Diligence and a good attitude lead to a job
Justin struggled with alcohol dependency and was in and out of homelessness for several years but stayed out of trouble with the law until one night several months ago, when he drank too much and got into a fight.
The sentencing judge sent him to Palo Alto Review/Recovery (PAR) court, an alternative sentencing program for individuals dealing with substance-abuse issues who commit less-serious offenses while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Through PAR, Superior Court judges in Palo Alto work with the legal system and community organizations such as the Opportunity Center to provide clients with case management and/or treatment.
Gary, Justin’s public defender in the PAR court program, connected him to Michael, a case manager at the Opportunity Center. Michael enrolled Justin in the Opportunity Center’s “program” track, for individuals who are committed to changing their lives and getting out of homelessness.
According to Michael, Justin excelled at “taking care of business” — showing up on time for appointments, doing his chores at the Center, regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and documenting his attendance, and diligently applying for jobs. Justin checked in regularly with Probation and met with Michael every week.
Because Justin was cooperating so well with the PAR program and had such great follow-through, Michael referred him to a field training solutions program and wrote a letter of introduction and a recommendation for him. When a local construction company called Justin for a job interview, Gary practically gave Justin the suit off his back for the interview. (The suit was actually hanging in Gary’s office, fresh from the dry-cleaner’s).
Thanks to Justin’s attitude and effort, his construction experience, the suit, and the referral letter, Justin landed a well-paid construction job at a local residence. After his first day on the job, Justin called his case manager and left a message: “I just wanted to call and thank you and let you know how grateful I was for your time and your effort. That letter really did a lot for me. I can’t thank you enough. Have a great day, Michael!” he said.
Justin did so well on the project that the client hired him to provide maintenance/ carpentry/property management on an ongoing basis.
Hard work leads to stability
Dana and Ron have lived in the area for nearly 10 years and work as crossing guards for the Palo Alto Unified School District.
After three years of being homeless, the couple moved to the Opportunity Center, where they had access to a range of supportive services. Dana started working with a case manager and put in a lot of effort, consistently doing everything her case manager asked of her so that she and Ron could secure a steady source of income and find a bigger place to live.
Dana’s case manager got her qualified for a rental subsidy provided by the Community Working Group and referred her to the Stanford Disability Clinic. Meanwhile Dana worked with the doctors at Peninsula HealthCare Connection, the Opportunity Center’s health clinic, and eventually her situation started to look up.
First, Dana’s SSI application was denied, but after representatives from Stanford Disability Clinic pleaded her case in front of an administrative law judge, her benefits were approved, securing her a steady source of income.
Then, Dana received a coveted Section 8 voucher. She and Ron were able to locate a two-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto. InnVision Shelter Network helped them secure the move-in deposit, and they moved to their new home the following month.
On the road to healing and a home
George has lived in Santa Clara County for most of his life. A high school graduate with a couple of years of college under his belt, George is a hard worker who has faced some challenges, including a divorce, a motorcycle accident, a ruptured disc in his back, and a tendency to drink to ease his pain.
George became homeless and spent three years living on the streets. After finding temporary shelter through InnVision Shelter Network (IVSN), he started working on becoming sober and eventually connected with Octavio, an IVSN Case Manager at the Opportunity Center.
Octavio immediately helped George find shelter through the Hotel de Zink, a 90-day homeless shelter program in Palo Alto, and set him up with Stanford Law School’s Social Security Disability Project, which enabled George to start work on his disability application.
With help from Octavio and Stanford, and the stability of having a safe place to stay, George was able to attend to his medical needs and pull together all the documents required to obtain his disability benefits. He also secured a space in Mackey House, a sober living environment where men in recovery from alcohol and drugs can live with the support of others who are successfully maintaining their sobriety. He is now working on applications for permanent housing.
“I am hoping to accomplish my End To Homelessness, with continued support and the valuable services that are found at the Opportunity Center,” wrote George. “I will be on my way to returning to college, in hopes of stabilizing my own future, eventually to return to service and work. Thank you for a Real Opportunity, and thank you, everyone, for so much caring and support, especially Octavio and Raquel (a program aide at the Opportunity Center).”
A professor finds a home
A 53-year-old German citizen, Victor came to the United States in 1998 and had a brief stint teaching mathematics at the University of Miami as an associate professor.
Because of his background in technology, he left Florida to seek better opportunities in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned, and Victor found himself sleeping in shelters. Eventually, he came to the Opportunity Center, desperate for help. Victor’s case manager at the Opportunity Center got him into the Hotel de Zink program. With his immediate housing needs taken care of, Victor worked persistently on various needs, including preparing for job interviews, securing permanent housing, and securing transportation.
His hard work paid off; Victor found a permanent home at the Barker Hotel, an apartment complex operated by the Palo Alto Housing Authority. With his housing stabilized, he was able to put his attention toward finding a new teaching position.
Help for their family
Joe and Barbara* have three children, aged from one to eight. The family used drop-in services at the Opportunity Center for about two years, especially the After School Learning Zone, where the children participated in tutoring lessons and other services. After Joe and Barbara lost their employment, the family lost its housing and was at risk of becoming homeless. Their family services case manager at the Opportunity Center used all the resources at her disposal to keep the family housed, arranging a motel stay of several weeks while she worked with other community partners and agencies to find affordable housing for the family. During this time, the children continued to participate in tutoring and other youth activities at the Opportunity Center, giving them educational enrichment and safe, structured time while their parents searched for work and a stable home.
Determination and support overcome hardships
Kathy, 45, was married and lived in the Bay Area with her husband for years, serving in the US Army and working as a manager of a local pharmacy. But then her husband committed suicide, and Kathy’s mental and physical health deteriorated. Eventually she was unable to pay her rent and lost her house.
For a while, Kathy stayed at various shelters, including Hotel de Zink. Then in 2006, Kathy got a rental subsidy from Community Working Group and was accepted as a resident of the Opportunity Center. Homeless no longer, Kathy began working with a case manager at the Opportunity Center and successfully secured a part-time job as a crossing guard for the Palo Alto School District.
Kathy worked hard in partnership with several organizations she found through the Opportunity Center — Peninsula Healthcare Connection, Stanford Disability Law Clinic and Inn Vision Shelter Network— to navigate the SSDI application process and obtain her benefits in August 2009. She was then able to terminate her rental subsidy and cover her own rent at the Opportunity Center, and eventually she moved out of the Opportunity Center into her own home.
Self-sufficient after severe health problems
After working in the Bay Area in the landscaping and irrigation industry for 30 years, Julius, 53, was forced to stop working when his severe health problems left him unable to attend to the physical and mental demands of his job.
Julius lost his job in 2004. Without the support and knowledge to obtain any benefits, he became homeless. But when the Opportunity Center opened in 2006, Julius was one of 25 clients who received rental subsidies through the Community Working Group, enabling him to move in.
With help from his case manager at the Opportunity Center, Peninsula HealthCare Connection and Stanford Disability law Clinic, Julius filed for SSDI benefits and obtained a general assistance loan to carry him through while he waited. After a long and grueling process that included his case manager testifying in front of a judge on his behalf, Julius was granted his SSDI benefits in July 2013.
Today, he is self-sufficient and continues to live and prosper in the Opportunity Center community — without the rental subsidy program. At a recent Stanford Disability Law Clinic event at the Opportunity Center, Julius shared his experience with law students interested in the project. He told them, “If it wasn’t for these guys here, I’d still be on the streets.”
*Clients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy. CWG clients pictured are not the CWG clients referenced in the stories.