The Ventura County Rescue Mission outreach team hikes the sandy trails along the Santa Clara River at least once a month.
Pulling a cart full of packed lunches, water and hygiene kits, the group searches for homeless people camping in tents and makeshift shelters. Most welcome the free meal, but some also accept prayer and a second chance.
On July 6, the faith-based organization in Oxnard celebrated 50 years of care and hope for the county’s homeless population.
“We want to put them in stable housing and live in a safe community or a sober community and put them on the path to a living wage and a good relationship with their families,” said mission director Michael Darden.
In addition to the awareness program, the rescue mission also distributes hot meals and a bed. The non-profit organization offers a variety of programs and services for men, women and children. He helps with legal advice, first aid, case management, life transition, job training and addiction recovery.
Desiree Oliva was homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol as of September 2020. She had dropped out of Rescue Mission’s flagship life recovery program twice and earned a spot on its ‘do not admit’ list.
Lighthouse is the branch of the rescue mission that helps women and children.
Oliva was able to enter the Lighthouse emergency shelter, where she was able to rest and reflect. She joined the life recovery program a third time and stayed there for nine months.
Now Oliva is in the transitional housing program, working full time, has a car and is fixing her relationship with her family. She is also interning in the Rescue Mission Awareness Team.
She credits the Christian component of the program for her turnaround.
“It was the only thing that changed my mind,” Oliva said. “It’s all centered on that… I see the next season.
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In 2021, 34 homeless people graduated from the Mission Life Recovery Program, according to an impact report. The organization also helped 59 people find jobs, put 69 people in stable housing, reunited four children with their mothers, provided more than 36,000 hygiene kits and distributed nearly 6,000 pieces of clothing.
On a trip to an encampment along the Santa Clara River near the Port of Ventura on June 29, Oliva was one of many in attendance who spoke and prayed with the homeless population.
Marlene West has lived in the camp for more than eight years and had seen the outreach team before. Other than taking food and water, she had never accepted their help.
West said she has been considering joining one of the rescue mission programs since her daughter and her fiancé recently left the camp.
“(The outreach team) gets to know everyone here and tries to get a sense of what everyone is going through and their needs and wants,” West said. “They try to help them as much as possible. I think that’s great.
The local mission has been around for half a century because of an ever-present need, Darden said.
Since the start of the pandemic, homelessness has increased by 25% in the county. There were 2,238 documented homeless men, women and children as of February 23, the date of the county’s annual homeless count.
To continue to meet this need, Darden said the organization is expanding its services and programs. He also wants to create a stronger presence throughout the county.
He said the rescue mission was beginning an outreach effort in the Simi Valley and building relationships with other shelters.
Chuck and Mary Pope started the Ventura County Rescue Mission in 1972. The couple had founded the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and wanted to address the lack of homeless services in Ventura County, Jim Owens said. , Chairman of the Rescue Mission Alliance Board of Directors.
Over the following decades, the organization acquired various properties and expanded its services and programs.
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Then, in the early 1990s, Jerry and Carol Roberg took over the nonprofit, which Owens says was a major turning point. With Jerry Roberg securing funding and Carol Roberg managing the shelter, the two were able to grow the organization.
When the rescue mission brought Gary Gray to CEO in the 2000s, Owens said the organization’s operations reached a new level of sophistication. This continued under Dave Chittenden, the current CEO of Rescue Mission Alliance.
“We are where we are because God wants us to be, and a lot of good people have put in an incredible amount of time, energy and effort to make it what it is today,” Owens said.
During the 2020-2021 financial year, Rescue Mission Alliance spent approximately $27.7 million. Approximately 84% of expenditures were for program services, 10% for administrative costs and 6% for fundraising.
The Rescue Mission Alliance oversees the ministries of Ventura County, Central Coast, San Fernando Valley, and Victor Valley in San Bernardino County.
Brian J. Varela covers Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Camarillo. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-477-8014. You can also find him on Twitter @BrianVarela805.