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Economy adding to homeless challenge

Gathering Inn program sees more people in need
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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At 67, Brenda Cash has seen tough times but she never expected to be homeless. Cash returned to Roseville in January to be nearer to her children after being away for 12 years. She found an apartment and then disaster struck. She discovered she was a victim of identity theft and her bank account was drained. With no money and nowhere to turn, she went to Sutter Roseville Medical Center in tears. Hospital staff sent her to a Vallejo facility for a three-day evaluation. When it turned out she didn’t need treatment, she was returned to Roseville and delivered to The Gathering Inn, she said. “Everybody made me feel at home,” she said about her welcome into the homeless-support program. “Everybody cares. They just did wonders.” Still, it was a tough adjustment. “It’s not easy to sleep on the floor and go to a different church every night,” she said. Cash is one of the approximately 50 people who get help each day through The Gathering Inn. At pickup points in Auburn and Roseville, homeless are transported to one of the 43 churches that alternate in providing a hot meal and place to sleep. At the Roseville office for the program, the gate opens to welcome the guests at 3:30 p.m. There’s plenty of time for a shower and then watching TV, playing cards or just relaxing before the bus leaves. There’s also job and apartment-search help, case management and 12-step programs for substance abuse. Job seekers can use The Gathering Inn’s post office box as an address and there’s even assistance for those who’ve lost their identification. “We see that all the time,” Executive Director Suzi deFosset said. “We have a fund developed by students at Del Oro High School (as a senior project) that allows us to help (Gathering Inn guests) get new IDs and birth certificates.” Each morning, they’re required to leave at 7:30 a.m. For most, that means wandering the streets, spending time in a library or hanging out in a park. But Leon Armstrong, 60, has a place to spend those long hours. “During the day, one of the bars where I used to work on the jukebox let’s me watch TV and drink Pepsi all day,” he said. Armstrong turned to the Gathering Inn in January when he lost the jukebox-repair job. But his bad luck started before that. “I worked as a civil engineer for 30 years before being laid off there, too,” he said. He’s too young to collect Social Security and has been unable to get Veterans Affairs benefits for an injury he suffered in the Vietnam War, he said. But he’s determined to get back on his feet. Gathering Inn staffers have helped him get in touch with VA officials to get his situation sorted out. “I’m not looking for a handout,” he said. “I’m looking for hand up.” The downturn in the economy has stretched the resources of the Gathering Inn program. “We’ve seen a 30 percent increase (in visitors) from the same time last year,” deFosset said. And the face of homelessness is changing. There are still many who face substance abuse and mental illness issues. But others are victims of the economy. “They’ve fallen on hard times,” deFosset said. “Some have lost their jobs. Some have been displaced because of foreclosure — maybe not them, but the landlord.” On Wednesday, most of the arrivals at the Roseville site were single adults, but deFosset said she’s seen a rise in families coming in, too. “We work very hard to get them into some type of housing as quickly as possible,” she said about families. “We have a minimal amount of resources to call on. There’s definitely not enough low-income housing to handle everybody.” Pioneer United Methodist Church on Lincoln Way in Auburn, which hosts the program on the second Friday and Saturday of each month, was one of the first churches to become involved in the Gathering Inn program, which is now in its fifth year. “We try to have dinner ready at 6:30 p.m. when they arrive,” Pastor John Broad said. “And we have something for them to eat in the morning — rolls, bagels, coffee and sometimes fruit.” For Cash, she’s looking forward to moving on. She now has her finances in order and has rented an apartment. Her son is going to live there, too. “This is a new experience for me,” she said about being homeless. “God always has a reason for something. He has purpose in life for everyone.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.