GRIP Tries to Help People Get Off the Streets, Just like I Did

By Jessica Suico

All over the Bay Area, people are living out of their vehicles or making shelters out of tents or cardboard boxes on the side of streets and freeways.

The homeless epidemic can feel more like a plague because it runs rampant all over California. The cost of living has gone up but wages haven’t. There’s no balance as people are pushed out of their homes because they simply can’t afford them anymore.

The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) in Richmond is working to give homeless people opportunities for shelter, meals and even jobs.

On April 15, GRIP — in collaboration with Contra Costa Health Services’ Division of Health, Housing and Homeless Services, and the city of Richmond — opened up a 30-cot Warming Center, offering food, shower and entertainment on a night-to-night basis seven days a week. It also offers daytime services for homeless people who need to relax indoors, get a meal and connect with others.

The Warming Center almost did not have quite enough money to open this April, but Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s Community Fund provided an $80,000 grant.

GRIP executive director Kathleen Sullivan says the Warming Center has been in the works since August 2017, but the organization wants to do more than just shelter the homeless.  It wants to help people succeed by providing solutions for homelessness.

“We are on an upswing right now,” Sullivan said. “Our system is strengthening.”

For the warming center’s opening, GRIP built a shed, allowing people who stayed there to leave their belongings safely overnight, something Sullivan says reflects in the faith-based organization’s ethos.

“We need to hold onto our faith because we don’t know what is going to happen next,” Sullivan said.

The city of Richmond provided garbage bins for the center, to keep the environment clean and inviting.

“I wouldn’t want to pull up to my house and have a bunch of garbage around it. I want this place as clean as my home,” Sullivan said. “We want our guests to feel comfortable.”

GRIP’s work offers people a chance at hope and peace, a rarity when you’re homeless. I say that as someone who has been homeless and still has family on the streets right now.

Too often, the homeless are given a number to call but it just goes to a voicemail or an automated system. I’ve learned that the hard way. GRIP, however, seemed different, in that someone is actually there to help, even if it’s just a warm and secure place to crash for the night.

Homeless people are often criminalized or, at the very least, looked down upon. When it comes to mentally ill homeless people, it seems like police aren’t trained on how to properly handle them or to help their family members.

When you’re homeless, restrooms, showers, proper meals, and quality rest are extremely difficult to find.  I was homeless some parts of my first year in college and it was difficult. There were times I just wanted to give up but all the hardships pushed me even harder to stay in school and get a job. I am glad I did and kept my vision. Now, I am on the other side and can talk about my story and, I hope, help inspire others going through similar hardships.

No one wants to be homeless, but it’s happening more often and it’s not easy to escape. Having someone, anyone, to turn to can truly make a difference.

GRIP volunteer Faye Turner says she loves being that help for people. “I tend to have a warm personality, and that makes it easier for me to connect with people,” she said.

Director Contessa Tate says the center’s team is more like a family.

“We have gotten through a lot of crazy tough things,” she said. “We always come together in our team huddles and work it out.”

Antwon Cloird has worked with GRIP, in one capacity or another, for over 30 years because it helped him turn his life around.

“I was the homeless individual at one time trying to figure my life out,” he said.

If you yourself are homeless and need assistance, you can drop into the care center or call 211.

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