A nonprofit organization motivated to empower the homeless through artistic self expression is now launching a new program aimed at providing those without a roof over their heads with a set of wheels in the meantime.

The Ojai-based Hearts of Fire project will award, this Saturday, a donated motor home to a local homeless woman and her son, in the first step that it hopes will further bridge the gap between those on the street and those with homes, in Ventura County.

At a public ceremony, which will take place at 1 p.m., Jan. 30, in front of Regalo Virgin Olive Oil Inc., on Carne Road in Ojai, Maria Pollack and her 11-year-old son will be the first recipients of an RV through the inaugural Motor Home Housing Program.

The initiative, according to Hearts of Fire Executive Director Bob Ballard, is aimed at giving the recently homeless, who are trying to bounce back into self-sustainability, both the chance for a place to live and a means of transportation.

“It’s either they live in a tent or on a sidewalk. They don’t get paid enough to move to the next level,” Ballard said.

“This is an attempt to address people who are already living on someone’s couch and to recycle an old RV.”

Ballard hopes that Saturday’s event will launch an effort to collect, renovate and distribute late-model motor homes in good working condition to homeless families. If successful, it would become the next major step in curbing homelessness in Ventura County, where more than 2,200 people live on the streets, and no full-time homeless shelter operates.

The group’s Motor Home Housing Program is perhaps linked most closely to related programs offered by some cities that allow homeless people to sleep in their cars, in designated locations at designated times. However, laws vary from city to city.

In Santa Barbara, a public sleeping-in-cars program has been in place for years. Officials from the city of Ventura announced last year a pilot version of the same program, on a smaller scale on private lots, which raised the ire of residents and business owners concerned over safety and sanitation. Citing similar concerns, the city of Camarillo banned the practice outright.

Pollack and her son, who ails with arthritis and fibromyalgia, are currently based in Carpinteria. Pollack, whose background is in health care, hopes to take advantage of the “safe sleep” program once she receives her new motor home. Most likely, however, she’ll be keeping the RV at the residence of a friend in Ojai, who heard of the nonprofit and suggested Pollack apply for the new program. That friend, Victoria Stratton, decided to become Pollack’s sponsor in the program.

“She saw how much I was in need. I put in an application and I filled it out and (Bob) was a pleasure to speak with.

The next thing,” said Pollack, “he said I was going to receive an RV. I was just totally shocked. It couldn’t have come at a better time in my life.”

Ballard, a musician, had once lived through a period of homelessness while located in the Las Vegas area, and started Hearts of Fire about three years ago. Drawing inspiration from a song he wrote about the experience, he fashioned the nonprofit as a way of offering people the chance to channel their homelessness through art, and to craft a sense of identity for a largely faceless problem.

“It’s not about money. It’s about accepting them as human beings. That’s why the artwork works so well, because nobody’s asked them to contribute anything,” Ballard says.

Success of the Motor Home Housing Program depends on a number of factors, says Ballard.

“It all depends on how many people donate them,” he said. “We also need an intake place to store them.”

In addition to donations of vehicles, Hearts of Fire is in search of garages and mechanics able to repair and help renovate RVs.   

To learn more about Hearts of Fire, visit www.heartsoffireproject.org.