California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Church Pushes for Permanent Thousand Oaks Homeless Shelter

    Members of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church congregation are bringing a voice to an old issue as they push Ventura County to open a permanent homeless shelter in the Thousand Oaks area.

    According to the Ventura County Homeless Count and Subpopulation Survey Final Report, Ventura County was home to 1,152 homeless people in 2017. Of these, 664 were unsheltered and 488 were sheltered. In Thousand Oaks alone, there are 102 homeless people.

    Holy Trinity has a history of working with the local homeless community. Beginning with former Pastor Larry Johnson in the 1980s, Holy Trinity started a partnership with Lutheran Social Services, a nonprofit โ€œmeeting the needs of the poor, underserved and powerless regardless of race, creed or orientation,โ€ according to its website.

    In this partnership, LSS coordinates and leads different faith communities in hosting an overnight winter shelter and nightly meals for the homeless. Holy Trinity, being one of these faith communities, hosts a meal and overnight once a week.

    Holy Trinity member and volunteer Sheri Groenveld said around 70 individuals attend the dinner nightly and around 20 stay the night in the winter. There are seven other faith communities in this partnership with LSS that also host weekly meals and overnight winter shelters.

    Head Pastor Eric Goehner said throughout this partnership with LSS and the relationships developed with the homeless community, members of Holy Trinity have developed a passion of advocating for the homeless community and working to serve their needs.

    Around 10 years ago, members of the congregation came together and mutually agreed that the homeless shelter is a cause they want to continue to be a part of and support fully. Groenveld said she never has to worry about getting volunteers for this program.

    The overnight winter shelter and nightly meals are not enough to fully meet the needs of the local homeless community. Goehner said he believes that homelessness in Thousand Oaks has become more visible over the years and awareness for the problem is growing.

    โ€œClients need a stable place to live in order to get back on their feet in an easier way. A shelter would be able to provide more services with ongoing people,โ€ Goehner said.

    In response, Groenveld kick-started a letter-writing campaign last fall to bring a voice to the homelessness problem. The letter-writing campaign stemmed from Holy Trinityโ€™s Community Outreach and Advocacy Ministry Team in an effort to advocate locally.

    โ€œWe see how the program works today on a pretty intimate level, because we see it every Monday. We see that it could work better if it was in one location instead of being pieced together. We also see what the clients have to go through to get from spot to spot,โ€ Groenveld said.

    Groenveld said that the current rotating meals and winter shelter is especially difficult for children and women. She said sheโ€™s seen children doing homework in the shelter in an attempt to balance schoolwork with their lack of basic needs.

    Over the last couple years, discussion about opening a permanent homeless shelter has included two different fire stations: Station 35, found on West Hillcrest Road in Newbury Park, and Station 34, located on Avenida de Los Arboles, just under a mile from California Lutheran Universityโ€™s main campus.

    Both Station 34 and 35 have been or soon will be vacated, as the Ventura County Fire Department has relocated to new stations. Both stations are comparable in size, just over 3,000 square-feet and built in the early 1960s.

    Groenveld said she believes that having conversation about using the old fire stations as a site for a permanent shelter is very important. Groenveld said both spots would be beneficial in different ways and would likely be easily accessible for homeless people attending.

    The fact that fire stations are county-owned property helps Groenveldโ€™s case.

    โ€œThe fire stations fall under the responsibility of the county. The county being bigger in general means that they might be less resistant to a permanent shelter โ€“ they see it as more than just Thousand Oaks,โ€ Groenveld said.

    Goehner said he believes that while a permanent homeless shelter is necessary in Thousand Oaks, Station 34 may receive pushback and Station 35, being closer to the freeway and away from a residential area, may pass as the better option.

    However, the proximity of Station 34 to Cal Lutheran and Holy Trinity would provide students and parishioners the opportunity to volunteer nearby.

    โ€œStudents who come through our doors have some sort of interest in volunteering, and typically ask how they can get involved. Having a shelter close to campus would give students an opportunity to serve and volunteer, and perhaps develop some internships for people interested in social work,โ€ Goehner said.

    Cal Lutheran junior and Holy Trinity parishioner Joe Zimmerly said he believes that a homeless shelter close to Cal Lutheranโ€™s campus would be beneficial, as it would expand opportunities for students to get involved in the community.

    โ€œCal Lutheran is a really giving community; a lot of these students want to give. Sometimes in Thousand Oaks, weโ€™re limited in the opportunities,โ€ Zimmerly said.

    Zimmerly said he believes this new shelter would be a wonderful opportunity for students to work with the homeless community through internships, jobs or volunteer work.

    As for Holy Trinity, Zimmerly said he sees the passion the congregation has and believes that advocating for a shelter and taking an initiative via letters and support will help bring progress.

    โ€œHoly Trinity is a very old congregation, but that doesnโ€™t mean we donโ€™t want to help. They really want to expand their opportunities with the homeless community and the creation of a shelter is the best way to take an initiative,โ€ Zimmerly said.

    The decision of the permanent shelter will ultimately be decided upon by the Thousand Oaks City Council. However, members of Holy Trinity will continue to advocate for systematic change. Goehner said he hopes the congregation can be a positive voice for change by using their personal experiences with the homeless community.

    Groenveld said she believes that the current meal and overnight winter shelter system is beneficial, but that Holy Trinity members must continue to put pressure on the conversation that is already happening.

    โ€œItโ€™s helpful, but it could be so much more helpful to the folks in trying to get them up and back to work or back to a normal life,โ€ Groenveld said.

    Catherine Slabaugh