Opinion Columns & Blogs

Help Prado Day Center help others

I’d like to tell you a story that was told to me by Dee Torres, homeless services director for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County. It involves a 73-year-old woman who came to the Prado Day Center on April 10 of last year. I’ll call her “Anna.”

She had been living at the Grover Beach Inn with her payee — somebody who, possibly court-appointed, watches over an individual’s finances. Her payee had just passed away, and Anna didn’t have any information on her income and had her Social Security benefits suspended because her financial guardian had died.

Anna was a widow whose nearest relatives were in Tennessee.

“She was almost completely deaf and everything had to be written down for her,” Torres says. “Yet, after three months of working with a case manager, this client’s quality of life has drastically improved.”

Anna’s case is almost a textbook example of someone falling through bureaucratic cracks. It was determined at Prado — the only homeless day center in the county — that Anna had been mistakenly listed as “deceased” at various social service agencies: Department of Social Services, Social Security Administration, the Teamsters Pension Fund, Department of Motor Vehicles and at Rabobank.

“Through her work with a case manager,” says Torres, “her status at all these agencies has been changed to alive.

“She was unaware of her Teamsters pension and her case manager was able to reinstate her benefits with a lump sum retro payment,” Torres says. “After providing current information to the Social Security Administration, she was able to collect another lump sum retro payment. A referral was made to Family Ties, a recognized payee service, to assist her with her financial affairs. Referrals were also made to an audiologist to address her hearing difficulties. She now has a hearing aid and is able to communicate with the people around her.”

Anna is now living in subsidized housing, uses the Senior Nutrition Program, and has a caregiver who takes her shopping and socializes with her three times a week.

“Due to her newly fattened savings account, she was able to furnish her apartment,” says Torres, “and she recently went through cataract surgery and exclaimed, ‘I can see Judge Judy better!’ ”

I share this anecdote for several reasons: Like the majority of thousands of individuals who are in various stages of homelessness in this county, Anna is one of our own. She’s not a transient; she’s not mentally ill; she didn’t choose her circumstances.

The second point is that the Prado Day Center offers a lifeline for those who need a helping hand, whether that be one of the 61,847 meals — 27,020 breakfasts and 34,827 lunches served by the People’s Kitchen — or a shower, a locker to store clothes (clothes that can be washed at Prado), or use of a telephone to seek employment.

Overseen by CAPSLO and Friends of Prado Day Center, Prado offers case management that, as in Anna’s case, can be remarkably effective and far-reaching.

Each day, some 90 to 120 men, women and children — yes, children — find a meal and a safe place to stay during the day. And if it’s cold and wet out, Prado opens its doors at night as a warming station.

But homelessness is growing in our county, and those of you who persist in believing that people choose this lifestyle should consider what my longtime friend Becky Jorgeson found while working at Dan De Vaul’s Sunny Acres.

“It became very clear to me that many who are now homeless at one time had good jobs — and still have those skills that could be put to good use.

“We have had architects, a concert pianist, a Home Depot manager, legal secretaries, a certified drug and alcohol counselor, lab technicians, chefs, welders, electricians, contractors, cement workers, sheet rockers and many others. Today, there is a civil engineer who works in the office.

“There are several Vietnam vets out there, homeowners, and business owners — they are all someone’s brother, sister, father or mother — we all know someone who is struggling and could use a helping hand, not a handout.”

The homeless situation in our county has rallied school children — Atascadero Montessori students ran 3,375 laps in the recent rains to raise $6,218.88 for Prado;

Sempra Energy gave a $5,000 grant to support services at Prado and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter; and the good folks in Los Osos who put on their fifth annual Needs ‘N Wishes Holiday Fundraiser raised $42,239.61 for the Maxine Lewis Shelter.

If you’d like to help ease the suffering of those who are homeless because of catastrophic illness, unemployment or any of a dozen other reasons that any of us could face at any time, here are two ways: The Friends of the Prado Day Center is holding its third annual Culinary Carnival on Friday, Feb. 4, at the Embassy Suites on Madonna Road.

From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., some of the finest restaurants on the Central Coast will offer their cuisine, paired with products from local wineries and breweries. With Supervisor Adam Hill as emcee, the event also features a silent auction and entertainment. I’ll be there to personally greet you at the door. The cost is only $40 and the event sold out last year. For ticket information, check www.sloculinarycarnival.com.

The second way to help the center help others is to make a direct donation to the Friends of Prado Day Center Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 12444, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406.

We live in a compassionate community. When our friends and neighbors are in need, we collectively step up to the plate. In that light, I hope to see you Feb. 4 at Embassy Suites for this year’s Prado Day Center Culinary Carnival.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com orat 781-7852.

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