River Haven, a tent city for the homeless, is located on a piece of land just off the Santa Clara River. Since 2004, the Turning Point Foundation and the city of Ventura have been actively involved in a progressive effort to see the homeless residents at River Haven move toward self-sufficiency.

River Haven’s genesis evolved from a sweep of residents who were living in the Ventura River bottom. With the concern for health and safety, Turning Point and the city have come up with some amazing alternatives for the residents living at River Haven. What began as an experiment has evolved into a successful program that has had a 40 percent success rate, according to Clyde Reynolds, the executive director of the foundation.

“This is all about transitional living,” says Peter Brown, Ventura’s community services manager. “We want the people moving, not stagnant. The idea is to stabilize the residents and then move them toward self-sufficiency.”

Recently, National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed Brown because this progressive project is working so well. In fact, other cities are now looking to establish similar programs. “Our experiment at River Haven has been studied and adopted at a lot of other places,” Brown says. This has not been an easy task because the complications surrounding homelessness are many; however, it is encouraging to see the number of people who have been able to return to self-sufficiency, he says.

A proposed U-Dome project is a part of the transition. Currently, the tents at River Haven need to be replaced. Wood floors are rotting, many of the tents are torn, and there are health concerns because of mold. On Sept. 15, River Haven will close temporarily to replace the tattered tents with U-Domes — geodesic polypropylene structures. Reynolds says, “These structures were designed and built by World Shelters, which is a nonprofit, California-based manufacturer and volunteer organization.”

“This is a collaborative community project,” says Reynolds, who has been working with the foundation for 22 years. “While the city owns the land, and has continued with strong financial support, other groups like the Rotary Club of Ventura, Ventura County Community Foundation and various churches are involved. Community business owners who have an understanding of marketing strategies have stepped up to help.” In addition, “River Haven was given a $30,000 grant from the McCuen Foundation, which will expire soon.”

The foundation plans on purchasing six U-Domes that are 200 square feet for couples, and 13 U-Domes that are 120 square feet for singles. Unlike the tents, the U-Domes have locking doors, windows and vents. These will be placed on leveled, gravel-covered ground with a treated wood foundation. The estimated duration for these U-Domes is approximately 10 years, which is much longer than the average canvas tent and will provide a much better quality of living for those who are homeless.

“It really is a combination of assistance and tough love,” Reynolds says. There are a number of organizations and businesses that provided more than 60 volunteers, food and equipment to clean up and prepare for the U-Dome project. Some of those groups include Ventura Missionary Church, Casa de Vida, the Greek Restaurant, Domino’s Pizza, Ventura Rental, ACTION Foundation, California Conservation Corps and E.J. Harrison.

The total cost for the U-Domes is approximately $40,000 — $28,000 has already been raised. The foundation is hoping to raise the additional $12,000 through grants, community organizations and various charitable gifts. “That is the basic cost for this project. We could still use additional donations to cover the full cost of the project,” Reynolds says.

“This project is case-managed, and it has been so successful there has been no police involvement in nearly four years, which is amazing,” Brown says. “While it is not as sober a facility [as] we would like, we are supportive and active.”

This is not a long-term program, but lasts only two years, during which the resident must obtain a source of income, and find permanent housing. The foundation will help residents to address their homelessness with a goal-oriented plan that will be reviewed every 90 days. The plan includes assisting residents to secure employment, or government assistance if they are disabled. In addition, any resident who has an issue with substance abuse will be required to attend a recovery program, which will be strictly monitored. The use of drugs and alcohol within 100 yards of the camp is prohibited and will lead to eviction.

Brown says he feels very optimistic about this program, and while it is not ideal, he maintains, “We are working hard to make it better than it was yesterday, and as good as it can be tomorrow.”