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Community Highlight: Addressing homelessness in Riverside

While the most noticeable effects of the worldwide pandemic were projected on screens throughout the year, the growing homeless population was a casualty behind the scenes.

There was a 20 percent increase in Riversiders experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, according to Path of Life Ministries. The organization delivers a holistic approach to solving homelessness, works closely with the Riverside Office of Homeless Solutions and witnessed successes in an uncertain year for the city’s most vulnerable.

“The Hulen Campus Collaborative is very effective and is really a group of partners coming together to discuss continuity of care,” said Hafsa Kaka, officer of homeless solutions for the city. “We come together to make sure there is communication, collaboration and consistency.”

The partnership between the organizations represented on the campus at Hulen Place, located in the city’s Northside, is the most productive it has ever been, according to Kaka.

“The Hulen Campus is really the hub. Our Access Center is where folks come in and have linkages to case management,” she said. “It’s how they can get ID cards, too, which is really important when you’re trying to get housing.”

The campus is where much of the work gets done.

Kaka said individuals can access a library there. The city offers life-skills classes and warm meals at the Access Center. The center also features a clinic organized by Helping Hearts Hulen, LLC, a group that specializes in providing mental health services to homeless adults. Once a month, pre-medical students from the University of California, Riverside come to provide medical care.

The list of programs and accomplished projects goes on.

Path of Life is based at the Hulen Campus, although they serve other areas surrounding the county. In Riverside, they operate three shelters totaling 171 beds, including a cold-weather shelter that closed on April 11 after the end of the coldest winter months.

One of their biggest projects last year was cleaning out a massive encampment on Massachusetts Avenue, just adjacent to the Hulen Campus. Following that project, they collaborated with the city and City Net Riverside to build a 30-room palette shelter, which has housed over 100 individuals since its opening.

Those displaced from the cleanup were connected to the Hulen Campus services and many moved into either the palette shelter or the community shelter. When COVID-19 was spreading throughout the city, Path of Life was asked to keep their guests for the entire day, rather than only being available from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

According to Rusty Bailey, Path of Life CEO and former Riverside mayor, the shift set many up for success, but it was only made possible through extra federal funding.

“There were less chances for them to get distracted,” he said. “Before, they did leave sometimes and miss appointments, but because they were there, they didn’t miss as much.”

The organization’s holistic program includes case manager appointments, which connect certain individuals to their mental health appointments. Path of Life was given enough capital to provide lunch during the day, something they could not do before.

“At best we can keep them in all day but [the challenges] are about funding,” Bailey said. “By finding the resources and funding to do that, that was able to happen.”

Path of Life is doing what they can to utilize the resources that were available because of the pandemic, but Bailey said the grants are running out.

“Across the board, our funding has gone down and in terms of donations, we need more stable monthly donors,” he said.

Leonard Jarman, Path of Life chief solutions officer, compared their abilities to the brevity of an emergency room.

“There’s a lack of affordable housing for people to go,” Jarman said. “If you don’t have anywhere else to go, you come to us so that you can go find the permanent solution … It’s a multifaceted problem, homelessness.”

Kaka said one way Riverside residents can help their homeless neighbors is by downloading the 311 Riverside mobile application, a hub for city services, on their smartphone or Android.

The app’s unique “Take a Photo” feature allows concerned residents to send a picture of a situation that pertains to anyone who needs attention from the Office of Homeless Solutions.

The office reviews those photos and comments and dispatches the Public Safety Engagement Team (PSET). PSET is the city’s comprehensive outreach team that can connect the homeless in Riverside to the right resources.

Bailey said Path of Life sees success stories each week, whether someone is leaving the shelter into permanent housing, or someone is hired for a job.

Jarman said at Path of Life, helping the community’s most vulnerable is why he has remained in his position for 16 years. “If I can help somebody as I travel along, if I can just help somebody, then my living is not in vain,” Jarman said. “As a company, that’s what matters to us.”