For the past six years, volunteers of a Christian-based outreach program have been hitting the streets of South Orange County in a battle against chronic homelessness, providing a bridge between those they serve and local homeless assistance agencies.
According to its website, Our Fathers Table’s (OFT) programs and services “are designed to bridge the gap between the homeless and local homeless assistance agencies with the goal of permanent supportive housing and a second chance at happiness.”
The difference with OFT is the use of tough love and guidance through friendship and nurturing relationships, providing a helping hand that guides but ultimately doesn’t interfere in the life choices some of those they serve make along the way.
Since it began its efforts, the organization said it has lifted more than 300 homeless off the streets, and that 95 percent of those people have broken their cycle of chronic homelessness. The total includes 159 homeless in San Juan Capistrano, 45 in Dana Point and 26 in San Clemente.
Through its street outreach program “Hand Up, Not a Hand Out”, the non-profit organization works in the field to identify those in need, then sets out to forge a relationship with each in an effort to properly assess their situation and individual needs.
OFT then aligns regional homeless assistance agencies that offer temporary shelter, transitional housing, counseling, job skills programs, food banks, showers, hot meals, and more. They also connect the homeless with medical and mental health assistance, alcohol and drug treatment, legal aid and veterans support.
In a documentary film short called Black Sheep, OTF founder and chief executive Gina Marie Seriel, tells the story about working with Jerry, a 69-year-old chronically homeless man living on the streets of San Juan Capistrano. In the movie, Jerry refers to Seriel as his angel.
Estranged from his family, Jerry ran away from home at age 11 and fought substance abuse most of his life. Age, addiction and living and fighting on the streets took a hard toll on his body. With Seriel guiding him, Jerry managed to find sober living accommodations and underwent successful hip replacement surgery.
“When he calls me an angel, I mean, I don’t feel I’m worthy of that because I’m just doing what I should be doing,” Seriel said. “I’m just making sure that somebody has his back; that somebody doesn’t give up on him.”
The grip of addiction was too strong however, and Jerry lost his residence after meth was discovered in his room. He died homeless six months later during another medical procedure. Seriel was there even at the end.
“Nobody should ever be given up on,” she said.
When asked about the area’s chronic homeless numbers, Seriel told the Epoch Times, “Our initial assessment several years ago in the first couple of years of the program, 80 percent were chronic. Since that time, the number has grown to 95 percent. Today we remain at that same number, 95 percent of those we serve are chronically homeless.”
OFT volunteers regularly canvas the streets handing out “Care Bags of Love” that are filled with non-perishable foods, toiletries and hygiene products, clothing, a Bible and a list of resources for their area, as well as OFT contact information.
The bags provide some immediate relief of hunger and health needs, and nourishment for their soul. It’s also an opportunity for volunteers to chat with recipients and begin to forge a relationship.
Once they begin to work with someone who wants to improve their situation, the volunteers provide the tools and opportunities, mentoring and advocating necessary to help navigate the system, and work side-by-side with each person to encourage and help them with the process of leaving a life of homelessness for good.
Much of the work involves providing transportation to and from medical appointments, and state and county social services necessary to acquire the ID’s and legal documents that many shelters, veterans services and treatment centers require in order to be accepted. OFT also provides a P.O. Box for homeless individuals, a critical link in re-establishing themselves, and facilitating aid.