places that help people

BY BETSY GOLDMAN

Jose Pe“a spent only part of the time in Venice during his childhood.

He started running away from home at the age of 11.

“I was really stressed out as a child,” he says.

Jose claims his mother was the victim of domestic violence from his father.

“The stress made me run away a lot,” he says.

From age 11 to 14, Jose found himself in different shelters. At age 16, he was in the Youth Recovery Home that is part of the Clare Foundation in Santa Monica.

It became a turning point in his life.

“Because I had a good relationship with Clare Foundation, I hung around places that help people,” he says. “The reason I hung out in those places is because the feeling of helping other people kept me away from my friends.

“A lot of people I grew up around are doing life in prison. My little brother is doing life in prison. He has ’25 to life’. He was 17 when he was sent to prison.”

“He was involved in a drive-by shooting in Culver City and then killed in self defense an inmate” who tried to rape his brother, Jose claims.

“Being a youngster, a lot of older guys looked at him as fresh meat,” Jose says. “To defend himself, he stabbed and killed him. For that, he got more time.”

Jose helped out at the Sober Inn, also part of Clare Foundation ,where he assisted with the feeding program. He also got to stay there rather than in the home for minors.

“I wanted to stay at the Sober Inn to get more freedom,” he says. “I think I got more serious because they had me participating more than just being with the kids.”

Jose would take classes at the Venice Skills Center’s program for high school dropouts and return to the Inn to work. Duties included cleaning trays and sweeping and mopping the floor.

“The homeless would throw trash all over the floor,” he says. “We would clean around the building because they had a deal with the neighbors that we would clean almost around the block.

“We would also ask people to get up. After they ate, they would go outside. We would ask them to please move on in respect for the neighbors. If they would disobey, we would take a picture and give it to the director.”

Jose knew quite a few of the homeless who ate at the Sober Inn because they were from Venice.

“It’s painful how alcoholism and drug addiction can invade a community,” he says. “Talk about invading countries, this is worse — what is happening to every neighborhood in America.

“They put alcohol out there, thinking that we are educated, that we are smart enough to say no, that we’re just going to have one beer.

“Alcohol companies don’t realize how much pain they are causing in every home, not just a Latino home, but a white home, a black home, every home in America.

“Especially women who have to divorce their husbands because they can’t stand the sight of him anymore, not even having him next to them because it smells so bad. His pores reek of alcohol, and still he expects a kiss every morning.”

Jose says another of his brothers is currently in rehab.

“He lost his family,” say Jose. “His whole family is in a shelter right now — four babies, one a newborn.”

After Jose finished high school, he worked for Clare Foundation part time at its Venice center on Lincoln Boulevard — across the street from a liquor store, he points out.

He was a service provider — providing incoming clients with information about places where they could get help. He asked to become full time and worked at Clare’s center in Culver City in addition to the one in Venice.

“Full-time work was stressing me out,” he says. “As you work with clients and you learn everything about them, it’s really stressful.

“There are not too many places to place these people, women whose husbands were abusing them. We had to request vouchers to put them in hotels in Santa Monica until we found them a decent place to live.”

Jose decided to go back to school to take a psychology class. He wanted to become a social worker.

The stress of other people’s problems started to take a toll. Jose dropped out of school, went back to part-time work, and started going out on weekends.

After all, he was only 20 years old. He ended up taking a series of jobs — security guard, tow truck driver.

In his time off, Jose volunteered at St. Joseph Center at the Homeless Service Center on the corner of Fourth Street and Rose Avenue, where people can find most of their basic needs and, when they are ready, get assistance with the move from the street into transitional and then permanent housing.

“I actually did like it because a lot of the clients that they help, some of them used to eat at Clare Foundation,” he says. “There’s a percentage that I know personally, like this family that raised me for a couple of years when I was a kid. The father ate there because he was divorced. He was shooting up.

“I remember that whenever my little friend wanted to see his dad, he would just have to walk down to [a store nearby]. “His dad was always out there behind the alley with his friends.

“Other times we would go early in the morning before we went to school. His father was in line. Back then they used to have a huge line early in the morning. Now they discourage it so it doesn’t make the neigborhood uncomfortable.”

Jose started doing security at that location.

“I felt that I did more than security,” he says. “Without being asked, I recruited a whole bunch of volunteers to make them go out there and clean up.”

Jose also volunteered for shower, phone, and mail duties.

“Services are not just given to anybody any more,” he adds. “They have to be on case management. If you do not have a caseworker and a plan to get off the street, you do not qualify for some services.

“I think they pushed it to that because of all the complaints from the neighborhood. There were too many clients back then.”

The clients aren’t going away. For every one person who gets off the street, there is another one, two or three to take his or her place.

St. Joseph Center is committed to providing working poor families, as well as homeless men, women and children of all ages, with the inner resources and tools to become productive, stable and self-supporting members of the community.

Since the center’s founding in 1976, it has increased its services in crowded and sometimes unworkable conditions.

A fundraising campaign is now under way to meet the most urgent needs faced by these members of our community.

The support of individuals, foundations and businesses is needed to implement the objectives to provide stability and continuity of their work.

The next period of Jose’s life was not a happy one. He was going through personal problems and found himself in a depressed stage. He started drinking a lot.

“I found myself driving all over Venice drunk,” he says. “I found myself making the same mistake that people at Clare Foundation had done in their past — the same mistake that probably led them to the street.

“After I lost my job at a print shop over drinking, I said to myself, ‘Jose, what are you doing? What’s going on with you? Do you want to kill yourself today? Or do you want to kill yourself slowly like everybody else through years of drinking yourself to death?’

“I documented everything I was thinking on a piece of paper. I got my answers and I said ‘no’. I got back on my feet after that. I think of places where I fed homeless people and I do not want to be like that.

“One of the main reasons why I was not a gang member — well I should say a hard-core gang member because I became a wannabe for a while when I was a kid; I hung out with the big fish but I stepped to the side because they were shooting so many people — was because I was watching the way they ended up doing ’25 to life’ and that pushed me to the side.

“That told me right there — do you want to be in there with them or do you want to be out here with freedom, being a good citizen, going to school, having a good job in the future, make a lot of money, and have a nice family?

“I chose that one. I haven’t completed my dreams. I’m still working on them.”

Jose currently works at Lincoln Hardware and goes to school at night taking a basic construction course. His goal is to get his contractor’s license and have his own business in the future.

Jose has been able to take advantage of community resources in a positive way.

He volunteered and worked at Clare Foundation, volunteered at St. Joseph Center, went to school at the Venice Skills Center and has been living at 102 Navy St., Venice Community Housing Corp. housing for low-income people.

“I am very proud of myself that I had places where I could volunteer,” he says. “It brightens your future. It took the cloud from my eyes. The same cloud that my friends were trying to give me.

“Because their role models were gang members, their only dream is to make it to the big one. They want to get ’25 to life’ and they want to go run the show in prison. They want to become members of the Mexican Mafia.

“When you’re a child, anyone can fool you. Anybody can put a great dream in front of you, like the devil. ‘Come on, do this and I’ll give you a pot of gold.’

“It’s like we get blinded when we are kids. I’m glad that these places were there. They made me a better person. Yeah, I made my mistakes. We all make mistakes sometimes and we get blinded for a while.

“But I would get up, shake myself off and continue walking. Of all the kids I grew up with, I’m not locked up, because of places like Clare Foundation and St. Joseph Center. They inspired me because they are doing such a good job.”

Information, Clare Foundation, (310) 314-6200; St. Joseph Center, (310) 396-6468.

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