Homeless shelter fundraiser in Oxnard yields high turnout

Local warming shelter model may be used in Los Angeles

By David Michael Courtland 09/30/2010

Saturday’s fundraiser for a temporary winter homeless shelter drew the highest turnout in memory, says Peggy Rivera, who chairs Oxnard’s Commission on Homelessness, which co-sponsored the event with the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

“I think the most important issue here is not the money to keep the shelter open for a length of time, but the public awareness of homelessness,” said Rivera, adding that the commission got a number of donations larger than $500 from organizations throughout the county.

About 400 people who had bought $50 tickets, including a number of elected or public officials and others campaigning for local offices, attended Saturday’s dinner at Casa Lopez in Oxnard. Rivera attributed the larger turnout to increased awareness of homelessness.

“It’s wonderful; it just shows how strong this community is, to step forward and have compassion for the homeless,” said David Fields, executive director of St. Vincent DePaul’s Los Angeles Council. Fields said the council may be using Oxnard’s winter shelter program as a model for one in Los Angeles County.

Tim Flynn, who is running for Oxnard’s city council, said the event is a good example of faith-based community action.

“This is what’s sometimes necessary to get people involved. It’s tapping into a resource of people who have compassion but don’t have an avenue to express it,” said Flynn. “I don’t know of any other event I’ve attended of this size. At a minimum, this raises awareness.”

Fifth District Supervisor John Zaragosa, who represents Oxnard, emphasized the number of homeless armed forces veterans.

“It’s important that we take care of our homeless veterans, it would be nice to give them a safe, warm place,” said Zaragosa, who noted that the shelter helps keep down visits to hospitals for emergency treatment. “We help them out with emergency housing, which saves taxpayers money; it’s a win-win all around.”

Besides Zaragosa, the event also drew Oxnard City Councilman Andres Herrera, Ventura City Councilman Neal Andrews; Peter Brown, Ventura’s community services director; Harbor Commission candidate Florencia Ramirez; and Oxnard City Council candidate Carmen Ramirez as well as Flynn and his father, former Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn.

Rivera said her commission is working with the Oxnard Planning Department on a draft plan for a year-round homeless shelter.

“At this time, we’re working diligently with the city to make sure we get what we need to service the homeless population the best we can,” said Rivera.

Sponsored by the Commission on Homelessness and the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the fundraiser is a critical source of money to operate the annual winter shelter.

Typically open from December to March, the shelter is the chief source of shelter for the homeless in west Ventura County. Emergency winter shelters are also operated in Ojai and Simi Valley.

Tom McLaughlin of St. Vincent DePaul, who has managed the winter shelter for eight years, said Ventura and Oxnard city officials are still discussing which city is hosting the shelter this year and the specific dates of operation.

In past years, the shelter has alternated between the National Guard armories of both cities; the last two years it was held in Ventura’s armory. On any given night, the shelter typically has 100 to 200 people staying in it.

Oxnard and Ventura have the largest homeless populations, with more than 1,000 between them, including whole families and single parents with children, according to the Ventura County Commission on Homelessness.

A survey taken earlier this year in conjunction with the national census found 451 adults and 69 children in Oxnard alone, 38 two-parent families with children and 27 single parents with children. Only 147 of those people were staying in shelters.   

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