Emily Reynolds (right), treasurer of the Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead, presents Sue Walker, president of the Mountain Homeless Coalition, with a check for $500.
Women’s Club President Polly Sauer (right) presents Michelle Davis with a check for $500 toward her walk to help combat brain tumors.
(Photos by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
Reaching out to help combat homelessness
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
It was in 2015 that the Outreach Committee at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church had a discussion about homelessness on the mountain.
The thought, Sue Walker told the Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead at their Feb. 15 meeting, was to make sandwiches for the homeless.
“I thought they needed more than sandwiches,” said Walker, who is now president of the Mountain Homeless Coalition.
St. Richard’s invited the Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church to join them in the first Point in Time count in January 2016. “We counted nine people,” Walker said. That might not have seemed like a big success but, she noted, “it proved there are homeless people year-round on the mountain.”
In this year’s count, volunteers tallied about 30 homeless folks. Walker said the county tells her that number can be multiplied by three or four to get a more accurate count.
After that first count, Walker and those working with her wanted to do more. They became part of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, giving what became the Mountain Homeless Coalition a seat at the table and the opportunity to apply for grants.
Why are people homeless? “There are as many reasons as there are homeless people,” Walker said. Sometimes, she noted, people have been in an apartment for a number of years and that apartment gets sold. They have been paying what was a reasonable rent and now can’t find housing they can afford.
For other folks, they may have had a falling out with a spouse or other family members. They may have lost their job or their rent may have been increased to something they cannot afford.
Mental illness and substance abuse also play a part in some homelessness. Another person may have been invited to the mountain by a friend with the promise of a job. “They get here and there’s no job – they’re not wanted anymore. And they don’t know how to function in the mountains,” Walker said.
And some people are chronically homeless.
Walker reported that the Mountain Homeless Coalition had 873 unique requests for help in 2022. They placed 193 people in motels, with a median stay of 9.5 days. That, Walker said, is 2,414 motel nights at an average cost of $77.50 a night – $187,000 in motel stays.
And while those folks stayed in a motel, the Coalition was working with those clients on finding permanent housing.
That, of course, is the ultimate goal of the Coalition. “We succeeded in getting 76 mountain individuals, representing 36 households, into permanent housing in 2022,” Walker said. The average cost for each household was $1,730.
“Our biggest challenge is finding landlords willing to rent to formerly homeless people so they have a second chance,” she said.
The Coalition also works with those in danger of becoming homeless. They helped 21 people in nine households stay in their homes when they had been on the brink of being evicted.
With $700,000 in state grant funds, the Coalition purchase six cabins and two manufactured homes in which formerly homeless people are housed in Big Bear.
What else does the Coalition do? They provide snacks to a local school for at-risk students and their families. They purchase plane tickets for homeless individuals to travel to out-of-state family members or friends willing to house them. They provide homeless folks with gas cards to get to work or to keep warm while living in their cars. And they also provide food cards, bus passes, tents and sleeping bags.
When they find housing for their clients, the Coalition will provide moving assistance and furniture, if needed.
“We are there to help them in whatever way we can,” Walker said.
When asked what happens to those folks staying in a motel after their short stay, Walker said sometimes they have found a place for them to move into. Some go back to couch surfing. And some have stayed in a motel for as long as a couple of months.
“During that time,” Walker said, “our housing navigator works on a plan specific to that person – how they will get into permanent housing, how they will find a job.”
The Mountain Thrift Shoppe, said Laura Donohoo, “is there to help the Mountain Homeless Coalition. We help when Sue calls with a need. This is another way the Women’s Club helps (because their members volunteer at the thrift store).”
Emily Wong noted that she had worked with the homeless down the hill. “We need to remove the stigma attached to the homeless,” she said. “They are not all bums, alcoholics, drug addicts. Many are homeless families – mothers with children. People who have spent their entire income on medical costs so they can’t pay their mortgage or rent.
“We need to show more compassion to those who are mentally ill,” Wong added. “They have the hardest time getting support. If you don’t do anything about it, the problem will only get worse.”
Walker noted that the Coalition is seeing a significant number of older women being turned out of their apartments. “We should have a flexible and wide understanding of people who are homeless.”
Donohoo said they are seeing many older people coming in the Mountain Thrift Shoppe in shock over their gas bills. “Getting these bills is more than devastating. They are choosing heat over food. They can’t pay their rent.”
NATIONAL BRAIN TUMOR SOCIETY
Women’s Club member Michelle Davis shared with the club that she will again be participating in the National Brain Tumor Society annual walk. She will be walking around Lake Gregory on April 15 with family and friends in memory of her friend Patrick Flynn, who passed away on Jan. 24, 2023, after a four-year battle.
Davis herself had surgery to remove a brain tumor; following surgery and treatment, she said, she has been able to live a “normal” life.
Anyone interested in donating to Davis’ walk should visit braintumor.org, then click on “Events” and “Walk Races,” click on “Southern California April 15,” click on “Donate to a Participant” and then type in “Michelle Davis.”
The Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead presented Walker and Davis each with a check for $500.