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Organization ‘Gathers’ help for those in need

Face of homeless changing, director says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A Placer County organization that works with 10 Auburn churches to provide shelter and resources is excited about its growing role in the community. The Gathering Inn is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 that offers aid to the local homeless population. “It was founded because there were no services for emergency overnight shelter and a group of pastors got together and found that needed rectifying,” said Suzi deFosset, executive director of The Gathering Inn. The Gathering Inn works with 60 churches throughout Placer County and one in Sacramento County to provide showers, food, beds and compassion to homeless citizens. DeFosset said about 55 people stay in a different church each night. Besides offering shelter and food, The Gathering Inn network has a number of other resources to get those in need back on their feet. “We have case management, which covers housing, actually getting them connected to all the mainstream services,” said Liz Nicholson, program director for the organization. “We now have a resource center, which is open Monday through Friday. We have drug and alcohol treatment. We have a community medical clinic. We have a community clothes closet. We have what is called an ICP house, it’s an interim care program.” DeFosset said each night The Gathering Inn supplies sleeping materials and staffing at the individual churches, and the churches provide the space and food, which they sometimes receive from service organizations or businesses. “The churches do an immense amount of interaction,” deFosset said. “Some have massage, some have art therapy, some have life skills (coaching). So it’s more than just going in and lying down for the night.” Auburn resident Robert Fitzpatrick has been staying with The Gathering Inn for the past two-and-a-half months. “Actually, it’s been a blessing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I started out at the welcome center (in Auburn), and they gave me the head’s up. I didn’t even know there was a program like The Gathering Inn. It’s just awesome. I was in a motorcycle accident, lost my house, lost my vehicle, everything, and at 51 I found out I’m going to be a dad. The sad part about it is you have to have nothing to get some help.” Fitzpatrick said it’s hard to be homeless in the town he grew up in, where his grandparents and parents were heavily involved with the community. Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t feel like the local community in general tries to reach out to the homeless population, so it’s important to have an organization like The Gathering Inn. “Auburn doesn’t want to recognize its homeless,” he said. “We don’t have homeless, we have hillbillies.” Fitzpatrick said he has a case manager who calls him to check up on him and works to help him improve his life. “The whole thing with The Gathering Inn is you need to keep moving forward, keep stepping forward,” he said. Fitzpatrick said if not for the organization, which picks him up and buses him to a hosting church each night, he might be in prison or jail now. “It’s moving forward,” he said. “I’ve been here since 1959, and to be homeless in your own hometown (is hard). People’s stigma is because that guy (is holding) a sign, he’s a drunk. There might be a handful of those, but if you take a man by his hand and teach him to fish then he can feed himself, and that’s what The Gathering Inn does.” DeFosset said The Gathering Inn hopes to educate the community about the myths associated with the homeless population. “I guess people forget that each person who stays with us is somebody’s son or daughter, and they have feelings and they are aware that the general public views them as invisible,” she said. “The face of homeless is no longer the hobo. It could be your neighbor. Seventy-one percent of our population last year had never used our services before, and that is why we opened up our resource center. We have a whole population on the streets who don’t know how to be homeless.” DeFosset said The Gateway Community Resource Center, which is located in Roseville, has computers, staff and volunteers available to help those trying to improve their lives in areas like writing resumes and looking for jobs. The center is funded by a Mercy Foundation grant. “Anybody coming in, we work with them to connect them with what they think they need, and we inform them of what is available,” she said. DeFosset said in the center’s first 21 days it received 966 people looking for help. The organization is also excited to be receiving an 18-passenger bus from the city of Auburn and Placer County, which will allow more people to be transported from Auburn to a hosting church, deFosset said. As the organization moves forward, deFosset said more help is always welcome. “We would love to have more volunteers,” she said. “We would like to start a mentoring program with volunteers.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------- The Gathering Inn What: A nonprofit organization and network of churches giving shelter and resources to members of the homeless community to get them back on their feet. Website: thegatheringinn.com For information or to volunteer: Call (916) 791-9355 Upcoming Event: 4th annual Charity Golf Tournament 11 a.m. May 13 at Morgan Creek Golf Club in Roseville