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VENTURA | West Ventura County Focus

Building an Office as Well as Self-Confidence

November 02, 1996|HILARY E. MacGREGOR

A year ago, 51-year-old Phillip Bock was on the street--sleeping in enclosures next to dumpsters, picking up bottles for small change and chugging cheap wine to forget the grim life he was leading.

Now he is off the bottle, off the street and working eight hours a day--for free--hanging Sheetrock and building walls at the police storefront on Ventura's west side. He is getting no more for his labor than a few dollars here and there and free lunches from Taco Bell. But he says he is not going to leave until his job is done.

Bock and partner Art Mulford are two of the success stories of Ventura's Homeless Employment Resource Operation, or HERO.

It all started a few weeks ago, when the police storefront had a few unwieldy pieces of Sheetrock the workers couldn't handle.

"They called over and said, 'You gotta coupla bodies?' and we sent those two over and they kinda never came back," said Bob Costello, who heads HERO and finds jobs for people who are homeless or about to lose their homes.

The two men hung the Sheetrock and built several offices in the 900-square-foot space. The labor would have cost several thousand dollars, but it is being provided virtually free. Sharon Troll, the head volunteer of the police storefront, said she can't afford to pay the men for their labor, but she can see the two men rebuilding their own confidence as they put the office together.

Troll says the pair have been model workers. The volunteers take collections among themselves for the two men--one week they gave $120--but she wishes she could really pay them.

"They just took over," Troll said. "They're building that entire center. We've watched their self-esteem grow day by day, and we could see the quality of their work improve. They got faster, better. They started working as a team."

Bock worked for 20 years in construction. A breakup with his fiancee last year in Camarillo left him so traumatized that he turned to drink and found himself on the street.

The soft-spoken man said he bounced from shelters to trash bins to the hospital, where he spent time after being stabbed by another homeless person. All he wants now is to get a job and a place with his new girlfriend.

"I've been like a homeless drunk for this past year," said the now clean-cut Bock. "But after the first few days here I said, 'I'm gonna get the job finished,' so I went and got all my tools, stored up in a house in Camarillo."

For now, Bock gets up at the crack of dawn every morning at the Angel Motel in Oxnard and takes the hourlong bus ride to Ventura with tokens he receives from HERO. "When you're trying to work, better your life, get back to where you were, it's difficult," he said. "But this is better than sitting in that damn park in Oxnard."

Costello has high hopes for Bock and Mulford, and hopes as well that they help dispel stereotypes of homeless people as slothful, irresponsible drunkards.

"We have a certain stigma--homeless guys hanging around and all that stuff," said Costello. "But we cater to a different group than other agencies. Our men are sober and ready to work."

Citizens looking for workers to do lawn or construction jobs may contact the HERO center at 648-3969.

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