive Family Reunification Program enables Clean & Safe homeless outreach coordinators to identify the homeless who will benefit most by returning home.
Under the program, family and friends are contacted to ensure the displaced person will have a place to stay once reunited, as well as the support they need to get resettled. Once confirmed, the outreach team offers the individual transportation necessary to reconnect with their support system.
One homeless woman who was returned home thanks to the program is 30-year-old Jennifer Epps, a disabled homeless military veteran, who found herself stranded and temporarily out on the street after moving from Alabama to San Diego.
“I came out to move in with a former Marine’s wife, but I didn’t know that they had gotten a divorce,” said Epps, whose situation turned sour soon after arrival. She discovered her hoped-for home was in eviction and suddenly found herself out on the streets without any money.
“All my stuff was gone — my computer laptop, even my phone was gone,” Epps said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
With the aid of Veterans Village of San Diego, Epps found shelter at San Diego Rescue Mission’s Downtown campus for a few nights, before being referred to the Family Reunification Program.
“They gave me a bus ticket to come home to Alabama,” Epps said. “All I did was tell them my situation. I had somewhere I could go in a crisis. They’d helped out three other people right before me. It was a blessing. It really was.”
Kris Michell, president/CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, talked of how the program got started — and its dynamic and positive impact.
“The recognition that family is one of the strongest bonds we have was the driving force behind the creation of the Family Reunification Program, which is sponsored by Sharp HealthCare,” Michell said. “The program gives individuals an opportunity to get back on their feet and end their cycle of homelessness.”
“We are pleasantly surprised with the success of the Family Reunification Program,” Michell said. “Reconnecting homeless individuals with loved ones has resulted in not only getting and keeping people off the street, but reuniting them with friends and family in a loving and safe environment.”
Michell said that while “finding answers to homelessness is challenging,” efforts like the reunification program prove it is possible and she expects the program to continue as long as homeless exist in San Diego.
“A strong support system is essential for all of us and reconnecting these individuals with friends, family, and supportive services effectively ends their cycle of homelessness,” Michell said.
The tremendous achievement of the reunification program has been made possible through generous sponsorships. In addition to Sharp HealthCare, additional support and contributions have come from AT&T, Bank of America, California Apartment Association, the County of San Diego, Cox Communications, Jerry and Eleanor Navarra of Jerome’s Furniture, The Mansour Group Inc., San Diego Gas & Electric, Travelers Aid San Diego, Underground Elephant, Union Bank, and the William D. Lynch Company.
“This amazing program has ended homelessness for 1,000 individuals and should be widely applauded,” said Dan Gross, executive vice president of Sharp HealthCare. “I encourage more organizations in San Diego to support this proven solution, which works with people living on the streets to renew relationships with family and friends in a supportive environment.”
Another beneficiary of the Family Reunification Program was a homeless man named Jerry, who heard about the program during a visit to St. Vincent de Paul. Jerry is a homeless veteran who found himself on the streets after struggling with unemployment and alcoholism.
Once he connected with Clean & Safe’s outreach coordinators, they were able to reunite him with both family and a veteran treatment program in his home state of Missouri.
“The Family Reunification Program changes lives forever,” said Alonso Vivas, executive director of Clean & Safe. “It gives hope to some of the most vulnerable members of our Downtown community. It’s been an incredible journey so far and this is just the beginning.”
To learn more about the Downtown San Diego Partnership and the Clean & Safe Program, please visit downtownsandiego.org.
— Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.