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Center, Not Shelter Sought For Homeless
ORM Homeless pix
Oakdale Rescue Mission Executive Director Pamela Kelly explains the plight of the chronic homeless her organization deals with during a Feb. 25 community meeting. RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader

Over four dozen residents attended an overview of the Oakdale homeless situation presented by representatives of the Oakdale Rescue Mission on Thursday evening, Feb. 25 at the Community United Methodist Church.

Oakdale Rescue Mission, ORM, Executive Director Pamela Kelly covered a series of 21 preset questions specifically regarding issues surrounding Oakdale homelessness and the ORM operation. She also fielded various inquiries from members of the crowd in attendance.

One of the first topics addressed was the actual number of homeless in the city, given the variance of different counts and definitions provided by governmental agencies such as “sheltered” and “unsheltered.”

Kelly said the Oakdale Rescue Mission was focused on those deemed “unsheltered” with no supplied or temporary housing or a place to stay. According to her figures there were 40 “unsheltered” homeless last year and that rose to 50 as of last month.

“One of the drawbacks to the point and count is these people are transient,” Kelly said, noting that a count could change daily and vary from 45 one day to maybe 58 the next. “The mission here works with ‘chronically’ homeless – those Oakdale born, raised, and staying here.”

Kelly added that ‘chronic’ meant over 10 years as a homeless individual.

“The chronically homeless are settled into their bad habits and it’s more difficult for them to change their lives,” Kelly said. “The majority of Oakdale homeless are over 40 (years old). This happens to be true of nationwide homeless; the data is pretty strong to show that.”

In regard to the individuals having criminal records, Kelly said she had been advised by members of the Oakdale Police Department that those with records were for misdemeanors only and not “hardened criminals.”

“These are not the people breaking into houses and cars,” Kelly said.

She estimated that 50 percent of the individuals they deal with have some sort of a mental illness and many have substance abuse problems.

“As a Christian organization, we are trying to give them hope,” Kelly said about meeting with the homeless when the ORM provides their over 3,000 meals a year, including some evening dinners and a Sunday afternoon lunch. “Our meals are the only opportunity we have to connect and interact with them.”

When the group connects they attempt to supply information on shelters, resources, and provide assistance for obtaining services.

“We try to be an advocate because they don’t have an advocate,” said Pastor Reese VanderVeen, vice-chair of the ORM Board.

Kelly attributed the cause of homelessness in the area to the lack of affordable housing, pointing out that the average social security or disability check provides $750 and the lowest rents were around $650 in Oakdale. Only about 25 percent of Oakdale homeless have this sort of income.

Some receive food stamps, but Kelly said often times the EBT cards and password would be sold at a reduced rate for alcohol.

With alcohol so prevalent, as well as the vagrant lifestyle, those they come into contact with have an array of health problems and rarely get medical treatment until it’s too late, Kelly said.

“For many of those with health issues, if the illness doesn’t get them, cars will,” she said, adding that there were five instances of pedestrian accidents of homeless individuals getting struck by cars last year alone.

For Kelly and the Oakdale Rescue Mission, their goal is to establish a service center for the homeless to provide showers, laundry services, computers, charging stations and other necessities so they could function on the street. She made it clear they were not seeking a shelter.

“These people don’t want to go to a shelter, and that’s not what we’re asking for,” Kelly said. “To them shelters are a scary place, they’d rather be on the street.”

She also noted the fear is that rules are in place and sobriety is a must – functions that many long-term homeless have difficulty with.

In addition to hygiene and utility services, a homeless service center would also provide clothing exchanges and a volunteer mentor that would work with individuals to obtain necessities to basic human services.

The ORM has sought out property near Center Street and Sierra Avenue, near the Oakdale Community Sharing site, but the county rejected the request, stating a recommendation had to come from the city.

“There are those that have the loudest voices in the city not wanting us to do anything for the homeless,” Kelly said. “Is it better to do nothing or do something? The homeless were here before and will not go away.”

When asked what would happen to homeless individuals if the Oakdale Rescue Mission did nothing, Kelly stated, “They would just die on the street.”