Last year in San Diego County alone, there were over 8,500 homeless people, according to the 2018 Weallcount Annual Report. For those people, they don’t often know when their next meal will come from, or where they can stay that can be warm enough to sleep.
Since 2003, Operation HOPE (Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement) in Vista has been providing care and support for those that are trying to get off the streets and back as an independent, working member of the community.
“It really takes a village to have Operation HOPE exist,”says Board of Directors President Cindy Taylor. With the help of faith-based and civic organizations that partnered with the city of Vista, Operation HOPE was created to address homelessness.
The organization began as a winter shelter, which operated out of an old warehouse off of Orange Street in Vista. In 2012, the team moved to their current location because they ran a capital campaign and were able to purchase an upgraded facility that used to be an old medical office.
Since August of 2016 Operation HOPE has provided year-round services to children and single women.
Operation HOPE is a 90 to 120-day program for families with children and single women experiencing homelessness. It is a clean and sober living facility, which means that the staff requires the residents to be drug tested so that all the families and clients can be set up for success. By doing this they can maintain a safe environment for the children.
The main goal at Operation HOPE is to break the cycle of homelessness. They don’t define what the family unit is or what it should or shouldn’t look like. There are many different situations that people are living in.
The shelter runs as case management based program, meaning upon arrival at the shelter, families are assigned to a case manager. The case manager creates an individualized plan that is meant to set them up for success.
“What may work for one family may not work for another and so all types of needs are taken into consideration for every member of the family. From parent down to very young children, the case management program will assess exactly who needs what. Whether that may be a new pair of shoes to basic medical care,” said Nicole Ketcher, Director of Resource Development.
Setting up goals is the program’s next step and this may look like creating an application for someone or creating a job resume. Accountability is big part towards creating success for the clients. The clients have to check in with case managers on a weekly basis to make sure that progress is being made.
In addressing the kids’ needs, they have to take into account what they have been living like. They may have been living in a car with their parents or living in parks or at beaches, so the program wants to take care of any sort of trauma they experienced during that time.
“A lot of the children that come into the shelter are a grade level or two behind, and a requirement that the program has is that they are enrolled in school. With the help of Vista Unified School District, this has been made possible. The program has done 24 to 48 hour turnarounds with children to assess their needs and get them integrated with education,” Ketcher explained.
While the kids are in the program Monday through Thursday, there’s also an after school program where college students and some retired educators come in and tutor the children. Another club, Kidz HOPE, teaches the children team building skills and trust through various projects and activities.
Adults on the other hand take skill building classes four days a week that range from financial to literacy skills. Through these programs within Operation HOPE, families learn how to be a family and then how to be a community. Families are put onto a mandatory savings plan that teaches them how to budget and/or how to open a bank account.
“The best thing is when someone finds a place and is moving out and the community really celebrates and to tell them that ‘you’re taking that step, we’re proud of you’. It’s indescribable,” says Taylor.
For 365 days out of the year, someone will bring meals in for dinner. They may be faith based groups, civic organizations, members of the City of Vista, or individual families. During these meals, people are interacting with the families who are experiencing homelessness. This is important, as it reiterates the fact that they do belong in the community and creates a sense of hope to motivate these families that they will be able to overcome their situation.
“My favorite takeaway from being a part of Operation HOPE is a child’s face, a laugh, happiness, and joy that comes from being a community,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who has been a part of Operation HOPE since the organization’s beginning, has been honored to see the developments continue to from what it was over 16 years ago to what it is now.
For team members at HOPE, being able to watch these families grow stronger everyday is their favorite takeaway.
“Seeing some of these families come here with the bare minimum and watch them leave here self-dependent and happy is amazing,” Ketcher continued, “Being able to truly make a difference for each member of these families lives is up lifting.”
“It’s truly amazing how much a community can accomplish by coming together” said Executive Director, Stacey Proctor. “Operation HOPE is a perfect example of what a community really means.”
Right now, the HOPE team consists of 15 members and many volunteers. The foundation that has been built from love, passion, and hope from the community has allowed HOPE to change countless lives.