A gift on wheels ‘So Others May Eat’

The Johnson family, who has been living in a van for almost a year, has attended the weekly dinners of So Others May Eat (SOME) since 2010. The non-profit, founded by La Jollan Tresha Sousa, provides dinners and groceries to San Diegans in need.

The Johnsons lost their last apartment in September, but they’ve been in and out of homelessness for years. “We’ve never actually been in the streets. I mean we’ve never slept in a tent or on the side of the road or in a bush, so we’ve always been in something, at least we have that going for us,” said mother Ruby.

At age 37, she said she can’t afford an apartment with her two part-time jobs — one at SeaWorld and the other as a waitress — even through the local affordable housing programs. Now, Ruby, her husband and her four children (ages 7-16) live inside a 1987 Chevy G20. “It’s a hippie van,” said Kayla, the eldest daughter. She just turned 16 and is thinking of joining the workforce so her family can afford to live in an apartment.

But her mother is worried. “I want her to stay in school because she wants to go to college, and I feel that if she gets a job she might neglect the school work,” she said, while holding her daughter close as they waited in line for the July 14 SOME dinner served at Mariners Point Park. Her husband can’t work due to a temporary disability, she said.

Souza and the SOME crew were using the barbecue-trailer that the La Jolla Kiwanis Club recently gifted them. “You can fit a pig in that thing, did you see how big it is?” Souza laughed.

She expressed her gratitude to the Kiwanis Club and explained that the upgrade means SOME can now provide mobile services. “We can go to the homeless people now, instead of bringing them into different areas, far from where they are actually living,” Souza said.

Until a few months ago, SOME held dinners for homeless people at three coastal locations: Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ocean Beach and Mariners Point in Mission Beach. Due to a minor fire, Mary, Star of the Sea’s dinners are canceled until September. Now, with their mobile barbecue, SOME can do their work at any location. “We can put wherever we want and cook whatever we want for everybody. We clean it up, back it up, and we’re done,” Souza said.

Charles Fox, a member of the Kiwanis Club, was on hand to encourage donations for the non-profit. “We came to learn what SOME is doing and to admire their, frankly, heroic efforts,” he said.

When asked if she believed that holding homeless people feedings brings people into communities where they don’t usually live, Souza replied, “People who come (to our dinners), I watch them, they get on a bus, ride their bikes, they walk, they eat and they leave. They don’t stay. They have places they go to. They’re not coming into La Jolla because they want to stay. The ones who come into La Jolla are not attracted by the dinners, by no means.

“I believe that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” she continued. “For me, the solution to helping the community is this. I’m trying not to upset people too much, but I’m not going to not help somebody because somebody else believes someone who is living the way they want to live shouldn’t be helped.”

Souza said she was shocked to hear the data unveiled in last week’s La Jolla Light that the homeless count in the 92037 ZIP code went from 21 in 2015 to 40 in 2016. “I haven’t noticed it,” she said.

The Johnson family’s wish for the future is to live on a boat. “It’s so much cheaper than an apartment,” Ruby said. “If we can get us a 50-foot fishing boat ... they’re not that expensive, we might get a fixer-upper ... (My husband) is a handyman, so he could fix it. It probably would cost us $800 or $850 to go into a marina, versus $1,600 a month for an apartment. I could do that on my worst seasons.”