Anyone can become homeless. According to the San Diego County’s Regional Task Force on the Homeless, an estimated 8,742 people are homeless in San Diego County — living on the streets or in shelters. On any given day in San Diego, more than 1,000 homeless mothers and their children are struggling with life on the streets.
On May 6, members of St. Germaine Children’s Charity gathered at a home in La Jolla to listen to an eye-opening, hour-long presentation on homelessness by San Diego Rescue Mission vice-president of development, Michael Johnson. Johnson shared information on the Rescue Mission’s yearlong recovery center and overnight shelter for women and children, and the Mission’s programs to help people off the streets, redirect their lives and find employment.
St. Germaine members selected the San Diego Rescue Mission to be one of their 2015 Grant Recipients. Funds donated by St. Germaine will go to hire a teacher and purchase educational materials for the Mission’s new Children’s Center, which opened in September 2014 and will host a grand opening event, Saturday, June 20.
“We are so honored to support the San Diego Rescue Mission’s Children’s Center,” said Wendy Neri, president, St. Germaine Children’s Charity. “We understand the high incidents of abuse that occur in homeless families. The care the Center provides is right in line with St. Germaine’s mission of preventing and stopping child abuse.”
During Johnson’s presentation he shared stories of people who had come to the San Diego Rescue Mission in need of shelter. A Christian faith-based organization, the Mission provides housing, hunger relief, mental health counseling, emergency shelter for women and children, recuperative care unit, transitional housing for men and women working toward self sufficiency, work therapy, and a children’s center for kids, ages 2-5.
“Our goal is to help people get back on their feet,” said Johnson. “Our Children’s Center offers assistance to help families achieve this goal. An example of why our Center exists is Robin’s story: Robin and her children (ages 1 and 2 1/2) are up at 5:30 a.m. They pack their bags and keep an eye on the clock while eating breakfast. They must leave the Rescue Mission by 7 a.m.
“Unlike most children, Robin’s kids will spend the entire day in Balboa Park while Robin does her best to keep them safe and entertained. They’ll head back to the Rescue Mission at 5:30 p.m. for dinner and a safe place to sleep. If Robin had childcare, she could enroll in school knowing her children are safe and cared for. She could obtain a job allowing her to afford housing again.”
According to Johnson, the vicious cycle of homelessness occurs everyday. The Center allows mothers to drop off their young children, giving them the time to take care of their needs, including pursuing affordable housing, education and therapy, while their children are encouraged to play, learn and relax in a safe environment.
“As our members listened to the stories Michael shared we really felt the importance of our donation, knowing it will hire an additional teacher and reduce the teacher to child ratio to 1 to 4,” said Neri. “We also gained a better understanding of the massive health impacts on children living in homelessness, which include more frequent respiratory infections, poor nutrition, lack of immunizations, delays in development, toxic stress, anxiety and emotional distress.”
Johnson said homeless children often lack social interaction skills and many mothers don’t have parenting skills. The teachers are trained to help children in crisis and with special needs. They spend the first two weeks working on social interaction skills and the ongoing curriculum focuses on developing healthy social and emotional skills. The Center also offers healthy parenting and anger management programs for families.
In 2014, the San Diego Rescue Mission cared for 691 children and 946 women providing safety from the streets and meals in their emergency overnight shelter. With the donation from St. Germaine and other funding, the San Diego Rescue Mission hopes to have the capacity to care for as many as 30 children at the Children’s Center.
■ St. Germaine Children’s Charity is a community-based 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, staffed by volunteers. Its administrative costs are paid through membership dues, and relies upon the generosity of membership to further efforts to improve the lives of abused and neglected children in San Diego.