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By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

Homeless transition house relies on structure to change lives

 

Last updated 5/1/2020 at 12:26am

Village News/Shane Gibson photo

Kevin, a lead resident at a Project T.O.U.C.H. homeless transitional housing in Fallbrook washes the dishes inside the home where men recovering from homelessness transition into permanent housing.

Kevin, who asked Village News to only use his first name, is in charge of running a transitional house for the homeless in Fallbrook; the home is owned by Project T.O.U.C.H. It is a place, he said, which is changing the lives of men that have fallen on hard times and are looking to pick themselves up.

One thing that he wants to make abundantly clear is, it is not a homeless shelter.

"We don't call this a homeless shelter because it's not a homeless shelter," he said. "This is not a drug rehab house. This is not a halfway house. This is not a group home. This is a transitional house. You come in, and your focus is to get your act together and to move out. The community should know that that is what it is."

Another thing is, Kevin said, they like to keep the location of the home hidden from the general public.

"Nobody knows where it is, and that's the way we like it," he said. "That is so there's not a bunch of people coming around saying, 'How do we get my son in here?' It's not that kind of place.

"We get along exceptionally well with all of our neighbors, and we like to keep it that way," Kevin said.

After he established what the home is and isn't, he talked about who can stay there.

"If you've got some sort of an addiction or something like that, you're required to go and do a 90-day drug and alcohol program before you can come here," Kevin said. "Because this is not a drug treatment house. That's required if you have a monkey on your back. When you're on the streets, you know, alcohol is the biggest one. And if you're OK and you're not a drinker or anything, you can come in here.

"(The people who come to the house) are heavily vetted. Background checks are done before you can get in here. There are no violent felons. Anybody with a warrant is not coming in. Anybody that has sex offenses is not coming in here."

Kevin said in a lot of cases, that's all it takes, an opportunity.

"They just need a chance to get off the streets for a while, get their (expletive) together, so they can actually move on to something else," he said. "Those are the greatest success stories right there. That's what this is, a transition house, it's not permanent housing."

After being vetted and approved, each person spends three weeks in a room they call the "Emergency Room," a temporary set up where they prove they are working toward a better future or even if they just need a bed for one or two nights.

"There's somebody recent that really hit hard times in a short amount of time and they were going to kill themselves," Kevin said. "So, we brought them in that night, and he's been real success story around here. He's getting his act together, and he's doing fantastic. That's just one of the rare situations where you find a guy and he needs a bed right now and things work out."

Upon inhabiting one of the bedrooms, they are required to get out the door and look for work. They are also required to pay rent.

Having a permanent address to use while they search for work is a big deal.

"When you're on the streets, it's hard to get anything accomplished if you don't have an address or a house phone, which we have," Kevin said. "We help people get it set up a cellphone and hook them up with the right organizations such as McAllister and Exodus. If you moved from the emergency room into one of the bedrooms, that's the point where you're actually paying rent."

When that happens, more expectations are put on the men.

"If you're not working, you ain't sitting around watching TV," Kevin said. "Your butt's out of here by 9 o'clock in the morning. Bed made room, clean your area, clean whatever it may be. You're out of here at nine. If you've had some sort of problem in the past, you're going to get drug and alcohol tested when you come back into the house. There's no just sitting around here eating free food and watching TV all day."

Due to a disability, there are some men who can't work. That's where programs offered by Exodus and McCallister can help. While they are working on pending cases for disability programs, the organizations will pay the rent with an expectation of the subject paying the money back when their benefits come through.

"It's a great program," Kevin said. "I went through it, so we try and get people hooked up like that."

Once all that is settled and rent can be covered, they get a bedroom in the house and are expected to start looking for a place of their own. Kevin said while it can be difficult to find a place in the Fallbrook area that's affordable, some guys have, but most are moving to surrounding communities.

At the moment, there are no rooms available and they aren't allowing people to say in the "Emergency Room" due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's just a matter of being cautious because you know, you've got eight guys in the house, you're kind of increasing your chances of catching something," Kevin said.

He said the majority of the food in the house comes from local food banks and food purchased by the men who have obtained their EBT cards.

"Financial donations and food donations really, really help out a lot because a lot of people, like me for example, some of us get less than $100 a month for food and that's hard to stretch that dollar," he said.

There is an account for the house that helps Kevin maintain the property and make repairs.

Recently, he needed to replace a microwave that died.

"We had a microwave blow out, and it was the only one in the house," Kevin laughed. "With eight men, you need a microwave. It's as simple as that. So that comes out of the house fund."

Kevin said that religion is a big part of living in the house.

"This is a Christian-based organization, and while we haven't done it lately because of the coronavirus stuff happening, we have Bible studies every Thursday night here," he said. "It's not mandatory, but it's always open to people and there are people that are Christians and have kind of veered from their faith. It gives them a chance to get back into the word of God.

"There've been times where people have been here and said, 'Ah, I don't believe in that stuff.' Well, that's fine. Just don't be causing trouble or bad-mouthing religion or anything like that and you're fine. There was one guy that was there that was doing that, and he was asked to leave because he was a cancer (in the house)."

Village News/Shane Gibson photo

The emergency room at the Project T.O.U.C.H. transitional housing in Fallbrook serves as a space with beds where men who are abruptly faced with an emergency related to homelessness can quickly find a bed and supportive shelter.

Even though marijuana is legal, it's not allowed in the house. There's no alcohol either. He said he likes the house to be immaculate too. He said he is expecting a walk-through inspection in the next week or so.

"I'm a big stickler about cleaning up after yourself and even the tiny little things," Kevin said.

When reminded that he said he was a good at being the (expletive), or the stickler for the details.

"I said I can be the (expletive) and I said I don't like it, but I'm good at it," he laughed. "There's been a couple of people that said, 'There are too many damn rules around here.' No, there's not. Stay clean and clean up after yourself. Look for work, move forward with life. Those are basically the rules."

Then he added one more rule.

"Don't talk to Kevin between 7:30 and 8 p.m.," he said.

Why?

"Because that's when 'Jeopardy' is on," he said, chuckling.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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