With or without shelter, an inside look at San Bernardino park residents

By Sierra Marrero |Asst. Community Editor| This story was published in print on Feb. 13, 2017. To view the PDF version of the print copy, click here.

In efforts to help the County’s homeless population, different groups, organizations, and programs, often come together to offer some type of help. However, controversies are continuing to be raised.

“I’ve stayed at a battered women’s shelter and only had to go there once. You don’t get much sleep in a shelter depending on who you are and what problems you face,” says Sierra, a woman living in and out Secombe Park.

“A lot of times the people who come in [the shelters] take your stuff,” explains Sierra.

Another homeless woman, Elle, who has been residing on Baseline with her friend Willie for over 15 years, says she wasn’t interested in going to shelters because they don’t provide the help she is looking for. 

“I have a lot of problems going on right now….I have a disability. They won’t give me any intentional care that  I need… they just tell me that I need to get a copy of my birth certificate …to prove what? my birth date?!” Elle exclaims. 

She  explains why the process of getting to stay inside a shelter is more difficult for her.

“They’re more likely to take them [families] first. I’d take the mama with the kid first before I take the man or women without any [kids]… I mean wouldn’t you?…The baby needs help,” says Elle.

While some shelters only accept families, individuals can still receive emergency homeless assistance at the Frazee Community Center.

Here meals are provided from Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., along with clothing closets and emergency food bags on last weekday of the month.

Anyone, regardless of their level of homelessness, can come into the Community center as they state that their “focus is to help homeless and low-income individuals and families.”

For homeless families, help comes in many places. One of the largest contributors to assist families in the County is theThe Salvation Army Corps of San Bernardino.

Homeless Shelter Director of the San Bernardino Salvation Army Corps, Ann Metu, says that people who are homeless may not always be completely homeless. Metu says that they will help whoever is struggling and in need of assistance.

“Whether it’s because of dysfunctional families, substance abuse, domestic violence, counselor visits, poor financial decisions, needing food, or even coming in even for a place to stay for the night… or a few months…we’ll help,” says Metu.

“97% of people who come here go to permanent housing instead of going back to the street…,” says Metu.

Along with providing shelter, The salvation Army provides emergency services including daily meals, after-school programs for the youth, summer camps, clothing, furniture, rehabilitation for chronically homeless families, legal services, transportation, rent and financial advice.

Through the “Temporary Assistance For Needy Families” program, Metu says that there is an effort to keep an income for clients.

“We make sure you save 75% of that money in a deposit box for wherever you go,” says Metu. “While you are here we try to connect you with other services… like for your electricity. We refer you to other partnerships to help you pay minor bills because these are things that will stop you getting into and apartment.”

Inland County Legal Services is another group that works independently to provide legal assistance to clients, with or without families, and donates over $30,000 each year to the Salvation Army.

“Every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month we have a paralegal come in and he helps with people that have legal issues that will automatically stop [them] from getting a job or getting into housing, like maybe child support issues pending, a divorce and you don’t know what to do or…all kinds of issues,” says Metu.

Furthermore, the San Bernardino County School District helps the homeless youth by acting as liaisons to some of the family shelters. One person mentioned by Metu as a liaison is a woman she referred to as Mrs. Brenda, who helps with backpacks, uniforms, and school stationery.

“We even help college students come in who just need some food. It’s more common than you know,” Metu.

Photo courtesy of Moses Roberts.

According to her,  they also receive additional resources ranging from the Second Harvest food Bank, to the San Bernardino Women’s Club, to San Manuel Indian Missions, and to Medical Student Outreach teams from Loma linda University.

For men who are over the age of 18 seeking shelter, they have an option to go to The Central Lutheran Mission (CCLM), which provides emergency housing, along with meals, a hygiene kit,  a case manager to help with their financial needs, and even clothing.

The CCLM is the only emergency shelter readily available for single men with no children in the entire San Bernardino County. For the past few years, there has been a push into opening another shelter for these homeless individuals.

In July of 2016 city council members spoke on opening a shelter in San Bernardino for homeless men titled “Mary’s village,” but Councilman Henry Nickel and Councilwomen Bessine Littlefield Richard, among others, opposed the motion to move forward.

They believed that it would actually draw more homeless people to the city and unfairly burden the Westside.

Another council member, Henry Nickels, spoke against the plan saying, “Many residents have seen the city’s generosity result in more homeless people here.”

Comments made by the city officials do not correlate with the numbers presented from the 2015-2016 Homeless Count and Subpopulation, which revealed an overall decrease of over 203 homeless people within the city of San Bernadino.

The plans to continue with the construction of the homeless shelter, have since been denied,re-approved, and is currently in discussion.

A man living in downtown San Bernardino named, “L”  demands “some type of representation”

“…We don’t get none [representation]… that’s the issue. Representation is important because community is the people,” says L. “Without representation you cannot fix the community.”

L briefly explained how he has seen no urgency to help people living in the streets and feels that no one asked them what they need.

Sierra, on the other hand, said she does not care for representation. She explains that some shelters can be just as dangerous as peoples prior predicaments, because of those that steal, and those that try to exert dominance over others.  Sierra said she feels most at home living in parks.

“I’m at the top of the world where I’m at and don’t want them to know nothing about me…there are more people…who are in their homes that are unhappy. You have husbands unhappy with their wives, and their jobs, and are miserable. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors”, says Sierra.  “…It’s something shelters can’t fix.”

Sierra mentions that she always finds new places to live because every so often the park will do a cleanup and tell people residing in the park to leave. However, she admits that the park is her favorite place above all other places.

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