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Coalition of Simi Valley Churches Helps the Homeless Survive : Community: Public Action to Deliver Shelter offers the needy a place to sleep, food, showers and other services so they can start escape from poverty.

November 05, 1994|SARA CATANIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chuck Tice knows how it feels to be down and out. Eight years ago, the Simi Valley communications engineer was unemployed and out of cash.

With the help of friends, he found a job and slowly got back on his feet.

"I started to realize how tenuous your lifestyle becomes when you go from a decent income to zero," he said. "The words it can happen to anybody took on a new meaning for me, and I really wanted to help other people who got stuck in the same spot."

For five years, Tice has been helping provide meals and a place to sleep for needy people through PADS--Public Action to Deliver Shelter--a coalition of churches that provides shelter and assistance to the homeless.

From November to March, PADS offers up to 50 homeless people a warm, safe place to sleep each night. A meal program provides hot dinners year-round for as many as 200 people a night. And the newly opened Samaritan Center at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church on Royal Avenue provides showers, clothing and mail service.

"We really want to act as a cushion for people, so they don't fall into despair," Tice said.

On a recent chilly evening, Kurt Hartman and his two children were among 40 people who gathered at Grace Brethren Church for spaghetti, hot dogs, green beans and chocolate ice cream.

Hartman, 38, said he is struggling to raise his youngsters on the wages he earns as a gardener.

"As a single parent it's tough to make ends meet," Hartman said as he gathered up several loaves of bread to take home to his apartment.

At a folding table nearby, Hartman's 9-year-old daughter, Jessica Faith Hartman, sorted through a heap of free clothing.

"The people are nice and you can find good clothes," she said, explaining that the bulky pale yellow coat she wears indoors and out is one of the treasures gleaned from the clothing pile.

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Her father agreed. "At that age, kids grow so fast it's hard to keep up with the clothes," he said. "As they grow, we bring in the old clothes and get new ones."

Later in the evening, a handful of the diners headed across town to Church of Christ, where they bedded down in cheerful, Sunday school classrooms for the night.

PADS worker Geoffrey Kasule is charged with ensuring that all of the guests, as the overnight visitors are called, understand the house rules: no drinking, drugs, fighting or parking lot parties. Breaking these rules subjects violators to a two-week suspension from the program.

"To do this job, you have to be both soft and firm," Kasule said. "Soft in a compassionate way, but firm in setting the rules, or people will walk all over you."

While PADS operators would ultimately like to open a full-time permanent shelter, the rotating churches approach has worked well, said Ken Constable, an accountant who manages the program's budget.

PADS operates on about $10,000 a year in donations and grants, he said. Of that, Tice is paid $600 a month for his 40 to 60 hours of work, while Kasule receives $350. The rest is spent on sleeping bags, food, medical services and other operating expenses, Constable said. Most of the program's food is donated by the churches.

This winter, PADS is seeking donations to help pay for 150 extra-thick sleeping rolls.

"It's the classic case of a shoestring operation," he said. "We are fueled mainly by volunteer support."

Scores of volunteers from two dozen Simi Valley churches prepare meals and staff the shelters overnight.

Twice a month Ruby Meadows volunteers at Grace Brethren, serving up dinner and a smile to hungry visitors.

"Once in awhile you get somebody who is gruff and ungrateful," Meadows said. "But most people seem genuinely thankful that we're here."

At the Church of Christ, in preparation for the arrival of guests one recent night, volunteer Mary Johnson brewed coffee and unwrapped vegetables, dip and a plate of fudge brownies she had baked that morning.

Mary and her husband, Bill Johnson, would spend the night at the church, sacking out on sofas and ensuring the night passed without incident.

The guests began to trickle in, gathering in the fluorescent-lit community room for post-dinner conversation.

Paula Palos, 29, is a frequent guest of the PADS program. Last winter she moved into a government-subsidized apartment, Palos said, but was evicted because she had too many cars parked on the property.

"I really like to buy old cars and then resell them to make money," she said. Now all of her belongings are locked in a storage unit and her children are living with her mother.

On this night Palos said she had just been released from a five-day jail stint for running a red light, driving without a license and failing to appear in court.

"I just need a little time to get back on my feet," Palos said as she nibbled a baby carrot. "One thing I learned is that if you are homeless once, you will be homeless again."

Slumped on a nearby sofa, Rod Gillespie, 47, said he was ready to make a change in his life.

"I've got an interview tomorrow for a construction job," Gillespie said. "Eight dollars an hour. Not too shabby. I've been down before, and I'm ready to turn things around."

FYI

To volunteer, make a donation or learn more about the PADS homeless shelter program, call Chuck Tice at 527-4445.

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