Face of homelessness has changed

Posted: April 6th, 2018 | Featured, News | No Comments

By Dave Fidlin

Upcoming Father Joe’s Villages gala to benefit therapeutic child care center

It is little secret the challenges surrounding homelessness in San Diego have been persistent — a reality underscored by data suggesting the number of impacted persons is rising in the city and elsewhere across the county.

But Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, said an important part of the conversation is sometimes lost in the conversation surrounding the epidemic.

“The face of homelessness has changed over the years,” Vargas said.

(l to r) Local artist Neil Shigley, Joe Ergastolo (board chairman), Deacon Jim Vargas (CEO), Jackie Vargas, Ed Witt (board member), Kimberly Hunt (master of ceremonies) and Billy Ray Smith Jr. at the 2016 Father Joe’s gala. (Courtesy of Nicole Anderson)

Decades ago, homelessness oftentimes was associated with a single man, perhaps down on his luck.

Today, however, an increasing number of women and entire families — children included — are finding themselves in transient, uncertain situations. It happens all too often for families a few paychecks away from being unable to make ends meet.

For this reason, Father Joe’s Villages, which has roots in San Diego stretching back to the 1950s, is continuing to put a spotlight on the dire needs of homeless children for the organization’s 34th annual Children’s Charity Gala, scheduled for May 5 and dubbed, “Up, Up and Away.”

According to organizers, proceeds from this year’s event will benefit Father Joe’s Villages’ services for children and families, namely a therapeutic child care center designed to give students a platform to excel in school.

From Vargas’ vantage point, the need for an amenity such as a therapeutic child care center is vitally important to San Diego. The goal of this year’s gala is to raise at least $500,000.

Vargas points to statistics asserting homeless children are four times more likely to have developmental delays in their formative years and twice as likely to repeat a grade in school. More than half of homeless youth historically have not graduated high school.

As with most galas, Father Joe’s Villages’ upcoming event has a somber undertone, looking at the seriousness of the homeless epidemic. But intertwined within the program will be plenty of inspiration.

This year, Father Joe’s Villages is honoring four persons or organizations for their roles in tackling homelessness.

Honorees include Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm, for making Father Joe’s Villages’ public lunch program possible. In 2014, Antonio donated $2 million to the program, which serves up to 900 persons daily.

The Mulvaney Family — including Jim Mulvaney Sr. and Jim Mulvaney Jr. — are the recipients of this year’s founder’s award. Mulvaney Sr. worked alongside namesake founder Father Joe Carroll in the organization’s earliest years. Mulvaney Jr. his continued his father’s legacy, in part as a board member.

Students at two Catholic high schools — Cathedral and St. Augustine — are the recipients of this year’s Bishop (Leo) Maher Award, named after the former outspoken leader of the San Diego Archdiocese in the 1970s and 1980s. Father Joe’s Villages is recognizing the high school students for their volunteerism efforts, primarily with meal service.

Although this year’s honorees come from different walks of life and are being recognized for disparate reasons, Vargas said each holds a common thread.

“They’ve helped us in helping others,” Vargas said. “We do it one life at a time.”

But alongside the celebrating is the stark realization Father Joe’s Villages’ mission is not over — far from it, as Vargas pointed out as he discussed statistics revealing San Diego County remains firmly entrenched in the unenviable position of having the fourth largest homeless population across the U.S.

“The numbers are getting worse, not better, and we’re obviously going the wrong way,” he said. “This is a crisis. We don’t have enough affordable housing.”

The solution, Vargas said, is complex and requires both tried-and-true and unorthodox approaches.

“We really need to put together a plan to match the size of the problem,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while.”

Father Joe’s Villages’ 2018 Charity Gala begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 5, at the U.S. Grant Hotel, 326 Broadway. Festivities include a VIP reception, social hour, silent auction, dinner and program.

For information on the gala, visit For details on Father Joe’s Villages’ various programs, visit

—Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at

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